Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Boar’s Gift

For the second time in the last two weeks, snow has again blanketed my garden. On Thursday night, I walked carefully through its brittle crunchiness, drawn by its icy persistence, to stand and dream beneath my rowan tree. I had been thinking of my mother and my twin brother, wondering how they were getting on with the aftermath of my father’s death.

I cast a circle and called upon the goddess to witness my working. The night smells crept closer. Somewhere on the edge of my nasal consciousness, I caught the ashy dustiness of wood smoke. I sent out a prayer on it’s tendrils that Mum and twin brother would find strength and comfort in the old woodland that they were the guardians of and that the trees would give them (and me) strength to go on.

I stroked the slender trunk of the rowan tree beside me. Behind my closed eyelids, the olive tree in the Spanish garden trembled softly in the breeze. Bending low, I searched and found the entrance, wriggled down and moved through the tunnel emerging into bright snow woodland, it’s black bare trees, edged with white, standing stark against the snow and the silver grey sky.

I walked through the woods, the way I had been other times. Before long, the path wound and rose to a steep high bank. My feet slipped and slithered in the half melted refrozen snow. I clutched at icy saplings and overhanging branches, showering myself in freezing water. Eventually, with a great effort I pulled myself onto the plateau above.

There, surrounded by trees, was the old tumble-down cottage, its cracked and peeling door firmly closed. Its upper windows, opaque and cobwebbed were sullenly dark. The downstairs one, glowed with flickering orange light lit by the hearth fire within whilst smoke slowly spiralled up from the chimney.

The ground before and all around it was smooth white. Nothing had gone this way since the snow fell. I stepped soundlessly across the clearing.
Knowing it would be unlocked; I pushed opened the cottage door and entered. Wood smoke, herbs, spices with an undertone of damp dog edged with mould, assailed my nostrils. Breathing deeply, I closed the door and walked towards the inviting fire. I sat down and stretched my cold fingers to it’s heat. Gazing quietly into it’s glowing embers, I began to feel the blood return to my hands and face.

Suddenly the kettle shrieked. Taking it from the flames, I set it down in the hearth and went in search of something to make a drink with and a vessel to put it in. On a set of shelves in a nearby dresser, were a jumble of jars and bottles and a stack of thick clay mugs. I gathered what I wanted and returned to make my tea.

Tossing a handful of curling velvety leaves into the fire, I breathed soft sage and stirred another handful of the herb into my mug. Inhaling deeply I felt myself ease and settle gently into watchful stillness, my hands nursing the mug.

And as I looked deep into the fire, from the corner of my eye, I caught a movement from the dark alcove. Emerging into the warm light, the old blind she-wolf edged cautiously forward, nose feeling the way. She sniffed my foot, my knee and my outstretch hand. Reaching forward with her head she rested it on my knee, groaning deeply in her throat with contentment as I stroked her bony old head.

After a while she shifted, as though to say “we’ve got things to do, come on”. I placed my now empty cup on the hearth and rose to follow her, hand on her back, not wanting to lose her.

She led me out of the room into the cold, dark corridor, to an ancient old oak door leading to the back of the cottage. Heaving it open with some difficulty (for it was stiff and reluctant) we edged through and out into the snow again.

The moon was up, the shadows of bare tree branches patterned the snowy carpet as we moved slowly forward between the trees. As we walked, they leaned closer to us and the wood became dark.

Bending under a snow laden branch, I followed the She-Wolf into a moonlit clearing. In the centre stood a dark still shape. As I moved closer, I saw it was a great tusked and whiskery black boar standing stolidly, head forward listening and watching us as we approached.

Was this an emissary of the goddess, I silently asked myself? The old she-wolf, move carefully towards him. The She-Wolf comes to comfort and guide me, like a parent, I remembered. Is he here to stand with me in these times, as a silent witness? The boar grunted, sniffed the she-wolf without curiosity or so it seemed, snorted once more in my general direction and turned and walked back amongst the trees.

The moonlight shon down upon the snow. A sweet, cloying and somehow unpleasant smell wafted towards me upon a sudden brisk little breeze. Where he had been, lay a steaming, dark, glistening fresh turd.

Snow slipped casually from the branches, the wood seemed to crackle and pop like a small hearth-fire. I threw back my head and roared with laughter. The trees bounced it back again, echoing it across the sky.

The She-Wolf returned to my side. Leaving the boar’s gift for the crawling creatures of the wood, together we walked back to the cottage. I knelt by the fire, fed it more wood, stroked the wolf in farewell and made my way back through the trees to my garden, still chuckling to myself.

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