Nature Feature: Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica)
Philodendron "congo" (does not manifest*)
◆ Growth points ◆
There isn't much to tell.
Heath is a ghost with a heavy heart and a restless mind. In life, he was an Irish-American pastor based out of occupied Yavapai and Akimel O'odham land-- what was then called the Territory of Arizona-- sometime during the turn of the 20th century.
The esk Heath has a warm and tender energy, shadowed by grief and loneliness. He haunts a mesquite bosque on the Agua Fria river. In it, lies the mouldering bones of his former chapel.
A pastor in life, Heath remains deeply concerned with questions of morality, theology, and finding his place in the great shape of things. But while he is quick to think and slow to act, Heath refuses to become inert; he feels a strong responsibility to translate his reflections into concrete action, and to serve the world around him. He can often be found lost in thought as he does idle restoration work around his haunt.
He wasn't always this way, though. In his early years as a ghost, Heath was grief-stricken to the point of despondent. He never did believe in Hell, but of his transformation he could make no meaningful distinction; he had been forever changed, and forever robbed of the ability to heal, to move on. Even now, Heath harbors an intense sense of unfinished business with the world that roots him to the Earth, and prevents him from giving up the ghost.
Heath eventually finds a sense of peace in helping others find theirs. Much like the pastor of his previous life, he feels most “complete” doing acts of service. He particularly loves helping those around him make sense of the world, just as they’ve done the same for him. Some call him a “confessional on ghost feet”; the man is always willing to lend a listening ear and a word of advice, without passing judgement.
It’s unclear how much Heath retains from his previous life, though. He may reference biblical scripture in one breath, or accounts of Ireland’s Fair Folk in another, but they always come out in fragments and abbreviated summaries. He seems to have lost much.
Although he is a homebody, Heath can sometimes be found traveling near and far-- usually around the Southwest and northern Mexico, but occasionally much further. His reasons are many: Visiting friends, checking in on old haunts, succumbing to restless bouts of midnight wandering. He enjoys helping others repair their relationship with the land, and may travel to help a group of ghosts restore in tandem what they couldn't fix alone.
Rarely, a faint trace of him can be found roaming the last forests of Ireland. He is completely inaccessible in this state, a flickering apparition that disappears before it can be reached.
When I was young and naive, I thought: What better place to start a congregation than a desert, the great crucible where all men are tried?
Hah. I burned. But I was only red for a few days, before I realized this place wasn't interested in trying me.
Heath Mac Cathasaigh was a lot of things to his community. Foremost a convenience: His congregation filled a niche in a town which previously went out of its way to travel for Sunday service. But while his early relationship with the community was compulsory and transactional, Heath would learn and grow alongside them into something more.
In his younger years, the pastor was deeply devoted to his work. But he had, in his grandmother's words, ”a wandering heart, and a wandering mind.” Heath was a curious, observant, and contemplative man, rarely content to know the how without the why. This put him at odds with his colleagues, when he began asking all the wrong questions.
How could he not? When the pastor first opened the rickety doors of his chapel to the town, he was troubled by its reception. It wasn't so much those who attended, no-- they were warm and loving and relieved not to walk the miles every Sunday morning.
It was those who were missing. Those whose gaze dropped to the floor the moment he entered the room. Those who crossed the street and picked a different route home when they saw him. Those whose eyes grew wide and who shook their heads vehemently when he offered them alms, shelter, clothes, warmth.
Those who had come here to escape him, and people like him. Those who recognized that his presence was the promise of violence-- even when he failed to.
This drove Heath down a long and lonely road, chasing his true calling. He'd affectionately call his life's work “arguing with this damnable Book.” Heath turned his internal doubts outward, and openly grappled with his failings, his fears, the things he frankly did not believe, could not believe-- things that would have had him thrown on the streets, in any other congregation.
Heath was lucky. His honesty struck a chord with his community, and they learned to love him for it. He'd go on to cultivate a culture of worship-through-service, activism, and interfaith dialogue, as he tore away from everything he'd learned from the Church. The chapel became many things under his care: A foodbank, a shelter, a school, a community garden, a makeshift town hall, a sanctuary, a home. In return, he asked nothing of those around him.
But for all his efforts-- for all those fleeting moments of peace-- Heath remains haunted by a grief known only to him and God. His former colleagues might have considered him a blasphemer and a lost cause, but the truth is: Heath was never found to begin with.
Heath's boundary is a bosque on the edge of the Agua Fria river, north of what is presently called Phoenix, Arizona. The forest here is thick with cottonwoods, willows, mesquites, and other riparian species. The river itself calls all sorts of beings to its banks, and is home to a spectacular diversity of plants and animals. There's a pretty odd mix of ghosts and people that live there, too.
Within the bosque lies the bones of Heath's old chapel. It's fallen into a state of grave disrepair, but like any abandoned structure, it's an object of curiosity for locals and travelers alike. Heath tries to keep the place looking nice for any visitor, living or nonliving.
Somewhere along the river is a small cairn that Heath often visits. It's been there for well over a hundred years; the rocks were stacked long before he arrived, in his previous life. He maintains it out of equal parts habit and respect, and because it reminds him of home.
Two leaves of yerba mansa jut out from Heath's shoulderblades, and a whole bundle of them trail down his tail. Occasionally, blooms may sprout from his rump. Yerba mansa is a common plant in the riparian belts and bosques of the Southwest, with a wide array of ethnobotanical uses.
He sometimes offers the yerba mansa on his back to those who are looking to harvest from the banks of the river. His plants are particularly potent, but they go down easy compared to other medicines.
*Note: The philodendron listed in Heath's masterlist entry never manifests, and is not known from his boundary or the wild. But in remembrance of a ghost that came before, with a very different name and face, the man can't help but inherit a fondness for houseplants-- strangers like him, who were spirited away to a new home.
Oh, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. She locked eyes with me and asked: Whose God?
I became obsessed with that question. How is it that they looked on this land and saw God and the Devil in the same mountains, the same sky, the same people? Whose God? Whose Devil? Whose Land? Whose People? ...
Ora and Heath have always been on complicated terms with one another. They wouldn't have it any other way.
In life, the pastor must confront the fact that he is an inherently violent thing for Denora, and countless people like her. His work, his church, his congregation-- he, himself-- are agents in the bloody history of colonization in the Southwest, and the wider Americas.
But Ora and Heath also share an odd kinship. They both know the taste of intense loneliness, of having to hide themselves and their beliefs from the public eye, of being ground into dust by a system that runs on their bodies. It's this well of grief and pain, mixed with his own shaken faith, that drives Heath to cultivate something of a rogue parish in the bones of the old cathedral-- his life's proudest work.
In many ways, Ora has impressed on the man more than she will ever know. Or maybe she does. The fondness in Heath's voice when he talks about Ora is unmistakable.
... I know a woman who's word for God is a river. I think she knows more about Him than I, in all my years of study.
Dia and Heath have a storied history. In a previous time, they were childhood friends and lifelong confidantes... Constantly locked in heated argument.
Although she never professed any particular faith, Dia nurtured a fondness for parables, stories, and folklore from a young age. As career orators-- Heath, the pastor, and Dia, the lawyer-- the two often found themselves getting into passionate debates over anything from ideology, to theology, to how they'd decorate the church rafters for All Hallow's Eve. It's no exaggeration to say that Dia impressed profoundly on Old 19's worldview.
It's unclear how much the two retain from those days, as esk. But Heath can sometimes be seen watching the wrathful ghost pass through his haunt from a safe distance. Whatever the terms of their departure, they bring him no comfort. Sorrow clouds his eyes at the sound of her name.
The Wanderers and Other Esk
Despite his huge heart, Heath is uncharacteristically tense and mistrustful around all Wanderers, and most esk that consider transformation to be an act of kindness. In some ways, he knows that he blames them unjustly for his current shape, but he finds it impossible to let a hundred years of grief and pain go. Because of this, he is drawn to trespassers who are deeply disturbed or upset by their transformation. He often offers comfort to the recently transformed.
Strangely, Heath has developed a rapport with Ikkit. He considers the Wanderer to be his trial and challenger, and is markedly tolerant of the little scamp's tricks and riddles. Ikkit likewise seems to delight in picking Heath's brain, and posing moral quandaries for him to ruminate on between their meetings. The two can sometimes be found clashing in the woods, arguing topics ranging from the existential to the arbitrary. But neither of them ever seem to come away hurt by it. Heath genuinely welcomes the doubt and introspection that follows his interactions with Ikkit-- and, well, who is Ikkit to deny him?
It's difficult to say why the Wanderer shows such restraint around Old 19, but maybe that's for the best. Nobody's really sure what kind of person Heath is when he's moved to anger.
Ghosts and Other Beings
Heath shines brightest in the company of ghosts. There’s no shortage of them around his haunt; the heart of the desert beats with history, and while Old 19 is incredibly young compared to the oldest human souls that walk here, he is a close listener and friendly spirit. He considers his bonds with “those who went before” to be the silver lining of this whole mess, this strange twain he’s found himself snared in.
Of course, Heath’s feelings are hardly universal. There are those who look on him and shake their heads, with the same pity and sympathy that he reserves for lost souls. Others gaze on the sky, and can only speculate what lies beyond. Others yet consider the soil under their feet and the waters in the river to be their whole world: Everything they need, everything that is and will be.
And there are other beings that inhabit the desert, too-- older than even the eldest of men. Heath has difficulty interfacing with them, perhaps because he is so young and doesn’t remember how. Still, he carries with him a deep love for the land, instilled in him by his family’s stories of the beings that inhabit his old home, Ireland.
Heath is deeply sensitive to the human and nonhuman communities around his haunt. He tries to participate in them as best he can, and keeps a close eye on travelers as they hike through the bosque. If the ruins of the local church are said to be haunted-- well-- the ghost must be a good-natured one, because that doesn’t stop the odd hiker from taking refuge in its ribs.
While Heath may act as an unseen guardian for those who travel his haunt, he has a particularly soft heart for secret lovers that are forced to hide their affections, and who steal away to wild spaces to be alone together. He might avert his eyes when he stumbles across them, but he always takes special care to ensure that their meetings remain private. His boundary has taken on something of an unspoken reputation as a sanctuary, for this reason.
Heath does not perform transformations, so he will always restore the lost to safety when possible. He can spend days, weeks, months at a time at a missing person’s side, guiding them home. Conversely, he may be found comforting the dead and dying, and easing their pain as they pass.
Heath is a relatively young spirit, but he is slowly learning to listen to the flora and fauna of his haunt. They don’t share a language, or interact in a way that is terribly distinct from the way they communicated when he was alive. However, Heath remains an astute gardener in death, just as he was in life. He’s accrued a wealth of knowledge about native plants and their cultivation.
Note: This list is incomplete! If you have used Heath as a character in your stories, just let me know and I can add a little blurb.
- Heath’s energy is warm and welcoming, but lonely-- like motes of dust dancing in the light of a stained glass window, or strings plucked in an empty church.
- His voice is deep; sometimes gritty, sometimes smooth. He is soft-spoken and articulate, and rarely-- if ever-- raises his voice. He sometimes likes to sing to himself while he works.
- Heath does not perform transformations. He considers them to be a grave and terrible act, the equivalent of barring a soul from ever finding true peace. For this reason, Heath distrusts esk that manifest many crystals or other transformation rewards.
- Because of his complicated feelings about his current state, Heath does not visit the Conservatory.
Heath can be freely used as a character in your own works. In general, he is a gentle and soothing presence to others, a rock that they can rely on in times of hardship. However, Heath has his own troubles, and restlessly searches for a sense of purpose through acts of service.
Heath cannot be used as a creator esk, due to his strong feelings about transformations.
Please be respectful when approaching Heath's background as a gay Irish-American man, with deep Catholic roots. While his history presents him with many challenges, I am generally disinterested in works centered on the pain caused by -isms and -phobias. His story may be bittersweet at times, but at its core it is one of hope and love, not a case study in discrimination. Be mindful that stories centered on his heritage-- and the struggles of people like him-- are often best told by those who belong to these groups.
Let me take you to the herding ground
Where all good men are trampled down
Just to settle a bet that could not be won
Between a prideful father and his son