I woke as some people fall asleep, drowsily, and then completely. My mother said that’s how it would be my first time. I had dreamed of flying and falling all night. I wondered if that was what it would feel like, all at once exhilarating and terrifying.
As I came to myself, the dreams were still flitting over my awareness. The light was streaming through my Venetian blinds, and a chill touched my skin. It finally felt like autumn. It wasn’t only because of the cold. Something in the light was more yellow or orange, even this early in the morning.
It slowly dawned on me what today was. I pulled myself farther under the covers for a moment and tucked my blankets around me like I do on my sad days. Only this time I was so happy. I wanted to soak in the morning for just a moment before we all leaped into final preparations.
Our coven always held the great migration on Samhain. This was my first year joining the migration. My sister told me that it felt like being reborn.
Stretching, I pushed out of bed and padded to the bathroom. The excitement filled the air. It vibrated almost as thick as magic. My mother’s whole family was here.
“Sarah, Sarah, Aunt June just got here.” I felt the tug on my shirt and looked down at my little brother.
“Tell her I’ll be right down.” Joey was too young for the migration, and I knew that he was somewhat disappointed that he’d be staying with Dad. Still, the excitement was contagious.
In a way, our family was separated into two flocks—those that traveled and returned and those that waited. My mother once told me that I had to find a patient partner. Our relationship wouldn’t last if they didn’t mind living their life when I wasn’t around.
We live in a small town, full of its own peculiarities, and we’re only one of them. The other locals know that we’re witches and don’t ask anything else. Our family protected them a long time ago. Their children were taught to respect us, although they don’t remember what we can do. We were taught to do the same. My Aunt June says that respect is safety.
No one asks what we do at our home, nestled on the far side of the lake. They don’t ask about the flocks of birds congregating here every year, and we don’t tell. We don’t share our secrets unless we know you’re here to stay.
For my parents, it was marriage. For my sister, it was her partner Marisa, long before they were allowed to marry. My best friend, Kara, has known about us since we were ten years old. Commitment comes in many forms, some thinner than blood or law yet stronger than iron.
Most of the people who know are either from our family or our coven. Many will fly with us tonight. We taught them. Mom said that was another part of creating safety for our family, creating bonds that would protect, showing others how not to be afraid.
I think that we’re not the only ones that are changed every year. It changes the people we love too. There is a quietness at times to our relationships and intimacy of secrets. Other times there is an urgency and passion. And then there is the interconnectedness and interdependency at its core.
My father once explained the difference between interdependency and codependency. He said that interdependency meant that everyone does their part and contributes to the whole. Each life is intricately woven together, made stronger by their bonds.
But Codependence was different. It was parasitic and degrading at its core. Yes, it tied people together but undependably and erratically. Codependency would sever a bond. It would fray and isolate.
As I watched everyone work, I saw the interdependency for myself. Like roots beneath the grass, each action enhanced the others. And when someone needed to walk away on their own, no one was harmed or hindered. We were all birds at heart. We wanted to be loved, not restricted.
I heard my mother’s laughter. It drifted on the air like glitter, sticking to everyone, pulling their attention. I smelled cinnamon in the air and saw her stirring a large pot. I tried to imagine her as a caricature of a witch, nursing a bubbling cauldron of potions.
I shook my head at the silliness. I couldn’t see anything but her hot cider. She made it every year, along with the cranberry almond muffins that she knew were my favorites.
Joey and our cousin Timmy were finishing up the last of the Jack O’Lanterns. They were in charge of lighting them all before the rite. Wards were essential, and none were more potent than those made in love and joy. Those lanterns would protect us, but they would also guide us home.
The excitement began buzzing beneath my skin. I looked for something to do. My mother smiled at me as though she knew.
“Want to help your sister and Marisa knead the dough? It could use some nervous energy.” She winked, and it calmed me, despite the few awakening butterflies in my stomach.
I quickly moved into the flutter of preparations. Some were finishing their last-minute preparations for the rite, but my mother wanted me focused on the dinner. Dinner was a huge undertaking.
When we all finally sat down, at sunset, it felt like a celebration. We would eat this food as a family, as friends, and as a coven. It would give us strength for the flight and later renew our strength when we returned. It would also remind us of our bodies.
I’ve heard it can be unsettling after the transition back. This helped. It anchored us to our lives, to the ones we loved, to the ones we seemed to lose.
We didn’t talk about the rite once dinner started. We didn’t speak of it after either. We moved from laughter to silence as the moon rose high, and then we all stood and went outside. Aunt June was expecting a baby and had decided to stay grounded. She stood with the others, but she wouldn’t shift. That was her decision. It was always our decision.
The rest of us undressed as though we were going skinny dipping in the ice-cold lake. My mother anointed my head with oil, and everyone nodded their heads down and to the sides, twisting their necks like swans. If only. It made me smile. I might have laughed if it weren’t for my nerves. Those butterflies had multiplied a hundredfold inside of me.
As one, they all turned and faced the bright moon, high above the lake’s surface. I stood in the middle. My mother, typically leading the charge, stood beside me.
“Remember what you are.”
So I stood there in the cold, surrounded by my family. The gooseflesh rose on my skin, but it was only the ordinary kind that came to cold girls in the dead of night.
I watched the ones in a front shift like the moonlight over shadows, and then lift off the ground. Others flew past me. As they began their flight, the fear awoke. My mother must have seen it because she turned me toward her.
“Are you afraid of the flying?”
“What if I’m broken? What if I can’t do it?”
“You can. It is what you are. We’re simply born asleep.”
I turned my head and saw the lake, cold and black but covered in the silver reflection cast by the full moon. A cool breeze blew past us, my long hair whipping over my shoulders.
“If it’s what I am, then why do I let it go?”
“You’re only letting go of what you think you are. Take a breath.”
I closed my eyes and did as she said. And then I felt something. It was like dissolving slowly into everything, and then I saw all around me, and the sure compass in my mind pointed me onward. Running forward, I leaped up into the night.
Then I was flying fast, trying to catch up with the others. The exhilaration of flying so fast overwhelmed me at first. Then my mother was beside me, a beautiful Canadian Goose.
I didn’t ask what to do next. Knowing clicked into place, and we were not separate geese but a flock. We pressed into formation long before I reached them. We took up the rear and headed toward the great nest.
Other covens would meet there, much more secretive than ours. Those covens were distant, and yet they still belonged to us. The cold that had touched my skin before was now covered with warm feathers. We were headed somewhere that the others couldn’t go.
The exhilaration filled my body as we flew. And yet, my body was not my own. It moved in tandem, both reflexively and responsively, with the whole of our flock.
I wanted to weep at all I saw. Because for a moment, I was not even the flock flying through the sky. I was the sky. I was everything.
Time meant so little, so I can’t say how long it took, but eventually, we reached a mountain, and the cave nestled in its arms. We landed but didn’t shift. We didn’t want to. And here amid all the other covens arriving and waiting, it was easier to communicate without our human bodies.
Humans saw everything so separate and couldn’t remember that minds were joined. It was the first thing we knew coven members had to learn before they could fly. All was one mind, and we were not our bodies. It was also the first thing to unlearn when we wanted our bodies back.
Here there was no miscommunication, only understanding, and appreciation. We were both humans and geese, and something else that we weren’t ready to remember. That was okay.
It was Samhain, and so we also remembered our dead. But it was so different in these forms because they were not gone from our minds. They were simply not able to be here in bodies. They told us stories, and we shared our own. But there were no words because it wasn’t necessary. It was more like an experience. It was a glimpse behind the veil, a hand through silk.
When we finally left, they went with us, but only because we realized they had never left. Our dead were not gone but were as close as our thoughts.
All through the flight home, they flew with us. While the Geese held a strong formation, the spirits dipped and twisted among us all, sharing their elation.
I knew when we were near home because I saw the lights, the countless number of golden lanterns flickering around our house. They were a tender glow, coloring the dark grey of early morning.
The ones that stayed kept the Jack O’ Lanterns burning strong so that we could find our way home, and so we remembered who we were returning for. Because, of course, you couldn’t arrive home if you’d never left.