A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The disorderly wind – Finsbury Park and Queen’s Wood Highgate

Friday March 21, 2008

Fragile blossoms dance on a breath of wild wind.
Blackbird sings loud in the teeth of the gale.

The weather forecast promised rain, snow, gales and more. But the sun was shining and the wild wind was chasing the clouds across the sky as we walked carefully up the uneven steps between the houses on to the Parkland Walk. Up top, the sun met us full on and the wind barged us rudely.

Blossomed trees shook defiantly, as though to say to the wind, “you won’t budge us, oh no you won’t.” All around us, poplar trees sang and swayed rowdily.

The heartbeat beat of the drum led our footsteps along the uneven muddy path. In silence we walked, allowing the wind, like an honour guard to urge us forward. I lifted my face to the sun and laughed to feel such warmth on such a tempestuous day.

In the park, adults, children and dogs ran about in the disorderly wind. At the edge of the lake, a goose honking loudly was taking a vigorous bath whilst ducks and pidgins mobbed the feet of the humans out to feed the fowl. We walked on, searching for a quiet place to make our circle.

Past the children’s playground, the boating lake, the neat municipal flower-beds, in a corner near the road, we found the perfect place. A secluded wooded glade complete with a magnificent magnolia tree in full flower waited. Daffodils danced amongst the grass, squirrels scampered in and out and all around pidgins, crows and a robin sang loudly.

A great shaggy many trucked pine offered itself as our alter. At its feet we laid our offerings both natural and human-made, cast a circle and called to the deity of the place and season to join us.

And in our stories, the hare came, symbol of rebirth, balance and intuition. And we sang to the day and the flowers dancing amongst the grass as we began to spiral round chanting:

“Dance with the daffodils, dance with the breeze.
Danced with the goddess, spring is here.
Dance with the daffodils, dance with the trees,
Dance with the goddess, spring is here.”

The robin sang back at us. Blowing kisses to him we remembered the Robin’s boy. Nearby woodpigeons cooed affectionately to each other as they flew with the wind. And the daffodils and magnolia flowers bobbed about as we spiralled round dancing into spring.

Beyond the trees a backdrop of sound, children, dogs and traffic mingled. A wisp of cigarette smoke drifted through the air. We thanked the deities who had come and all those who had danced with us in reality or energy and opened the circle and headed for warming food.

It was no good - the woods were calling. The queer spirit circle had optimistically decided to do an outdoor ritual, despite the threatening weather. As we arrived, the small hard rain which had just begun lost its purpose and gave up. We walked down the sharply sloping uneven path into the woods. The perfect place lay beyond a thicket of extremely prickly holly – but didn’t it always?

Operating on queer pagan time, it was some time before we were ready to light our elicit fire and begin our circle. Incense drifted across the space, crushed grass sweetly sour filled the air as the drums beat a jaunty rhythm. We circled and offered our purpose in this working and as we finished, the skies lowered and then fell in.

Hail the size of garden peas showered down upon us. Soon the ground was white AND CRUNCHY with their icy presence. Above, thunder cracked AND the trees shook in the wild wind. Laughing, we gathered up our belongings and tumbled out of our hiding space.

And wouldn’t you know it but as soon as we got back to the road, the hail stopped, the wind dropped and the sun thought about coming out again, then changed his mind. We had gathered to honour queer spirit but we were also hoping to take part in a world-wide ritual of healing for the earth. An ancient Otomi Prophecy says that when 8000 sacred drums play together, the healing of Mother Earth will begin. The Otomi's are Mayan Olmec and Toltec descendants. If we were going to take part, we needed to get to our dry space for the time of the full moon, so we’d better put our skates on.

Morning Mouse – Finsbury Park

Thursday March 20, 2008

The garden was already awake when I stumbled sleepily out into it; intent on greeting the year at its precise spring equinox. Still damp from last night’s rain, the leaves dripped gently as I stroked them in passing, my own tactile “good morning” to the garden. I sat down, half in a great shiny broad-leafed bush and listened to the city humming sleepily all around me as I cast my circle.

At this balance point for the earth, this equality between day and night, I contemplated the imbalances in my life and my responsibility for them. The wind shook in the trees beyond the garden fence. Something skittered across the scattered slate chippings and, judging by the soft rustling dove into a nearby bush. I breathed in the cold astringent wind and waited.

I tumbled into the softest of loamy soil. Velvety against my touch, it yielded slightly as I ran lightly across it.

A huge plant with many thick stems, each topped with a heavily veined flat dark leaf loomed above me. Beyond it lay darkness. Sharp spikes tore at me as I pushed my way through an almost impenetrable thicket of twisted stems. I didn’t care; I just had to go further on.

The darkness was smooth. The sweet loamy soil damply perfumed the undergrowth. As I ran on, I heard the gentle thud of others moving across the ground, the shivering rustle of leaves being pushed aside. I sniffed at the ground and scampered on.

The ivy was everywhere, great thick vines curling about anything that stood still long enough. A great rough resinous trunk rising up from the fragrant earth was covered in it. I ran round it rubbing my body against the rough bark and then against the smooth cool leaves, loving the difference in textures and the difference in scents.

Suddenly, the ground was no longer under me. Rolling over, I explored the space; a lovely comfortable hole in the soft pliant earth. Wriggling to make myself more comfortable, I settled down to wait.

The quality of the darkness was changing. Along with a slight chill, the deep blackness was greying out; the plants, beginning to emerge into more distinct shapes. I put my head upped and sniffed the air, listening to the stillness that was not stillness, all around me.

And then, in the distance, on the tongue of the cool wind’s breath, I heard it - the clear sweet tune of a blackbird singing his morning song. Piercingly, the rippling dancing tune Echoed across the skies.
It was time to come out into the light of a new day. I got up out of my hole and shook the earth from me.

The breeze, like a cool damp kiss brushed my cheek. The garden was stirring. The blackbird in his tree by the road called piercingly above the still sleeping houses; a robin percussively answered from the ash tree on the other side of the fence. Over in the park, a goose honked and from a garden further along, a crow cawed.

The ivy rustled as a carefully stepping cat moved along the fence. Far away, beyond drawn curtness the insistent beeb of an alarm clock summoned a sleeper awake. I bowed to the undergrowth and blew a kiss to any mice lurking in small holes under broad bleared plants. Not sure that I was any the wiser regarding lathe issue of balance in my life, I thanked the spirits of the garden and opened the circle.

Walking round the garden, I touched the gentle plants, now beginning to dance in earnest with the teasing rough wind and as usual when I am feeling happy early in the morning, began to sing softly that glorious evocation to the new day.

“Morning has broken like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for them singing, praise for the morning,
Praise for them springing, fresh from the world.”

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Queer Humming Stag Oak –Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Sunday March 16, 2008

It had rained all night. The ground was sodden. The trees dripped solemnly. The bitterest of winds invaded, poking between my collar and my neck, nipping at my knuckles beneath my woollen gloves. My companions and I walked down the well-trodden paths towards the Major Oak, almost alone, everyone else having retreated into the warmth of the tourist shops and cafes nearby.

My companions described the trees. So many struck by lightening, their tops jagged and starkly pointing, like a forest of ancient wooden stags. The trees watched us as we moved amongst them.

A great old oak stood, a great curving gash revealing its hollowed-out inners. We squeezed in and lent into its curved walls, columned and varied by the rising sap, worn away by the activities of insect and the action of decay. It was cosy and comfortable and we sang:

“Deep into the earth I go,
Deep into the earth I grow
Deep into the tree I go
Deep into the tree I grow.”

The wood took our song and gently offered it back to us. Harmonies and woven tunes wrapped together in the hollow trunk. To a passer by, we would have been invisible. I smiled to think of them coming across a harmoniously singing tree and imagined it swaying and rocking, lost in the music.

Emerging into the cold wind once more, we moved on, circling and examining trees, hands honouring their magnificence as we waited for the right one to call. Stag headed, many trucked, some with holes, others hollow, we moved on until in front of us stood a fine specimen, complete with his own holly crown in the shape of a bush growing between two branches. This was the tree.

I settled myself down on one of his roots and breathed quietly, allowing the rhythm of my flowing blood to join that of the tree. Firmly I began to bang the ground and sing the name of the god of the wildwood, for surely this was his domain. My voice wove in and out of the sound of the thudding stick, the soft rattle and the cascading song of a nearby robin. I waited, breathed and was still.

The moon was full, silhouetting the jagged branches black against the silver, like huge antlers. Dark shadows splashed across the path as I stepped carefully through the forest. All was still, nothing moved, even my footsteps were muffled on the leafy carpeted floor. But I didn’t feel alone.

I walked on, looking to left and right, veering from the path to approach some great tree, turning back when I found it was not the one I sought. No matter, I felt safe and at peace, the stillness of the great black trees, soothing me.

In time I plunged amongst the trees, staking through the deep bracken and littered branches, my instinct leading me on. A wide and squat tree stood in front of me, contorted with age, thinned and curved. Great swellings like huge gnarled breasts, some nippled, some smooth, protruded from her thick trunk, reminding me of a fat old goddess. But he was crowned with asymmetrical and jagged set of branches like huge antlers. He was every bit the proud stag.

I sat down between two great feet and rested my head on a lower swelling. The tree seemed to shift and grow closer to me. I turned my head to put my ear to the wood and listened. Deep down in the depth of the tree, or was it the earth, right on the edge of my hearing came a rumbling growl. Tuning in to the sound, I began to distinguish a pattern of tones – not quite a tune as we would know it but yet, a song none the less. The tree was humming.

Curled into a ball, my paws tucked in, my tail encircling me; I leaned against the undulating folded wood. The humming sound was all around me now. I drifted into a deep dark place of rest.

The quality of the air had changed. It had grown thinner. Uncurling myself, I saw a thick finger of silvery grey light. Slowly, I edged my way towards it and carefully squeezed out into the open. The great tree stood towering above me, powerful and strong. I climbed over its great roots, circling it, rubbing my little body against its rough bark in a cheerful morning scratch.

My left leg had gone to sleep. My fingers tingled, the blood moving through them reminding me of my connection with the tree against which I lent. I felt it coursing through my twigs and branches, my trunk and roots. Deep in my throat I began a deep hum and rocked slightly as words came growling out.

“Old and rough, gnarled and tough
Proud Stag of the wildwood
Your horned crown, dark against the dawn sky
You guard and protect.”

Time moved on. The wind cooled my cheek. A badly behaved dog with ineffectual owner charged into the space shattering the peace. Slowly, I climbed painfully to my feet. Opening the circle, I bowed to the tree in thanks and, collecting my companions from their various trees, turned to walk back with them through the watching forest.

The Raven in the Tree –Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Saturday March 15, 2008

Native to Britain and Europe, the alder, Fearn the king of the riverside, loves the riverbank and low lying swampy lands. A water-loving tree, it is the only broadleaf to produce cones. Growing up to 70 feet high, the alder can live for 150 years. Its bark, twigs, flowers and shoots were used to make a range of different coloured dyes. Its wood is waterproof and used for bridges, lock gates and clogs. Its twigs make excellent whistles.

Its ruling planet is Venus, its element, water (although it also has a relationship with fire). Alder is associated with Bran and the raven, thus connecting it to the powers of devination through the tradition of oracular heads. The alder stands for protection of self and country.

At the edge of the cricket ground at Chatsworth in Derbyshire, hard by the river, its feet in boggy ground, stands an ancient alder. Bulbous and sturdy, its trunk leans to one side, splits off into two as though forming a crooked V an then splits again a little further up and is hollow, like a chimney. At its base, amongst its lumpy roots is a tempting hollow, soft floored and deep, curving round into small inviting chambers, a fitting home for a small riverside mammal.

It had been drizzling. The ground beneath our feet muddy and water-soaked seemed to give and shift as we tramped across it. Beyond the dark boggy field, sat the venerable tree, jagged and bulging against the rising ground beyond.

I edged my way around its great girth, poking inquisitive fingers into its various nooks and crannies, searching out its secrets. Ignoring aching limbs, experimentally I climbed upon the great tree, bent on finding a comfy perch. None offered themselves to me. The tree forbore my intrusion, and eventually I slipped down and settled upon a blanket at its base under a low jutting branch.

The wood curved and bulged against my back. My fingers found and stroked the hairy trunk for sheep liked to come and rub themselves against it and had left small tufts of wool clinging to the rough bark. It felt like a good tree to have a damn good scratch upon.

“Gwarg-gwarg-gward” I called, as I cast my circle and called up the elements and spirits of the place and of the tree. “Come ravens, come song maker whistlers in the wind, come hot fires of charcoal burners and the heat of the hidden sun, come watery ones flowing all around this tree, the springs below and the river beyond, come animals that shelter under his great branches and ease their itches against his accommodating bark. Come all to connect, to discover and to worship this beautiful tree.” With my little egg-rattle hardly moving in my hand, it’s “shush-shush-shush” blending with the soft sharp wind and the calling of birds nearby, I lent against the solidity of the great trunk.

“It is nearly the equinox, I thought as I sat breathing in the dampness all around me. The raven speaks of the resolutions of the opposites, the alder, king of the river symbolises defence. I asked the quiet tree at my back; “What will help me defend myself against my addictions and reach a place of balance?”

I scurried down into the chamber below the tree. Beneath my paws, the leaf mould was thick and soft as a carpet. Inquisitively, I nosed my way into every crevice, every pillared buttress, finding my way into new chambers and corridors, some leading down into the warm damp earth, others spiralling up into the tree above.

I began to climb. Fingers and hands, feet, back and shoulders all applied to the task as I heaved myself up a great wooden cliff of flowing sap carved, water moulded precipice. In the orange soft light, the walls were faces; features carved roughly, limbs and torsos smoothe and curved.

In a shaft of grey daylight pouring from a hole in the trunk above me, I came face to face with an extraordinary figure, her features strong and powerful, the dark shiny mahogany skin gleaming in the shaft of light. I feasted upon that face, masculinely strong but essentially female, worn with age yet vibrant with youth. And there I would have stayed for a lifetime, had she not nodded and indicate that I move on. I bowed my head in acknowledgement, for I dare not bow lest I fall. I climbed on and up towards the daylight.

Emerging into the grey soft drizzle, I cast my eyes up to the trunk above me veering off at a sharp angle. It was hollow, like a chimney. AT the top, against the silver grey light of the March afternoon, sat a huge black bird, a raven, I was sure, gazing down at me. And as I watched him, I waited, hardly breathing, not daring to move.

“Gwarg” I croaked tentitively. All was still. All was quiet. “What are the forces of destruction lain buried in my past that drive me now?” I asked myself. “What must I destroy in order to heal and to recreate?”

The raven said nothing.

I remembered the little girl, so afraid of the dark, fearing to sleep lest the light above the door which comforted her would be gone if she woke in the night. My fear of the dark left me when the so-called “darkness fell upon me”, in becoming blind I lost that night terror, for literal darkness did not fall. I became a different person and a new life began.

“How can I best hear and acknowledge that little girl’s fears, even though they are not those of the blind adult?” I wondered as I nodded at the raven and began to ease my way back down into the tree.

With the tree against my back, I sat still, the cold ground reaching up to chill my bones through the rough blanket. I listened to the tree and the field around him. High above a crow cawed. Nearby, the determined rhythmical sound of grass being ripped and chewed, small hooves shifting on the damp ground told me that a grazing sheep must be nearby. I imagined her incurious eyes, mildly watching the peaceful scene.

Into the stillness, a honk-honk-honk like a rusty protesting hinge cut into the quiet as a goose flew across in front of me, so close that I almost felt the updraft of her beating wings. And in the far distance, the hills threw back the mechanised amplified sound of a loud speaker announcement.

I shifted, eased myself carefully to my feet and turned to face the tree. Hands flat on his bulbous rough bark; I thanked him for the honour of sitting at his feet. Quietly, I thanked the beings of the tree and the watching raven and opened the circle.