A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Stone’s Resolve

Saturday July 28, 2007:

In a brief window of sunshine in the veil of rain which has been deluging much of south and central England this last week or two, a group of us threaded our way through the trees on the heath, heading for a grassy clearing in which to do a public Lamas ritual. Around us, dogs and their owners gambled, bicyclists swished past and the parakeets called to each other noisily in the undulating trees. Beneath our feet, the grass, long and succulent cushioned us as we walked.

In a quiet green clearing, we dress the space and crated an alter of fruits of the woods. Rowen and blackberries, oak leaves and grass glittered in the shafting sunshine as we placed our sacred objects amongst them.

We were here to mark the turning of the year. Together, we brought our personal harvests and that of the land too. We shared our triumphs and challenges, offered thanks for the learning gained, and in sorrow and foreboding, acknowledged the enormity of the consequence of human behaviour upon the climate of the planet.

Sitting on a blanket on the soft grass, I tuned into the benevolent presence amongst the trees surrounding us. The grass, its smell delicately sour rose to meet me as my fingers played between its slim and feathery blades.

I spoke of my harvest of words, words that had allowed me to paint pictures of my journeys to meet the goddess. In allowing them to grow and shape themselves beneath my tapping fingers, I had found joy and a quiet soul’s rest.

Reaching into my pocket, I brought out the palm sized smooth stone I had picked up from my collection at the water shrine in my house. I stroked it thoughtfully as I spoke of how I had learned that grief cannot be shaken off at will but has to take it’s time and place, and how hard a lesson that had been for me. I spoke of my inner resolve to engage with all that might come to me from the death of my father, knowing that – no matter the turmoil of my mind, there was an inner core of rock solid strength that would preserve me. The stone symbolised for me that rock solid strength and the certainty that in perfect love and perfect truth, the Goddess was with me wherever I journeyed.

One by one, we shared our harvests and plans. We broke bread together in honour of Lugh the sun god, whose sun’s energy had gone into the grain and would sustain us till he came again at solstice. We called for healing of the earth and a return of balance and the life giving gift of water: and as we did so, a rabbit darted across the clearing.

We danced our wishes, sending energy in a cone of power up into the heavens. Feasting on the land’s bounty, we gave thanks for its ongoing nourishment. The sun moved round and the air began to cool. Returning the alter decorations to the woods; we tidied away any clue that we had been there and went on our ways back to the everyday world.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Battersea Swan

Tuesday July 17, 2007:
The sunny summer evening was sticky with undischarged rain. We wove our way down the Buckingham Palace Road, dodging between wandering tourists and scurrying commuters as we headed for Chelsea Bridge, the river and Battersea Park. Had he lived, this would have been my father’s 85th birthday. AS it was, it was six months to the day since he died – proving that even in his dying, he was neat and precise, as he had been in life.

A damp west wind buffeted our cheeks as we drew closer to the river. Soon the teaming streets gave way to quieter thoroughfares, flanked by up market flats. Dodging across a series of complicated crossings we safely reached the bridge.

Here, the wind was fiercer. Low evening sunshine licked at our cheeks. Beneath our feet, the river gurgled quietly as it made its way to the sea.

I was coming home. This was the neighbourhood of my father’s family. We past the power station and turned into Battersea Park. The London traffic receded into a dull distant hum soaked up by the great plane trees standing on either side of the path, like an honour guard.

I was a small child again. I remembered a throng of people, all pressing forward to see the glorious Easter Parade. It had looked so great on the television. Huge horses decked in flowers, shining carriages and mad hats, all hidden to me then behind the sea of backs and legs. Even when hoisted to my father’s shoulders, I could see little, but that was more about my poor vision than any tangible obstructions.

We walked along the plane grove beside the river. Panting joggers shot past, daft dogs scurried after tossed balls. The park was busy but peaceful.

At the base of a great old plane tree, we sat in the pool of sun. I stroked the swan’s feather I had brought with me and we offered seeds for the land and our journey.

I began to speak …

“I journey to walk my father through all his ages.” I repeated three times.

In the twilight, the swan glides, shimmering white before me. She wants me to climb onto her back and so I do. Off we glide across the softly flowing river.

The water is dark. The stars are out in the midnight blue sky. On either side of us, the river bank buildings loom up, the amber street lights splash orange against the darker shadows. All is still.

A small boy, his fair hair tousled and untidy stands, flanked by two adults. By the look of them, they are trying to hide mirth behind severe disapproval. The little boy looks up with that crooked grin, his determined little chin jutting defiantly. In one hand, he holds an enormous spanner. Unseen by all involved, I watch my father argue robustly with his elders about why he should be allowed to dismantle some object that has taken his fancy.

The child walks through the streets, untidy and slightly grubby in a small-boy way, he is purposeful as he makes his way to school. In the classroom, he is attentive. A clever boy with a neat hand, he loves words. He dives in amongst them and paints with them what he wants his world to be. He wins prizes.

Back at home his mother sews. There is no money and so he must go out to work. At fourteen, a messenger boy or junior clerk, he shoulders the responsibility to bring in money.

I watch him as he works. I can see into his mind, see the dreams of writing - of doing something better than this.

War comes. He is a young man now and he has to fight. He doesn’t want to but the consequences of not doing so, for a working class lad like him, are too terrible.

I am with him as he makes his decision. He doesn’t believe in war as a solution. But Hitler must be stopped so he joins up.

This handsome young man, now calling himself Jack, looks dashing in his uniform. I see the man beneath the khaki, flinch at the thought of fighting, and then se him set his shoulders.

I sit in the cramped cab of the tank with him. I smell his fear; see the sweat trickling down inside his collar. Expertly, he drives the tank, confidently manoeuvring it. Inside he is scared, he is so scared. He doesn’t want to fight. He thinks it’s wrong but he has to.

The other young men around him are gung ho. Does their bravado hide similar emotions? He joins in. I watch as he mocks the great David statue in Rome, standing clad only in swimming trunks, mirroring the pose, grinning crookedly and knowingly at the camera.

And I follow him; I follow him all through the Italian campaign and beyond. I follow him on the day he is demobbed and returns home. I watch his face as he sees the devastation wrought by the bombs, the jagged holes where once a house was, the filth and decay amongst the rubble. His neighbourhood is torn apart by war; poverty and grief are etched on the faces of the community.

Eventually, he gets a job. Most inappropriately he becomes a postman, even though mornings are hard for him. I follow him as he makes his way sleepily through the unfamiliar streets and I ride on the thoughts that soon come to the surface, of a return to education.

Not for him the leisured days of university. Rather, he must fit in his studying after work. He goes to evening class.

I sit in the classroom with him and see the small boy inside the man, absorbed, face still, as he writes. I watch the other students noticing him, and one in particular, a tall, big boned handsome young woman with untidy brown hair, feasting her eyes on him. I see her determination to know him and knowing him to have him all to herself, to make a life with him. And in time, despite his resistance, that is what happens.

Oh but they are poor, my mother and father. London has been flattened by the Luftwaffe and there is nowhere to live. They find cramp rooms upstairs in a house where my father argues with the landlord and is kicked down the stairs for his pains.

I sit in the corner and watch their lives unfold. My mother bears a child and then a second. Bored, for she too is a clever woman with ambitions abandoned in order to pursue her handsome Jack, she eats and grows fat.

He knows he is caught. There is no way out. He passes exams which prove his talent but still he trudges upon the treadmill of the dull working day. He grows angry inside, bitter because the dream is lost. His anger sours his mood and they argue. They trade bitter words, fuelled by disappointment and poverty. There are reconciliations, twins are born. But they return to argue and the children cry.

Life moves on. My mother makes the best of her opportunities and moves on career wise. I sit with the serpent of jealousy and anger in the Brest of my father, fulminating with rage for he has to work, work, and work. Acidly, he lashes out with his tongue. My mother eats, growing a layer of fat to protect her from the sharpness of his tongue. But it doesn’t work. It hurts. It hurts them both and I watch their grief as I watch the children standing at the top of the stairs at night, listening and crying.

My father laughs with his friends and is happy Jack outside the house. Then he comes home to a house where he cooks the meals. I see my younger self arguing with him. I see his love for me and my adult self weeps inside with the shame.

He sits with my sixteen year old younger self and reads to me, for I can no longer do this. My adult self notices for the first time the love he has for the words of Bronte and Joyce and how he loses himself in their poetry. As he reads, his own words dance in and out, the secret poetry of his mind that goes everywhere with him.

I see his boredom and frustration. When my younger self has left home and broken the ties, he retreats into neatness and inner dreams. But the constant litany of deprivation paraded before him at work, fuels a small fire inside. A fire that burns with the injustice of it all. HE sees the gulf between the haves and the have knots and is incandescent with rage. It is time to get involved. It is time to fight back!

He joins the labour party, becomes active locally, and gets on the list to stand as a local councillor. I sit at the back of meetings and hear him speak. Such eloquence but such rage. An old man now, he marches with me on the Stop the Clause March. He stands at the bottom of the stage whilst I address the thousands of protesters. He is shining with pride for me, his daughter. My adult self sees this and again weeps for shame, because I didn’t notice before.

He retires to the country. The dreams of freedom to write are gone. He’s too sour and angry. Cruelly, he lashes out at my mother and twin brother, the two members of the family who have been his constant support. I watch the pain that all feel and wriggle inside myself, as more shame unfurls.

Hiding inside his pain, he caves in upon himself. He slows and then stops eating. He knows that to do this inflicts terrible torture on my mother, who battles to control her weight. Cruelly, he pushes away the food she prepares.

I see him day after day, sitting slumped, bent almost double, at the kitchen table, too weak to hold himself up. He is skeletal. His skin stretches over the fine bone structure of his handsome head, the silver grey hair moulded to his scull. Determinedly, doggedly he starves himself, taunting my mother for her inability to control her eating by his abstinence. I want to ask him. “What do you want? Do you want to starve yourself to death?” But I am afraid of the answer. Yet I sit unseen and watch him fade before my eyes.

Thin and frail, he lies in a hospital bed. I watch myself shifting uneasily next to him. I watch at last as inside me I see the spark of compassion and inside him, a recognition that I, his beloved daughter is there at last for him.

I see myself get up to go. His eyes watch my back as I part the curtains. “Goodbye Daughter” he says quietly.

And there he is, laid out neat and confined by the sheets tucked tightly in. Silver hair flowing around his head on the pillow like a halo. He looks innocent, peaceful and angelic, as he never was in life. I stand and watch him as he drifts off, as he disappears down that dark tunnel to another place.

The swan feels soft beneath my hands. She sits quiet and patient. I have seen enough. Slowly we move back down the river, gliding on its rippling surface. We float past the tall dark buildings, amber edged and mysterious, under the star filled sky, riding back to the sunset on a warm July evening.

The sun has moved round. The slim tree in front throws a dark shadow over me. I am stiff and cold. I shift my weight to release my left leg from its pins and needles.

Quietly, my companion talks of how she saw her own father, also called jack, following mine. Not interfering, just there being watchful, following my father as he moves on. He is not alone now.

Nearby, a young man laughs and talks with his friends of going off to KFC. It is time to move. We get up and make our way to the river’s edge and stand in the red glow of the setting sun as the river flows gently beneath our feet. I toss some seeds towards the water but they don’t get there. “Happy Birthday Daddy” I whisper to the silent river.

In time we make our way out of the park. We cross the river and walk back through the quiet streets of Chelsea, back to the chaos that is Victoria and the world.

Comfort in the wildwood

Sunday July 15, 2007:

The sun struggled through the thick storm laced air. I was early. My friend was still in her bath! Edging past the spreading branches of a heavily laden apple tree I made my way to the little woodland at the end of her large London garden. Beneath the wizen branches of the elderly pear tree, I sat down in dappled shade to wait.

We were going to visit my mother. Nearly six months on since my father’s death, she marched purposefully on in her life, eager to get stuck into her next project but unable to do so until she sold her property.

I felt very anxious about her. She was eighty after all and had recently been diagnosed with an arythmical heart. I so much wanted her to have the life she dreamed of. Now that my father was dead, she could. If only she could sell her house … If only her health would hold up … I sat under the pear tree and fretted.

The traffic on the North circular hummed. Above me, a robin sang. In the next garden, two wood pidgins cooed. At the other end of the garden, a magpie rattled harshly.

A shining golden hare stood before me. Momentarily surprised, I blinked and shook my head. She was still there. I got up and followed her.

We ducked under the hazel tree and pushed our way through the tangled hedge, brushing up against the garden fence. The branches made a tunnel and I pressed through them, bent double, feeling their cool leaves caress my bare arms. In front of me, the hair glimmered in the green gloom.

Now we were out into sunlight, climbing up a mossy bank and then plunging back down into the dark coolness of an older wood. We pushed on, high stepping over fallen logs, easing through the thickets of hawthorn and holly until we emerged into a small quiet clearing in the very heart of the wood.

And there in front of me an old oak tree sat, its ancient trunk twisted and gnarled, whiskery new growth at its base. I looked again and saw that it was a sitting man, his crossed legs, the twisted lower trunk, his straight back, its upright part, the tangled branches, his antlers. The hare shot across the clearing and dived into the space between his feet and curled up and lay quietly.

I stood stock still and gazed. Before long, I felt his eyes on me and, taking a deep breath, I moved closer and knelt before him. My heart was full and I felt tears prick my eyes.

“Lord of the Wildwood, what can I best do to help my mother?” I asked.

“Allow yourself to love her”, the tree seemed to growl from his very core.

Something shifted in side me and I felt rather than heard myself say as tears began to trickle down my cheeks, “Great Lord of the Wildwood, I am in such pain.”

I moved closer, reaching out to touch the rough bark of his knees, drawn, like the hare to sit in the shelter of this great presence and be still. All was quiet. I had nothing to do but be with the grief. And then it came to me, there was no short cut. I had to allow the emotions to move through me in their own time. AS this thought crossed my mind, the tree seemed to rumble his agreement.

Drifting into that twilight place, half asleep, half awake, I felt myself held by the great presence beside me. He offered no words of comfort. No distracting mind chatter came to disturb my reverie. All I had to do was to be here right now. I sat with my sadness and was witnessed and felt grateful.

A voice called urgently from beyond the trees. My friend needed help. Back in her garden, I heard her talking to her helper and turned and raced back to the clearing.

I knelt before the tree and gave thanks for the beauty of the natural world and the peace it gave me. The hare uncurled herself and bounced across the clearing as I turned to follow her back, back through the wildwood, across the mossy bank and through the hazel thicket, back into the London garden, the old pear tree and the humming waking day.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Flying with the Pigeon

Saturday July 7, 2007

It seemed strange to be bathed in sun, after so many weeks of rain. Today, two years after the terrible events of the London bombings, I felt called to go to my dreaming space in my garden and be. It had just gone 08:47.

Hidden from view behind the flourishing greenery of the garden – it had grown luxuriously in the last few weeks; I called the directions and cast a circle. All was quiet. Only a wood pigeon somewhere cooed to his mate.

I walked slowly down the Strand into Trafalgar Square. At the top of the steps outside the National Gallery I stopped and turned my eyes to the blue, blue sky above. A dark spec appeared, growing gradually bigger as it grew nearer, until the blue grey London pidgin, plump and cheerful, landed, bobbing and bowing at my feet.

We stared at each other and I knew that we had work to do together. AS he made to fly off, momentarily I was filled with panic until I realised that I had lifted off the ground and was flying gracefully after him. No time to be amazed, I followed the little darting bird as he soared into the clear summer sky.

High above the dusty sun-drenched streets, we circled the city as it span beneath us. In every direction, the buildings, punctuated by patches of green, stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Over Kings Cross station, we swooped down. Then we were on the Met, Circle and district line platform. On the great rush of an approaching train, we flew down the tunnel towards Algate East. Out of the shadows, as we passed, those strange beings from the tube, the three legged, fox-like , horned and winged creatures I had met before began running along the tracks, as though to form an honour guard.

Emerging at Algate East, we flew back up into the sky, circling London, flying back to Kings Cross and then down in to the tube again. This time we headed for Edgware Road, the tube creatures keeping up with us. At Edgware road, we flew back across the sky to Kings Cross and down to the Piccadilly line, accompanied by the beings of the tube, this time only to Russell Square. For a fourth time, we returned to Kings Cross. Staying above ground, we perched on the roof of a number 30 bus, clinging on with our claws as the bus turned down towards Tavistock Square. Launching ourselves suddenly from the bus roof, we flew round the square, darted in and out of the trees, brushing their branches with our wings as we soared up and out of the Square into the summer morning sky over the city again.

We flew far to the east butted by the sharp wind from the far off sea. We wheeled round to the right and flew south, skirting the rising land, the sun warm on my neck. We flew across the city and snaked up the river as it meandered from the west, the water glinting and rippling beneath us as it flowed to the sea. WE turned north and flew beyond Highgate Hill and Alexander Palace, the hills that, with their Southern cousins, embraced the teaming city within, dissected by its great river.

And as we flew, I thought about London in all its variety. This great city, sheltering millions of peoples from hundreds of communities, its citizens speaking more than 300 languages was resilient because of that very diversity.

And then we were down on a large rock by a roadside in the middle of a bustling settlement on the banks of the great river. London Stone stood solid, drawing us like a great magnet to it. But the river too had her power. She called us to her side. We went gladly, swooping down to dabble our feet in her rippling waves, allowing her to licked coolly and thoughtfully between our claws as we watched the water flow down to the sea, glimmering in the sun. And as it moved, I swear I caught the sight of tangled brown hair and cool green eyes just under the surface, shifting and moving with the light breeze.

A bell tolled. We bode to the river and reluctantly flew back up into the sky. Before I knew it, there was Trafalgar Square slowly turning beneath us. And then we were down on the top step in front of The National Gallery. Clumsily, I got down on my knees before the bowing little pidgin and bent my head. “Droo-droo” I cooed and hoped he understood that I was thanking him. Returning my coo, he bobbed one more time and then lifted his wings and few up into the sky. I watched while he became a tiny speck in the far distance, and then turned and walked back to the Strand.

Above my head, a helicopter circled. I stood up, raising my face to where I heard its engine and waved. The quiet leafy garden waited, lifting hopeful leaves to the morning sun as I made my way back down the garden path.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Amber lightening flash – cape Cornwall

Part 1: The dance for life

Saturday June 23 2007

The Rattles rasped harshly. My feet moved impulsively. My body rocked to the rhythm.

The wood was dark; the fire flickered and leaped, lighting up the undersides of the trees luridly. In the fire she danced, her red skirts swirling, orange arms waving, yellow hair shaking as she twirled and spiralled.

The lethargy, like a heavy blanket weighed me down, compressing my chest. Yet, my feet wanted to move. I had to dance. Sweat poured down my face as I fought the inertia.

With a huge effort, I broke free of the invisible bonds and leaped into the scorching fire. I screamed with pain and excitement as I hopped from foot to foot. She gyrated and I joined her, moving with her, our dance becoming wilder and wilder. We twirled round until we became one, dancing in an explosion of leaping flames.

And then she was gone. The fire subsided and I jumped from the embers onto the cool grass, the pain of my burnt feet almost unbearable.

Looking back, I saw something shining in the ashes. Reaching down, I touched something warm and yet solid. In gentle hands, I picked up a piece of beautiful glistening amber, shaped like a lightening flash. My fingers traced the shape and I saw in my minds eye, the dancing fire goddess. Beyond the pain of my feet, I remembered the dance and felt energised.

Part 2, the Walk of Attention

Sunday June 24, 2007:

A Snake of women each with a hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of her, moved as one along the quiet Cornish road. Eyes cast down in meditation, as a foot was raised; another was put in its place. As one, the line rocked gently from side to side as it moved slowly down the hill.

The wind from the sea blew the drizzle into our faces. Feet crushed grass and the aroma rose sharp and sweet. Above, a seagull peonned piteously.

In the dark night, a chain of silent women walked. Each bowed down with the invisible Burdon of sorrow, each walking in her sister’s footsteps. The road was rough but they steadied those whose feet faltered for they were one, united in sorrow, together, surviving. And because they were together, they would not be broken.

The scene changed. A row of small children, perhaps as young as three years old, hand on the one in front’s shoulder walked carefully forward. Moving slowly they made their way through the unfamiliar territory, their feet firmly placed, one foot in front of the other, their little uniformed tunics rippling in the wind. Their heads were bowed, their eyes downcast or closed, for they were all blind. Each felt the warm flesh of his neighbour through his thin cotton covered shoulders and each knowing, that despite being sent away from home so young, they were not alone.

I walked with a sway, echoing my neighbour’s movement, stepping into the place that her foot had just left. The sea-salt air, damp with spray and rain, coated my cheek and I felt at ease.

At last we were still, in a circle above the crashing waves. The sun pushed aside the clouds and shone down in our faces as we raised them to it, giving thanks to the air, fire, water and earth for our lives, the land and the day.

A sister touched my arm and called out to the assembled group. “Look, there’s your amber lightening flash!” She turned me to face it across the cove and described how the rock opposite had a quartz lightening flash and that it had been stained orange by iron. It glimmered in the sudden sunshine and I could see it clearly in my minds eye, and felt my energy shift.

Below my feet, I heard the waves crashing against the rocks and longed to be down there closer to the sea. But time was not on our side and we turned and snaked our way back up the hill.

Remembering the warrior

Sunday June 17, 2007

Dew drenched grass, soft beneath my feet held me as I walked across the orchard towards the small round Moorish building than was the meditation room. The morning sun had not penetrated the cold dark shade between the trees yet and the garden was still and quiet.

Tenderly, the smoothe wood floor supported my bare feet as I walked slowly round the room. Moving in sadness, (for I had come here to mourn the passing of a comrade in struggle the day before) I called the breath of life, the spark of existence, the water of love and the stillness of the ever-waiting earth to be with me in this place. The room gently held me as I paced until I was ready to slide down onto the floor and sit in stillness.

My hands found the three big blowsy flowers sitting in their vase in the centre of the floor. My fingers probed the petals, stroking gently as my mind grew quiet. I reached forward and lit the candle, cupping the flames with my hands, coaxing the warmth outwards. My fingers found the singing bowl sitting nearby on the floor and I softly stroked its lip with my finger. An invisible ringing grew into existence, shivering delicately in the quiet room. Outside a sparrow called cheerfully and a robin answered. I sat back, my back against the smoothe wall and breathed.

I was drifting through the soft petals of a huge flower. It caressed me as I fell through it, yet somehow gently depositing me on the springy grass. In the distance, I heard solemn music, an old kind of music, it’s slow pace and minor cadence stiffening my face with grief. I looked down, for I was on a slight elevation and saw something moving slowly in the distance. A single repeated drum beat wove in and out of the pavan, growing louder as the procession grew nearer.

Now it streamed passed me. Hundreds of people, heads bowed, followed a figure Bourne high on a bier. They moved as one, united in grief. I fell in behind them, moving slowly with the sadness of the music.

I remembered the old comrade and the times we had shared. Looking past the people, I saw him hanging in mid air above the crowd, obviously mid rant, and placard in front of him. I followed on as the faces of other fallen comrades flashed before me, chained to buses, sitting down in the middle of the road at Greenham, talking, writing, taking action in their own ways. All of them inspiring.

Petals fell about me. I looked up and saw the underside of the huge bloom that I had climbed through. The music faded, the procession disappeared. I was sat on a soft wooden floor, leaning against a smoothe cool wall in a quite round room, in an orchard, up a mountain in Andalusia. I crawled across the floor and, giving thanks for the life of my amazing comrade, blew out the candle, touched the singing bowl once more and gently stroked a curling petal of one of the flowers.

Outside in the garden, the robin sang and a blackbird answered. Slowly I got up and stepped out into the fragrant orchard and into another day.

The veiled rock

Saturday June 16, 2007

In the corner of the orchard grew another old olive tree, younger than the grandmother olive in the courtyard. Yet she was still magnificent with her curving snake-like trunk and round inner chambers carpeted with dried leaves.

I stood before her and admired her beauty, palms brushing her trunk and exploring with curious fingers her crevices. My hands found a deeper hole, a bowl curved and round with the inner tree twisting within like a snake of rope. I trailed light fingertips across it, stroking the dried old leaves away before plunging my hands, knuckle deep into the leaves.

I had had too much of the sun that day. I needed cool shade in which to doze the afternoon away. I lay down on a blanket at her foot and cast a circle, inviting into my dreams any beings of the place that cared to show themselves to me.

I felt very small, or was it the tree that was big. Anyway, it stretched and curved above me, its rough bark offering me many footholds as I began to clamber up. What a long way it was, but here was an opening, a round bowl in the trunk, blanketed with dried leaves into which I rolled.

Light shafted into my dark and cosy little hole from a second opening higher up. I climbed up and peered out onto a grassy slope rising up in front of me, bisected by an avenue of tall trees. The sun shone brightly and the grass though rough, looked soft. Squeezing out of the hole, I began to walk through the avenue.

The sun rose higher as I toiled up an increasingly steep hill. The avenue of trees and the grass gave way to smaller fruit trees, increasingly bent and gnarled. Soon I was stumbling through scrubland and then dried dusty boulders with low rough bushes, in time giving way to bigger rocky outcrops and the occasional twisted old thorn tree clinging tenaciously to the mountainside.

I climbed on past a blank windowed ruined old tower pointing its solitary finger towards the sky. Wondering briefly what it had been, I toiled on, until, sweating and breathless, I stopped to rest.

I turned and looked back. The mountain fell away dizzyingly and the whole world curved below me, green and brown, grey and white edged with the blue, blue sea. I had come a long way but there was still further to go. I got to my feet and climbed on again.

The sun was moving below the mountain opposite as I heaved myself up a precipice onto a rocky ledge in front of a dark cave. At its mouth sat an old rock, rough hewn by the wind and rain. In the changing light of the setting sun it looked like the figure of a veiled sitting woman. Awe struck, I prostrated myself before her, as this seemed the right thing to do just then.

All was quiet. After some time I raised my face and looked up at her. She moved slightly and it seemed to me that she was inviting me to sit before her. Sitting up, I gazed in curiosity at the indistinct contours of her face, masked by the rock veil.

I sat quietly and began to reflect upon the journey I had just taken. I had come so far but was not at the summit yet. It was a long way back and the way forward, the smoothes sheer rock face above the cave looked equally intimidating. I needn’t go on today. There was time yet.

As I looked around me, I wished I was a bird and could just spread my wings and fly. And as I thought this, I found myself climbing to my feet and standing, toes over the edge of the ledge with the mountain plunging giddyingly down below me. I raised my arms and dived.

I was flying! Swooping and soaring, I circled the mountain shooting past the veiled rock, nodding my thanks and farewell to her as I plunged down, down, down the rock face. I skimmed across the rocks, over the tops of the gnarled and twisted fruit trees. I flew through the straight avenue down to the old olive tree where I settled on a high branch to survey the quiet orchard, rose-edged and shadowed by the evening sun.

A sharp little breeze buffeted my cheek. I felt small against the flatness of the earth, my body cushioned by the blanket on the rough grass. I stretched and yawned. In the distance, a clocked tolled six. I sighed and rolled over and got up.

Unsteadily I made my way to the tree. Reaching up, I stroked her trunk, following her contours with my hands, seeking out and finding the hollow. My fingers told my thanks as I acknowledged the beauty of this place and her presence. Closing the circle, I bowed to the tree, picked up my blanket and began to make my way back across the orchard.

Bird on a hot roof

Friday June 15, 2007, Andalusia

The wind had got up in the night. She butted the low buildings, shaking the shutters as if to say “wake up, wake up”. She snatched at the trees, tore at the pots on the sills and determinedly nudged patio furniture into new positions.

Soon after breakfast I climbed onto the roof and stood leaning into the wind. She slapped against my cheek and pushed my breath out of my lungs. Laughing into her fierceness, I twirled against her, raising my arms like wings.

The morning sun licked my face as I evoked the winged dawn creatures of the east. Fire moved in my being with the energy of the wind as I turned and called the dancing fires of the south. I tasted the salt sea tang on her breath as I turned to call the waters of the west. I stamped my feet and danced round with her, my energetic dance partner as I called to the mountains embracing this valley to come and hold the beauty of the earth. I twirled on one foot, reaching high and swooping low as I moved between the worlds.

How beautiful to stand and lean into the great wind. Her rough embrace caught and held me as I stood. I surfed, rotated and shifted against her and felt her lift me effortlessly.

I was a bird, a big bird and I was flying high. I soared above the green earth and the brown mountains, the patchwork of orchard fields, the white houses and snaking roads. Moving through the blue sky, I turned towards the sun and began to sing:

“Soar into the scorching sun,
Bourne on western winds.
Rise above the round green earth,
Fly into the east.

I circled and circled. The earth below a patchwork of patterns. Swooping down, I skimmed the sea as waves danced reaching to suck at me as I flew off again.

Bare feet slapped on the hot roof as I danced round and round, spinning and circling in the wildness of the wind. But it was time to come back down to earth and I reluctantly slowed and stopped, bowing to the morning, the sun, the wind and the mountain as I closed my circle and made ready to climb back down the stairs.

The Grandmother Olive (Andalusia, Spain)

Thursday June 14, 2007

I had swum and breakfasted. My limbs, warmed by the sun, felt relaxed. Life was good!

I sat on the lap of the old olive tree and listened to the waters of the weekly irrigation running across the grass. The whiskery old lady, (she is said to be a thousand years old) seemed to me to be breathing raspingly, her rough old bark snagging my bare shoulders. I lent back into her, and closing my eyes, raised my face to the dappled sun.

The world spun round and in another time and place I was on the side of a valley, sitting under a mature and curving olive tree. All around me, the ground sloped down, half hidden by fruit trees, standing in the water that was the Moorish irrigation system flowing across the valley. I got up, stretching, turning to stroke the tree under which I had been sitting and then moved off.

Under my bare feet, the tuffety grass between the trees felt course but not harsh. The water licked coolly between my toes. I walked down through the orchard, turning back from time to time to see the sturdy squat solid tree watching me.

Starlings and sparrows quarrelled above my head. Not far off, a pigeon cooed. In the distance a goat bleated and its mother replied.

Snaking back through the trees, I returned to the olive tree. I knelt before her in thanksgiving, for here surely was the goddess in her hard olive wood and solidity, in her curves and platted maturity.

Footsteps moved hurriedly across the grass. An old man’s voice called “Ola! Ola!” Suddenly my hands were seized by hard calloused ones and he held and squeezed them. The old gardener, normally quite taciturn was positively effusive. Freeing one hand, I stroked the crumbling bark of the ancient, magnificent and ever-watchful old tree and said “Gracias, gracias”. “Old tree”, he said, slapping her flank affectionately as he turned to walk away. We understood each other, the tree, the old gardener and me.

I climbed to my feet and stood upon the bench carved from her bulbus trunk. Reaching up, I put my arms around her great swollen body, lent my cheek against her roughness and was still.

I breathed in her musty old smell and felt at peace. My mind wandered back to the day I had heard of the suicide of my dear friend. I had gone to the tree and she had held me in quiet dignity whilst I grieved.

I thought of the white-haired, whiskery old man who had been my father. His thin and frail body such a contrast to this more ancient and robust being. The tree seemed to groan slightly and shift in the breeze and I knew she understood. I was comforted. Time moved on and I was in danger of being late for a class. Reluctantly I climbed back down and stood in front of her. I bent my head and folded my hands. “namaste grandmother” I whispered.