I stand in the dark, waiting.
Tucked into a narrow canyon in high mountains, I am surprised by depth of the darkness. It's so thick it seems to take on form. I can almost touch it, like some kind of fabric: velvet or felt.
I can hear bells ringing far below, small and silvery. Then singing, sounds made strange by distance, rising and falling and slowly resolving into songs I know, sung by familiar voices.
My people are coming. With handmade lanterns of all shapes and colors, they are coming singing and laughing. Now they see the lanterns hanging in the tree above me, the table draped in silk, the tiny paper footlights. They leave the trail and shuffle and crunch through the bushes to the chairs set out for them. Whispers. Giggles. A chair and small child tumble over and are righted. More whispers and giggles. Then settling. Quiet anticipation.
I begin: Once upon a time there was a man named Martin, who was known far and wide for his wisdom and kindness...
This story is special to me. It's about St. Martin, who is celebrated in darkest November in many parts of Europe (and at Waldorf Schools everywhere). It was written by Reg Down, creator of the Tiptoes Lightly books, and can be found for free here.
This year, for our third Lantern Walk, I was inspired to celebrate our love of this tale with a marionette show. I had never done a puppet show in the dark before, but the thought of this story coming to life out in the woods, in the dark, just set me on fire. So I set to.
The play developed in a wonderfully organic way, beginning with the puppets. Since taking a workshop with Suzanne Down last winter, I've been adapting her needle-felted rod puppet technique to making marionettes. I'm finding needle felting quicker and more expressive than sewing.
Here is Martin. He looks a bit like my husband around the eyes. And why not?
And here is the Lady who appears to him on the mountain. She has crystal beads sewn into her braid and here and there on her dress, which were quite sparkly in candlelight.
Which brings me to lighting. This was really fun! I made eight little footlights, each holding a votive candle. Here was my process (the little circles are for gluing to the bottom):
Placed strategically on the tables (there were three of different heights, to create the effect of a mountain journey), they lighted the action in a mysterious, wavering glow. The tables were covered by dark clothes and decorated with rocks, gnarled branches, and evergreen twigs. Yes, all this was carried up the canyon by the generous hardy fathers of our homeschool group. "It seems we are bringing the rocks to the mountain," was their only smiling comment (that I heard!).
Revisiting this story and the Lantern Walk ritual for the third time as homeschoolers and fifth time as a family, I find I appreciate these things even more deeply than when they were newly-discovered wonders. The simple act of repetition- of visiting the same emotional soil each year as the earth turns into a new quarter- creates a deep resonance. What originally felt fun, but sort of extraneous or even bizarre (you make puppet shows for your kids?), now feels necessary. It's part of our bedrock.