A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wood May’s Journey – Finsbury Park

Tuesday May 13, 2008:

A small tree of the rose family, Hawthorn, also known as May, likes to grow near people and is more often encountered in hedgerows where it’s many shoots and spikes provide a determinedly impenetrable thicket with which to confine or repel livestock. Sweet leaved and scented, hawthorn is a Beltane bush, flowering from mid April through May, it’s white or sometimes pink or red blossoms (depending on the type of hawthorn) froths amongst the hedgerows as the country wakes, stretches and greens.

Strongly associated with the fae and the gateway to the other world, hawthorn is a prime symbol of fertility, and is used at partnership rites. A guardian plant, it is fiercely protective, is associated with fire, cleansing and happiness. At Beltane, its flowers and leaves bedeck both may Queen and Jack.

Olwen, a hawthorn goddess, daughter of Yspaddaden Pencawr, a fierce wild man called Giant Hawthorn was known as she of the white track, for wherever she lay her foot, white blossoms wood spring up and it was possible to track her movement as she danced across the land. Blodeuwedd was created from nine flowers and it is she the May queen symbolises when she wears hawthorn blossom. The Italian goddess Cardea presided over childbirth and protected maidens. Hawthorns are associated with miraculous birth and the healing of sick children.

Known as valerrium of the heart, hawthorn has sedative, antispasmodic and diuretic qualities, making it an excellent regulator of arterial blood pressure and treatment for heart conditions such as Angina. The country name for it, “bred and cheese tree” celebrates its tasty and nutritious leaves, which have sustained many a traveller when other food can’t be found.

More than a week into Hawthorn, I was getting fretful about needing to greet her. So much of my time since before the new moon had been taken up with worrying about the future and generally sulking. By Friday, my body had executed a great big harrumph and I’d come down with a nasty cough and sore throat, which escalated over the weekend into a streaming cold and a damp and snotty debilitation.

And then I remembered the hawthorn tree in my garden! Actually, there was quite a bit of hawthorn dotted about, as I had planted a lot of native hedgerow in an effort to keep unwanted visitors out of the back garden.

But this hawthorn tree was tall and mature. Years ago, my little London garden had boasted two deep green brooding and shaggy specimens of pine tree which had grown vigorously and dominated the skyline for streets around. But they starved the soil of water and the plants of light and they just had to go. By the time I’d allowed myself to cut down the second one, I noticed a tall think telegraph pole of a tree standing, bare but for a froth of leaves at it’s very summit, some thirty or forty feet high. The tree surgeons suggested the tree be halved in height to see if it would thrive with the light and water it could now have and indeed it did. Three years on, it was thick and bushy, squeezed between the garden shed and the fence, a shower of soft green leaves and frothy blossoms.

I sat down under it full in the noonday sun, and cast my circle. The garden was alive with birds chattering amongst themselves. A sharp wind blew in the ash trees beyond the fence. The sounds of quiet luncheon preparation from houses to the right and left, mingled with the gentle bubbling of my newly working solar fountain. Bees buzzed nearby. I breathed the sweet softness of the perfumed garden.

I could see right down the garden. I looked beyond the great big unruly Bear’s Breeches, past the elegant Rowan tree, through the willow arch flanked by the olive trees to a space beyond, a space between the houses which was dark and green. I got up easily and loped forward, ducking carefully to get through the arches, my robe flapping around my legs, my head held high as I strode.

The wood was tangled and dark. Briers snatched at my robe, branches tangled with my antlers as I pushed through great thickets of hawthorn, oak, holly and rowan. Yet I paced fast, driving deeper and deeper into the forest.

A blackbird called high in a tree. I turned to follow his song and pushed through into a green sunny glade bright and warm amongst the dark trees. White rocks gleamed in the sunshine. The bird alighted on the edge of the pool into which a spring was bubbling. I bent to drink and saw in the shining pool my own reflection.

I saw a face, neither male nor female, strong yet fae, dark eyes watching. Long dark hair tangled about my shoulders and on top a great branch of shiny soft brown antlers. I gazed transfixed at the face and then at the torso, draped in some green soft stuff, delicate as leaves, the shoulders beneath, wide and strong, the breasts full and maternal. Carefully I examined myself further. There were my strong and muscular thighs, slim hips either side of the softly curving belly and at its base the surprising phallus! Who was I? Who was I?

A flourish of sweet silver notes almost shimmered in the air as the blackbird flew into a great curving oak tree, its branches spread out in a star shape, strong and stout amongst its fluttering leaves. Moving closer, I saw that its tangled branches were the round strong limbs, the curved belly and breasts, the thrown back head on an arched neck of a naked woman. She lay, abandoned in sleep, cradled in the tree, half concealed by the new green leaves abundantly uncurling. Goddess shaped, she displayed herself unconsciously as she slept, the sun dappling her smooth honey coloured limbs, her short red hair glinting gold and orange fire.

High up in the tree, the blackbird arpeggioed his joy. The sleeper stirred, wrinkling up her nose against the persistence of a softly flapping leaf born on the teasing breeze. Quietly, I turned and walked on soft hooves back through the tangled wood.

As I ducked under the first willow arch, I caught a glimpse of a woman dressed in black, sitting still and quiet, half hidden under a bobbing bough of hawthorn. She lifted a hand and plucked a leaf, thoughtfully putting it in her mouth, she began to chew slowly. The sun lit her red short hair with gold and orange and touched her honey coloured skin with a deeper blush.

My left leg had gone to sleep. Oh but it was so peaceful here, even if it was not comfortable. I stretched and uncurling my legs, slowly climbed to my knees. I turned and faced the softly dancing hawthorn, reaching up to stroke the cool sticky leaves. Drawing the bough to my mouth, I softly nuzzled a leaf with my soft warm lips, and then licked it gently, whispering my thanks.

What this tree needed was honouring, I thought, as I climbed stiffly to my feet. I would make her a shrine. There were still pieces of the cut up trunk of the first pine tree I had felled, that would do for a start. Next I collected up a feather and gold ribbon, a small water smoothed flat stone, a curved shell, a shiny red plate, a candle and incense, a necklace of gaudy Mardi Gras beads and a piece of green wool. Carefully I decorated the tree, scattered some dried rose buds and other flower petals by way of thanks, bowed and left the garden.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rain-washed May time – Hampstead Heath and Finsbury Park

8:45 pm, Wednesday April 30, 2008:

It was pouring! The rain slapped my head and shoulders heavily as I sheltered shivering under my kagool in the dripping garden. Yomping about on the heath in the pouring rain at the crack of dawn was not going to be much fun if it continued to be like this tomorrow.

I allowed the rain to soak me. I connected with the bubbling rivulets pouring down the big leaved plants all around me, allowed my feet to paddle playfully in the standing water on the garden path. I breathed in the cool dampness of the night garden, the blossom-filled tender sweet air, and listened to the song of the rain, pattering, dripping and hissing against the city’s nocturnal sounds-scope.

“Rain-maker! I called to the wet garden. “Water-maker, I salute you and your allies and friends the Frogs and slugs and all things wet and oozing. I bow to you for your great work hydrating the planet! Rain your fill all this night but by the darkest hour before the dawn, please stop!”

The wind belched a mouthful of rain into my face. The elegant branches of the rowan tree under which I stood, trembled and shook, showering me with a mist of fine drops. Taking this as a sign that I’d been heard, I thanked the spirits of rain and asked that they desist until 9 tomorrow.

3:35am, Thursday May 1, 2008:

All was quiet in the garden as I eased my way between the wet leaves skirting the path. Only the city roads somewhere in the distance hummed quietly. It had stopped training!

I called the pidgin. A potent symbol of London for me, I asked him to take a message to its citizens this morning. I wished for Londoners to exercise wisdom as they went about their democratic duty and voted in the Mayoral and Assembly elections today. I wished them dry journeys to and from the polling stations! I thanked the rain spirit once more and left the still sleeping wet garden for environs less sleepy but probably much more damp!

4:10 am Thursday May 1, 2008:

Rain-washed, soft new leaves uncurl,
May perfumed, the morning breathes.
Sunrise warmed, the world awakes,
A blackbird sings a loud halloo!

The minicab drove quietly through the still sleeping streets. At every turning, at every corner, a blackbird sang out into the dark before dawn. AS we drew up at the meeting point, a particularly vigorous blackbird sang a prolonged and particularly complicated joyful cadenza. I got out of the mini cab and, oblivious of what the taxi driver thought, bowed and blew a kiss at the still singing bird.

Having route-marched energetically up a steep inclined tarmac path, we struck out across the bumpy tufted grass in search of Boudica’s mound, somewhere beyond Kite Hill. The ground was sodden and muddy, pitted and humped. I placed each foot deliberately as I walked, breathing in the sweet sharp smell of new crushed grass and the more subtle perfume of the may blossom.

We shinned over the railings girdling Boudica’s Mount and gathered with the prancing “Obby “Os to make wishes and greet the sunrise. The clouds Lowe over the city my companions informed me, were silver and softly pink in the east, promising a possible sighting of the sun itself before long. Our wishes made, our songs sung and our greetings to the dawn performed, we clambered back to the public heath and headed towards the Kenwood Spring.

The mud beneath the grass gave and sunk softly as we stomped on. The little streams criss-crossing our path were swollen and burbling. More than once, my feet slid dangerously as I pressed them firmly in the mud to keep from slipping. Still the rain held off; the birds sang and the air, light and silvery-grey blue now, was being warmed by the shy sun up in the heavens.

We danced and sang at the well, and blessed ourselves with the water. I cupped my hands and drank greedily from its rusty coolness, and felt myself refreshed.

Joggers passed us in varying states of cheerfulness or grumpiness. WE walked back across the heath, past the Women’s Pond and the place where some millionaire, who lived in a huge house on the heath and who, against the wishes of the whole community, wanted to build another mansion.

The may blossom dripped against the rain shiny new green leaves. I tucked a cool sprig behind my left ear and marched off to breakfast.

2pm Thursday May 1, 2008:

It still wasn’t raining! I took a cup of tea out to thank the slowly drying garden. Surrounded by damp large leaved plants, I sat down to listen to it.

Were those quiet footfalls on the path or something else? I distinctly heard the slap of bare feet on flagstones. I waited.

My back against a rough barked tree, I watched the forest. A jungle of trees stood entwined together but with space to move between. I watched the hawthorn leaves, new green and curled, the blossom amongst them shaking in the gentle breeze.

And in amongst them, I saw her; slight and young, bark brown hair wreathed in may, her outfit, the green of new leaves, delicate and silky. She gazed back at me from dark eyes in a triangular and delicate face before, with a gust of wind, the bough moved and she was gone.

I got to my feet and began to explore the shrubs in the garden. Thick stems, round with juicy sap curved elegantly to present the flat of their leaves to the sun. Among them the thorned boughs of hawthorn, budded and silken leaves, still moist with last night’s rain.

I moved gently between the plants. They grasped my clothing and snatched at my naked arms and hands. I submitted to their rough embrace, welcoming their spiky presence as a deterrent against intruders.

“Thwoh-thwoh-thwoh” beat the wings of the garden birds as they flew about between the trees and shrubs. A robin chirruped in the trees beyond the garden fences; in the distance the blackbird called to a cawing crow who answered back crossly. My hands found the herbs and, stroking their aromatic leaves gently, I gathered some to dry. I could stay here for ever, so peaceful and lovely was it.