To Learn How Magic Works, We Must Revisit our Childhood

When I was small and still living next to a horse farm in a small town on the outskirts of Huntsville, Alabama, I rode the bus to school. This may not seem like a distinctive feature, but the bus trips became a huge part of who I was, what I valued, and (by virtue of the aid in its development) they remain an integral part of my character. How, you may ask? It did so through my inability to explore one particular path that my bus passed every morning and afternoon. Every day as we passed what I had then assumed was an unexplored forest (yet now realize was a pine crop for harvesting), I watched for a small dirt footpath that led into it. Every day of school for two and a half years I would stare intently at the path and try to see past the single turn that I could see, trying from all angles to strain my neck and eyes and find out what was at the other side of the turn. I was always unsuccessful in both my stares and my attempts to convince my parents to take me there to search it myself.

I often tried to guess what may have been behind it. I no longer remember all of my thoughts on the subject, but I can remember thinking it must be part of a fairytale – whether it contained a secret garden or a dragon or a castle or a princess who had lost her castle, I knew in my heart that it must be something hidden and enchanted. Sometimes I even envisioned it as part of a legend I had heard of a Cherokee princess and was especially enthralled with this idea, as my great-great-great grandfather had been a chief and (in my seven-year old logic) that made me a distant princess of some lost and forgotten value myself.

I moved away before I ever got the chance to know what was behind the pine trees on that road, or before I was old enough to understand that it was more likely just an unused trail. I moved to Birmingham, and there were no more mysteries of the sort (as I could not have convinced even my seven-year-old self that any of the small, insignificant tree groupings were enchanted forests there). I forgot about my bus rides and my enchanted paths, and I slowly stopped even playing pretend in my backyard by the time I was in high school and it wasn’t cool anymore to believe in Santa or princesses.

College, however, was different. During my first year I was homesick for Birmingham, and by my second I was even homesick for New Hope – a place I hadn’t even seen for five years by the time. I wanted to see my house – my first house, the one with my handprint dried into the concrete of the driveway and my memories of play-pretend scattered throughout the backyard woods – but I couldn’t.

That is, I couldn’t until I remembered Google Maps. The second I thought of it I was on my laptop searching for a street name – and there it was, just as it had been except for a coat of brown paint and a distinct lack of neighboring horse farm.

I was ecstatic, and as I thought about rain dances (or rather, rain cha-chas) in the front yard and Columbus discoveries in the backyard, I started to remember the most significant childhood mystery of them all: the enchanted path in the pine trees.

I started to think about all of my theories and began to morph them into more rational ones. Instead of a castle, perhaps there was a home, or more likely a tool shed. Instead of a secret garden, perhaps there was a semi-secret rest stop for those who inevitably cut down the trees.

Even at eighteen, though, I couldn’t stand not knowing for another minute. I searched for the directions from my old home to my old school and followed it, watching just as intently as I always had for that once-familiar break in the trees.

And I found it.

It was simply a clearing, one of no apparent value or significance that (from the looks of the grass growth on the satellite view) had not been anything else for quite some time. I remember thinking that I should be sad about that, that I should think it was somehow anti-climactic. After all, this had been an unsolved mystery for most of my life – one I had once obsessed over – which was solved by the knowledge that it was nothing, just a path leading to a clearing and no more.

But I wasn’t sad, or disappointed, and once I noticed that, I began to work out why. There was no possible answer to the mystery of the path that could have been more perfect, or more magical. In discovering that it led to a clearing, I realized that I had always been right – that it could have been anything I had dreamed of as a child and I would have believed it as wholeheartedly and unflinchingly as I believed I had been Columbus or the Pink Power Ranger at times. I had filled that clearing with every possible magical explanation I could have thought of, and now that I knew the truth it was still as much a secret garden, enchanted castle, or home of an exiled princess as it is a simple clearing.

I realize that this is a rather silly conclusion to some people, and I even know that, had I found out the truth when I had so ardently wanted to know it, I would have been disappointed, and a small part of me would have changed – the part that believed in unsolvable mysteries and in magic in ordinary places. But, by whatever magic (or divine intervention) that led me to discover the truth as a rational eighteen-year-old, I have been able to realize more firmly than ever that magic does, in fact, exist if you are willing enough to not know everything, and that even logical explanations have an element of magic in them if you recognize that you can’t always explain why things are the way they are.

I can rationalize the square root of negative one even if it doesn’t exist. I can tell you how the sky takes on a color even if I can’t explain why that color happens to be blue. I can utilize the imaginary, I can accept that some things have no explanation, and above all else I can accept that magic is possible if you choose to believe in it.

  • Anna Patricia Hawkins

    I love this. I feel like if we try to keep somewhat of a childlike state of mind all our lives, it will make life a lot more fun and interesting. Even magical! :-)