the snake of the saltless waters

The moon arose from suburbia as if she had been sleeping the day away beneath someone's porch. She was full and golden, but looked fragile, haunted by dreams of dusty weeds and cat secrets. Or haunted by what she saw, awake, of the world.

I went out with that moon, through the half-light and the half-quiet. I wanted to spend a little time in the wild wet peace of the vodyanoy.

Long before I remembered its name, I knew it was there. One rain-soaked day, I watched it rise slow and gentle, dark and terrible, above the water's surface. And I kept watching for a long time after it had gone again into deep shadow, because the little rippling quiet it left behind was somehow part of it - a silvery wing maybe, sliding above the great black body, stroking the wet world while the snake swam privately through weeds and secrets, broken bottles and bones.

There is a weight to its skin, arcing like a momentary night, which makes me believe it sleeps coiled in the muck of deep, solemn beginnings, and it brings some of that up with it when it surfaces. And the muck slips onto the water, or into the low pale limn-line of the sky, and forms shadows we never notice, not even when we wade through them or breathe them. Shadows that stain us with ancient mud dreams.

Did I really see a vodyanoy? Yes, I really did. I am not the only one who has. It catches little boats on the water sometimes, tossing them out of its old, sung way. People talk of the Loch Ness monster but they never think to watch their own waters, and hold a more simple wonder, and be willing to accept a more local magic.

Sometimes I need the kind of peace that is heavy, grim, dangerous, beneath a worried moon. Not the little human peace of a tranquil day or inward breathing, but mud peace, wild magical peace - peace with teeth. When I stand in the careful silence of the vodyanoy, not seeing it but knowing all too well that it sees me and is watching for what I might do to its water, its birds, its shadowy secret sky - in that long wordless moment, I understand there is an older consciousness to life than the human one, and that, if nothing else, feels hopeful. We have our cars and our bomber planes, but in the muck something dreams a very old hymn of life.


  1. Oh yes, it comforts me too... that the world is older, wiser than we upstart humans. Long may the deep, dark, ancient creatures live!

  2. how very lovely..."a peace with teeth". i like that thought. ivan bilibin did a picture of a vodyanoy...whiskery and equivocal looking. may it swim forever beneath the moon.

  3. thank you laura, claire, nofixedstars :-)

  4. Such a beautiful description of what is ancient.