Monday, January 15, 2007

Saturday January 13, 2007, 11 am.

Howe Park Wood

Inside Nature's Gazebo
Howe Park is probably the woodland mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.
Parts of it may be rare surviving fragments of the "wildwood" that covered the whole of lowland Britain after the last ice Age, 6-11,000 years ago.

The sun tried it's best to shove the low, mildly threatening clouds out of the way as my companion and I squeezed our goddess sized bottoms through the gates into the woods. Our feet sunk satisfyingly into soft loamy mud and we began to squelch our way carefully along the path between hornbeams, woodland shrubs and innocent-looking nettles.

Vandals had black markered the once helpful map at the edge of the woodland. We might wander for hours and not find the ancient Crab Apples or Great Oak, or even the tree (probably a lime) that looks like half a dozen trees, ranged in a circle. But suddenly, mid speculation about getting lost, my companion let out a cry of delight. There to our right *was* that tree pretending to be a circle of trees.

Edging our way nervously past the nettles, we entered a kind of natural gazebo which was all one tree. Five or six trunks, circled a central one. Their branches entwined, the soft loamy earth hiding the common roots beneath the soil. It seemed as though there was a trunk at every quarter.

We marvelled at nature's design.

At the west point, the trunk, interestingly knobbled , offered several inviting flat places to put the trappings of a simple alter. We set out our candles, stones and bowls and laid out our waterproofs and blankets on the soggy ground and cast our circle. I sat quietly listening to the sounds of the wood. Birds called to each other amongst the bare tree tops, twigs and branches groaned and tapped in the stiff little breeze which reached its icy fingers between the trunks and tugged at my hood. Breathing quietly, I settled upon my sitting bones and allowed the wood's waiting quiet to enter me.

Something light moved against the dark central trunk. It moved and I saw it was a small dog sized animal, but brilliantly white. Surprising myself with the neatness of the act, I rose easily to my feet and approached it. It turned and led me between the trunks and through the wood. I walked on soft steady feet out into an expanse of whiteness, a wide field covered in snow.

The animal, rather like a tiny deer or small goat, almost disappeared against the whiteness. I followed it's dark footsteps across the field and up a steep incline. Against the dazzling snow brightness, a dark hole appeared. The creature stood beside it as though saying "after you". I dropped easily to my knees and crawled in.

The darkness was complete. The space was not huge and smelled of damp earth and ash. AS I crouched by the entrance, I saw a dark shape lying in the middle of what appeared now to me to be a long, narrow bare earth chamber.

I crawled over to it and knelt beside it before instinctively lying down next to it.
In the darkness, I lay still. The chamber seemed to rock and move forward, gently swaying as though born on water. Sharp, biting wind nipped at my cheeks. I tasted salt upon my lips. In the distance, a soft falling drum beat offered comfort.

I was being lifted up and gently lowered onto packed earth. It was dark and quiet. As I lay, I felt rather than saw the finger of light, growing brighter by the minute that penetrated the darkness. Rolling over, I crawled towards it's brilliance. Thrusting my head out into fresh air, I saw that a new day was dawning and, judging by the greenness of the grass, it was a beautiful early summer morning. I rose and began to walk.

Then I saw it. In the middle of the field, a white statue glimmered in the morning light. Moving closer, I saw it was a white stag dear, and that it was also a fountain or spring. I cupped my hands to gather the water falling gently from the statue's mouth into a bowl below. I poured the
water on the grass and offered thanks. Stooping, I drank the soft cool water, lapping like a thirsty animal.

When I had drunk my fill, I sat back and studied the statue. He gazed at me quietly with gentle but firm eyes. I saw that he was indeed a young stag, the antlers still delicate in their first growth. I was filled with a quiet peace. I ran my hands gently across his face and antlers, cupped my hands and tenderly trickled the water upon his forehead, tracing the droplets with my fingers.

Time past and the sun moved higher in the sky. Reluctantly I turned and moved away, walking slowly across the green field. And as I reentered the wood, the seasons shifted until, arriving back at nature's gazebo, winter's grip was once more upon the land.

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