by Michelle Doherty
I remember the first time I visited Southard’s Pond. It was the same day I told my parents I was Pagan.
When I was thirteen, I felt misunderstood by everyone – my peers, my parents – just about anyone that didn’t understand me or the new direction my life had taken. I had discovered Wicca that year, and couldn’t figure out how to tell those that I loved the most. Because of my indecision, I stayed silent for ten years.
In the interim, I made friends that were of like mind. We became a coven, to my eternal astonishment…I thought I’d be Solitary forever. My friends shared whatever knowledge they found with me, and I with them.
They took me to Southard’s Pond for the first time on Samhain, the day before my twenty-third birthday. They hinted they had found the perfect birthday present for me, but didn’t go into specifics. I never dreamed the trip was their gift to me.
It was fairly dark that night, as they led me with sure feet to a sturdy little bridge over a small creek. We sat down, and as I stretched my legs out straight before me, I silently marveled at my surroundings. Sturdy oaks and maples lined the creek’s banks. The wind whispered through their nearly-denuded boughs. The creek itself burbled and chuckled to itself, as it passed under me. Tiny silver fish flit through the eddies.
I thought to myself: This place exists on Long Island? I never knew about it?
I took off my boots, and hung my legs over the side of the bridge. The creek swirled around my bare toes. So cold! I shivered and laughed, despite myself. When I looked past the creek and its copse of trees, I could see, through the deepness of the night, a natural pathway through the undergrowth. To this day, I swear I saw into forever. The spot my coven took me to felt right. It was a-swirl with energies, such I had never felt before, and I felt like I had finally come home.
My friends let me take in these marvels for a while, before one of them touched my shoulder. I stood, and we cast our circle. There, on the little bridge that spanned the creek, we touched the Arcane when the Veil was thinnest. We rejoiced when the year began anew. And we danced.
Oh, how we danced.
Some twenty minutes after midnight, one of my closest friends nudged me in the ribs. “Happy birthday, Cassandra.”
I tossed my head back, and glanced up at the stars. I laughed to the night sky, and said, “Oh! It’s so clear!”
Another of my dear friends grinned. “Yeah. Everything becomes clear, here.”
And he was right. I resolved right then to tell my parents about my spirituality. We bid our guardians farewell, and gathered our belongings. We quit Southard’s Pond for the night, and left for our homes.
Later that day, my parents put coffee up. They invited friends and family to their house. They bought a cake, and presented me with birthday gifts. It was nice, but my little birthday party was the furthest thing from my mind.
After the last well-wisher left, after the last coffee-ringed mug went into the dishwasher, after the last smidgen of cake was entombed in Saran-Wrap and crammed into my mother’s overflowing refrigerator, I steeled myself for the coming storm. “Mom…Dad?”
When I had their full attention, I almost lost my nerve. How could I tell them that I was a witch? How, without hurting them? Because I’m a staunch believer in the ‘1-2-3-RIP!’ bandage-removal method, I cleared my throat, and blurted, “I’m Pagan.”
My folks looked at each other. Dad shrugged, and said, “A Pagan? But…you don’t even own a motorcycle.”
I blinked. It took me a moment to figure out his cryptic remark, and I had to laugh. My grandmother’s best friend’s son was a Harley aficionado, and a member of the aforementioned group. I shook my head, still laughing. “No. My religion…when I say I’m Pagan, it means that I follow the ebb and flow of the Earth. I worship a Goddess.”
Dad raised his eyebrows. “You’re…a tree-hugger?”
Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. Outwardly, I nodded, resigned. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
My parents looked at each other again. Dad shrugged. “Okay.”
They said good-night to me, then. Mom kissed the corner of my mouth, and Dad squeezed my shoulder as he passed me. They left me standing alone in their kitchen, thunderstruck. After I came back to myself, I nodded once. “Okay, then.”
It’s been eleven years since that night. My folks have aged since then, and so have I. My dad still calls me a tree-hugger. But since the night of my twenty third birthday, I’ve not hesitated to come to him for advice-spiritual or otherwise-and for that, our relationship has strengthened.
My coven has long since dispersed, and we’ve scattered to the four points of the compass. We’ve married, had kids, made homes for ourselves. We still see each other, sometimes…and every time we meet, it’s like we never parted ways. When we get together on Long Island, we go to Southard’s Pond. We revel in the old, old magick there, as unchanging as the wind. We dip our feet in the clear stream. We laugh, and we love.
And we dance.
Michelle Doherty is an eclectic Pagan, and a burgeoning author. She resides in New York with her photographer husband Andrew, her Earth-sister Deardre, their four cats, a ferret named Pinky, and an extensive Elfquest collection.