Friday, July 19, 2013

The uses of enchantment

There was a time when every wood, every tree, was thought to be inhabited by spirits called dryads, every pool and stream by naiads. Even not so long ago, our road here in Ireland was called "the fairies' road." The world, we say, was enchanted -- every stone and plant infused with an animate spirit.

Science put paid to all that, chased the spirits from their woods and pools, drove the fairies from their hills. Disenchanted the landscape.

Well, maybe not. It depends on how you define enchantment.

Remember those spider webs I wrote about the other day, made visible by dew? Once the sun burned away the mist and the dew evaporated, the webs became invisible. But of course they are still there, a thousand silken snares, each with its resident spider. As I walked down the drive today I sensed their presence—the field alive with invisible spirits, a thousand arachnoid dryads crouching in their bowers.

The key to enchantment is to be aware of what can't be seen. The spiders in their webs. The spinnerets extruding gossamer. The DNA zipping and unzipping in each cell of the spiders' bodies, the amino acids, A and T, G and C, grasping hands in their dervish dance. The atoms in their resonant vibrations.

"What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well," wrote Antoine De Saint-Exupery. The key to enchantment is to never stop thinking about the well.