Sunday, March 25, 2007

Greenwich Park Burial Mounds

At the top of the park, surrounding a weeping fir tree of some kind and edged in a rather casual way by oaks, are a number of different sized ancient burial mounds. Grass covered, dissected by paths, they undulate gently, like a green velvet sea frozen in time.

At the top of the hill, the Artic wind was ferocious. We ducked under the sheltering branches of the huge old weeping fir, and shivering, set out our alter. Pointlessly, we attempted to light a candle, but the wind was having none of it!

Many of the spirits of this land are winter goddesses. They rode on the brutal wind, dancing around us as we stood braced against the old tree. The wind howled and thrust itself at us before subsiding back to a persistent insidious sharpness.

I began to walk round and round the tree. Step by step, I moved across the soft ground, ducking to avoid being brained by overhanging branches.

And soon my feet were following another path. This was an ancient path, trodden many times and for many years, long, long ago. I walked slowly, single file with many others. A mournful song rose from the front of the column and made its way back to me. Softly at first, I began to sing, measuring my steps to the beat of the song.

We were carrying our dead. WE were the dead. WE were walking to our graves and we were in chains. Still, we trudged and sang, trudged and sang, for it was the only way to find the energy to put one foot in front of another.

It was night. It was cold. I was scared, so scared. My chest filled with grief and I keened out my pain, for I had lost everything I knew and loved.

The circle was hard to make a hole in. My stick held it up for the others, but I could hardly support it and my arm shook with the effort.

WE walked out onto the mounds and I began to traverse each one, gently moving down into hollows and then up onto summits. And as I walked, I felt drawn to sing. I was called to sing songs of courage, endurance and hope. Self-consciously at first and then with more boldness, I began to sing:

“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.
Many stones to form an arch, singly none, singly none.
And by union what we will, shall be accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

Still marching with the spirits of the past, I felt the earth gently holding me, as though guiding my steps. I began to sing:

“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I wish I could break all the chains holding me.
I wish I could say all the things I should say.
Say it loud; say it clear for the whole round world to hear.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky.
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly.
I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea.
Then I’d sing, ‘because I’d know-how it feels to be free.”

I stepped into a grassy hollow on one mound and felt the earth beneath me shift as though better to hold me. I knew that a network of ancient underground streams honeycombed the earth beneath the mounds. I imagined them like the tracks of the earth’s tears.

It was time to go. Curious dog-walkers noticed us and then turned back to their animals. We moved slowly back to the tree, and closed the circle.

Our feet and wheels led us to an ancient oak standing sentinel by the path leading to the mounds. I touched her pitted and gnarled trunk. It was rough but warm. I lent into her and was sheltered momentarily from the biting wind. She offered an unconditional, warm reassuring embrace and I felt comforted and renewed.


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