WHISPERS OF ANCIENT SOULS BY SHAYNA MATTHEWS
The Ancient Ones taken by Shayna Matthews.
“You have a very old soul…it’s ancient. Every time I see you, I look in your eyes and wonder what it is you’re searching for.” These were the words of a dear family friend, directed at me. I was in my early teens at the time, and his comment startled me. It isn’t often, after all, that someone tells a fifteen year old they have an ancient soul. I still contemplate the shrewd observation of that friend, and I can only ascertain that he saw something beyond the normal struggles of teenage angst. I wish I would have thought to question him further about what it was. What on earth did he see in me to voice such a strange observation? Whatever it was, I took it as a compliment then as I do now.
Maybe some of us are meant to search for things we are not even consciously aware of. Of course, if we are searching for something we don’t even realize we are looking for, how do we know when we’ve found it? Beats me.
And what of the word “ancient”? My friend specifically chose that word, but why? I like that word, ancient. I like it a lot. The word itself is shrouded in mystery, leaving us to ponder the unknown. ‘Ancient’ is history, and what is history? A plethora of stories…real stories pieced together from the lives of those who came before us. Granted, piecing together life-stories, or ancient history, largely depends upon remnants of fact dependent upon word of mouth, and we all know what happens when we play whisper-down-the-lane. Still, the stories are in the wind…waiting for the right searcher to wander along and find it.
When I finally decided to listen to the whispers in my ear, I laid aside my own reservations and put pen to paper. I knew nothing of what I wanted to write, but characters appeared like visceral specters before my eyes. No, not characters...people. They took my hand with a wink and a promise, drawing me into the past. I knew as long as I kept my mind open, they would reveal their story to me. It was THE ONE: the thing I was searching for. It seems to me now, a few years later, that this sweeping tale I am now weaving with words was, perhaps, biding its time. As years wore on, and the decades faded into the span of a century, the story waited...searching. Searching for an ancient soul, one who would listen. One who would hear. One who would write.
My husband and I took a trip to the American Southwest a few years ago, where we retraced footsteps of ancestors. We chased them down on horseback through the deserts in Arizona, scaled terrifying wooden ladders up sheer cliffs, drifted down the Colorado through rugged canyons, and visited their homesteads, cabins and ruins.
Chasing the trails of my characters' heroes... this is the last remaining bunkhouse standing from the Hashknife Outfit.
I remember standing on the rim of a canyon, carved by a chocolate-milk river far below, and noticed a cairn only a few feet away. Now I do not know the truth of the myth, but it's said that these little stone stacks are the result of soul-searchers passing by. A stone is conspicuously placed on top of another, and as the next person passes by, another stone is added. It is accompanied by a silent prayer to the ones who came before. I added a pebble to the top of the tower, and sent a voiceless prayer to the four winds. As I did so, I felt something stir around me. Raising my arms to the sun, I embraced the breeze, and I heard them whisper. This is what I was searching for; the release of secrets locked deep within, the secrets of a place I had never been, but knew infinitely well. I found the soul of the American West, or perhaps it found me.
The author, Shayna, in Natural Bridges, Utah. A cairn is shown in the foreground.
Scenes-visions if you will-flashed through my thoughts for the remainder of that journey, and my characters and I have not been silenced since.
We have a fantastic connection now, my characters and I. They are unveiling their stories to me, and it is only when I forget to listen that I flounder. I want to write a different scene, take the story a different way. They laugh, fold their arms across their chest, and shake their heads. "Amateur," they say. "She thinks she's writing this book." We argue; I delete, write, rewrite and delete again, over and over until I scream for mercy, and in the end beg them to guide me back to the right path. And so it goes.
Now, even though I found something already, I'm still searching, for I believe the heart of an adventurer will always do so without fail. But now I can look back on that anguished girl of fifteen as she contemplates her friend's observation, and smile. I have the unfailing love and support of a wonderful man who owns my heart, and a beautiful little boy whose smile lights up the darkest of days. Thanks to whatever (dare I say, Whomever?) it was that took hold of me on the top of that cliff somewhere between Arizona and Utah, I have a firm toehold on the journey chosen to be my path of success...writing western stories from the heart within my ancient soul.
50 foot wooden ladder we climbed to reach the top of a cliff dwelling.
Perhaps, everyone is searching for something, whether they know it or not. Sometimes, the answer is right there in your ear, whispered on the wind. You need only summon the courage to listen.
What are you searching for? Have you found it, yet?