Regarding Dragons….

“And there fell over our company a great shadowe larger than any byrde. The air turned foule and only the bravest among us dared look up. What we saw defied all reason and caused our hearts to quell. Golden eyes, fiery breath…a terrible beauty covered in scale and horne. The Devil on the wing.” 

Henry Figge, the Meadowlands of New Jersey, 1743


No one believes in Dragons anymore. At least that’s what people will tell you to your face. But secretly they wonder. Don’t you?

Dragons grace the robes of emperors and the halls of kings. They dance across paintings and stand rampant in royal coats-of-arms. They guard bridges and doorways and the gates to great cities. If you walk the streets of London, you’ll find them watching you from the tops of plinths or curled around the ironworks on the light poles.

The Japanese call the ‘ley’ or energy lines that criss-cross our planet ‘dragon lines’. We find the serpent in the Aztec cosmology, the snake as Shaman’s helper in indigenous cultures and a host of fiery serpents in the Bible. Cymru Gwlad y Ddraig means ‘Land of the Dragon’ in Welsh and the Welsh flag is called Y Draig Goch, the Red Dragon Flag. Metaphor, you say. Superstition. Well, maybe. And maybe not.

A few years ago I was snooping around the stretch of borderland between England and Wales known as The Marches. A shopkeeper in the Abbey town of Tintern told me that a dragon had been living in the Forest of Dean for years. Common knowledge, he said, and if I found myself in a certain pub up in Monmouth on the right night, I might hear tell of it from someone who’d actually seen it.

I never made it to the pub but I did ask around the village of Goodrich where I’d been staying. The concession girl at Goodrich Castle thought it significant that I was there on St. George’s Day and dubbed me the Dragon Lady. She rolled her eyes about the dragon in Dean but said that the Welsh saw a lot of things other people didn’t.

The people that ran the Welsh Biknor Hostel were somewhat more helpful. I told them I’d heard rumors about a dragon that came out of the Black Mountains across the border and snatched up a Goodrich woman years prior. They exchanged cagey glances, but the next morning they announced that they’d had a tea meeting about me and decided that, mad as I was, they liked me. They drew me a map and sent me walking along the River Wey onto a local piece of high ground known as Coppett Hill, assuring me that if I stayed the course, I would find myself in the exact spot where the snatching incident occurred. This story is told in full in Book Three of the McCool Saga. But I will tell you that they were true to their word. The place reeked of dragon-presence. Patches of bare ground dotted an area dense with vegetation, a sure sign of past activity. 

Book One of the Saga, however, concerns us with dragons in America and, in particular, New Jersey. I know, I know. Pirates, sure, and certainly Mafia hits dumped in the Kearny Meadows. But dragons? Well, yes. I mean, who do you think started those fires in the Pine Barrens? You know, the ones they can never seem to put out? And why do you think the Lenape refused to live there?

The whole place was one big hatchery. In fact, men of the late 1800’s may have owed a great debt to the local lizards. A handful of towns sprang up in the Barrens centered around iron-smelting. During the Civil War the cannonballs manufactured in the Barrens came into high demand for their resiliency and the deadly sharpness of their fragments upon detonation. Forensic archeologists have recently discovered why.

The bog-iron found in the Barrens was rich in a substance scientists have dubbed ‘kryptonite’. When heated, the substance liquefies to a khaki-colored sludge, then hardens to dark metallic green. This green substance, when further analyzed, turned out to be scat. Poop. Doo doo.

According to Lenape legend, dragons ruled the barrens. They built nests in the loamy sand and warmed their eggs over beds of slow-burning bog-peat. They did this for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. The Lenape had the good sense to keep clear of the hatcheries, but the white Europeans that arrived early in the 17th C did not. Driven by their lust for resources (bog iron) and armed with their disdain for local custom, they turned the deer trails into sand roads and burrowed into the heart of the dragons’ sanctuary, driving them deeper into the pinewoods and irrevocably disrupting their cycles of reproduction.

Some think the dragons took revenge before they were driven out for good. The list of ghost towns in the Barrens reads like a directory. Martha Furnace, Hampton Furnace, Weymouth Furnace. Nothing left but traces. But this writer wonders if they didn’t leave something of themselves behind.

The most famous legend of the Barrens is that of the Jersey Devil. Motorists on the Garden State Parkway claim to have seen it lurking at the side of the road at dusk or darting overhead at night. The Devil has been depicted in various ways, sometimes black, sometimes red, but always with a reptilian face and a pair of bat-like wings. Google it. See for yourself. Or better yet, go down to the Barrens, park your car and venture down a sand road that twists and turns, then turns again. You’ll soon find yourself surrounded by deep silence. Then a twig will snap or a bush will rustle and you’ll think, “what if?”

A few years ago a dragon of medium size showed up in New Hope, Pennsylvania, just down the road from where I live. New Hope is a river town where magic lingers in the shadows and ghosts stay on for the beauty of the stone houses and the watery dusk light. The beast settled behind a row of shops near Pidcock Creek, probably to take advantage of the sizeable duck population.

No one paid him much mind (people are accustomed to seeing odd things in New Hope) and he stayed for nearly a year. Then one day he vanished. I for one felt diminished. I visited him several times, at a distance, of course, and felt I was beginning to win his trust. So I was delighted to hear that he has been seen in Tyler State Park in Newtown. They have geese there. Too many, I’m told. Perhaps they’ll work out an arrangement.


dragon NH

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