A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vole in the underworld– London Wetland Centre, Barnes

Saturday November 22, 2008:
A chill wind blows across the lakes. “Twitchers”, wrapped in layered camouflage stand at various points gazing through binoculars. We walk down tarmacked paths between waterways in search of reeds. There are many, but I am being choosy.

Carefully, I step into the reed bed. Beneath my feet, the dry stalks crackle scratchily as I ease my way in. When I am satisfied that I am surrounded I stand still and wait, listening, smelling the air, turning my face to meet the warmth of the winter sun.

I burrow busily along. The great “trees” are slender and wave as though to say, “get along with you” as I scurry past. Nose to the ground, I sniff inquisitively, searching, always searching.

The water’s edge comes upon me suddenly. I stop and peer through the ever-moving stalks to two different ones. Lifting up my head, I see it is a tall crane, standing still and watching me, incurious and patient.

Off it stalks around the water. I know I have to follow. Hurriedly, I scramble after it and as it steps into the water, Dive in and begin to swim. We are heading for an islanding the middle of a lake, an island covered with tall reeds surrounding a big black rock.

But it isn’t a rock, it is a huge black baggy old dog, lying still watching me as I swim. Climbing up onto the island, I begin to sniff around the dog, who turns his head to watch me. Tired at last of my investigations, I creep between his front paws to rest, sheltered from the wind, warmed by his breath and his body and go to sleep.

I am rudely awoken. I seem to be swinging by my neck. It doesn’t hurt but it is very odd. Opening my eyes, I see I am several feet above the ground and in fact, the dog is swimming across the water and must have me by the scruff of my neck. I imagine the great jaws holding me and hope that the dog has eaten!

It is dark now. Unceremoniously I am dumped on the flat mud of another island, this one bare of anything. I curl up shivering in the sharp wind and wonder what I’ve done to deserve this.

Later, much later, when the sky is beginning to silver with the light of a new day, I notice there are reeds at the other end of the little island. I get up stiffly and go to explore them. There is a measure of shelter from the sharp biting wind and I begin to build myself a nest.

But it could also be a boat, I think as I lie in it. I get out again and begin to push it towards the edge of the water, before climbing back in and floating off with the current to whom knows where.

It is restful bobbing along on the water. The expanse of glistening grey shines up to the grey sky and spreads as far away as the eye can see, meeting with the faintest of darker grey lines at what must be the horizon. There is nothing to do but sleep.

The gentlest of bumps wakes me. I am beached on a rocky shore covered with flat grey stones. Standing darker grey against the grey, the crane watches me as I scramble out of my little Bessel and up onto the stones.

I’m sure I have been here before, I think as I scurry after the crane stalking away in front of me. Surely it was leading me to that dark cave mouth between the boulders?

IN side, the cave is dark. A tongue of water left by a retreating sea perhaps encircles a rock and yet again I have to swim. And there, from my vantage point a-top the rock, I see Kwan Yin smiling down at me from the rock face, the lizard on her hat peaking out at me brightly.

And I think as I sit there, what is it that I will die to? What will be transformed? Pondering this, I curl up and go back to sleep.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hollow Oak – Waterlow Park, North London

Wednesday November 19, 2008:
I stood on a hill overlooking the park and sniffed the air. Wood smoke danced on a stiff breeze. The sun warmed my cheek. Robins quarrelled in the trees edging the grass nearby and the ducks quacked and paddled contentedly on the little lake.

The park, neat and organised with its rolling lawns, clumps of interlaced trees and small lakes, spread like a miniature county between the cemetery and the main road. As yet, only a handful of souls wandered the meandering paths. We had the place almost to ourselves.

Leaves crunched beneath our feet as we strode about. The Pungent sharp odour of rotting wood, leaf-mould and fungus assailed us as we walked down the hill, an exotically sharp stench, yet bitter, needing only a dash of vetivere or green tea to be a modern adult fragrance. Almost overpowering, its acrid perfume waltzed along with the wood smoke and the soft green tang of crushed grass, the quintessential smell of autumn.

I inhaled deeply, allowing all my remaining senses to open up. And I marvelled at nature’s constancy in her renewal of leaf and bud, in the cycle of decay that transforms beauty into death and death into life again. ON a day like today, I could begin to believe that although the spring is a winter away, it would return.

Elder, holly and yew lay in each others arms. Willow and Alder watched by the water. The humble trees of Britain sat side-by-side with exotic specimens from warmer climbs. And above it all, a pale winter sky was softly blue and the audacious sun, bright and persistent. WE walked on and I admired vicariously, (for it was beyond a railing) the fallen tree carved into a curving and lovely mermaid, the waters of the year softly rotting her away as she lay on the land.

Now here the park was quieter. No one strode along the curving paths; no one stared curiously as they passed by following their purposeful dogs. We crossed over a bridge and down another curved path. Beyond another neat metal railing sat a hollow oak. Could I climb over? I remembered my arthritic hip and disappointedly moved on.

“Ah, and here’s the fence again but don’t you think it is a bit lower here?” Asked my companion. And indeed it was. In a trice, I’d clambered over and was sneaking illicitly along the side, heading back to that tree.

An old stout thing it was, half hollowed out, big enough for two and more to stand up in and be. My friend retreated to a sunny bench and I settled down to be with the tree.
Wood smoke slipped in from across the park, mixed with the damp smell of old leaves and the wood itself. All was cool and dry, still and silent within. I sat on the ground and allowed the earth to support me.

A deep growling voice came to me from the earth, from the tree and from within me. A growling, not unfriendly rumble as though huge rocks had rolled over in their sleep and the oldest of trees had creaked stiffly as it bowed to a passing friend. A courteous yet doggedly persistent rumble, without exertion but with force. I listened and tried to make out if there were words or not and before I knew it, I too was growling from my belly.

“Deep within the earth, deep within the tree,
Deep within the earth, deep within me.
Sleep within the earth, sleep within the tree,
Sleep within the earth, sleep within me”

I settled down as my voice settled into my body and listened to the tree rumbling and mumbling as I rumbled and mumbled into a gruff kind of singing that felt older than words themselves. And I was happy and I felt sure that the spirit of the tree quite liked the duet we were singing together.

Deeply I breathed as I sat solidly on the quiet earth. And a peaceful stillness came upon me and I felt my body relax as my head dropped upon my chest.

It was dark. There was a dancing fire and something else I couldn’t see, moving about in front of me. Where was I? I was sheltered but outside. I reached out to touch dry wood, carved and ridged, smooth and soft yet hard as hard could be. I was inside a tree, sheltered by its embrace, yet exposed to the warmth of the fire on the hill below me.

“Rest, rest, rest”, a deep voice repeated over and over again. I breathed and leaned back and allowed the earth and the tree to hold me. “Nothing to do but be here in a tree” I thought as the wind brought me more sweet wood smoke and the sound of the traffic on the road below. Beyond my sanctuary, a crow cawed.

Something creaked. Something else scratched dryly. A splitter splatter of moisture plopped onto the dried leaves and then something scurried busily away. The tree was alive and a home to others too.

“Hello” called my companion from the other side of the fence. I reached up and stroked the tree, whispered my thanks to it and climbed out into the sunshine.
Turning, I bowed low to the tree and followed my companion. We found the perfect sunny sheltered bench and sat down. Just the right place to sit and write, to think and dream. I turned my face up to bask in the warm winter sun. And in my mind, that dark voice growled on, “just be, just be, just be, be here … right … now … right now.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Golden tree – Finsbury Park

Sunday November 16, 2008:

“Your lovely tree is all golden”, called my personal trainer taking a moment away from looking at sweaty old me to feast her eyes on my beautiful garden. All around, the trees had turned red, brown, orange and gold. Every leaf on the hornbeam’s branches was a beautiful sunny brilliant yellow gold. I smiled to myself thinking of the golden glow I had projected onto it during my prayers for its preservation each day. I imagined it, blond and curly, large and blousy, yet sturdy and beautiful, blazing away, caught in the dawn winter sunlight or backlit by the west’s final glow, blazing out defiantly against the dark green of winter’s beginning.

After the walk with the ancestors on the heath on Samhain, I bought back some of the ribbon we had tied ourselves together with. The Hornbeam needed it. Grandma bear energy was potent. The tree seemed to stand taller as I put the ribbon round its girth and whispered my prayers of protection.

Each morning and night I greet the tree, stroking the ivy clad bark, reaching up to touch a plump branch, leaning my cheek against the roughness, laced with cool ivy, whispering my love and gratitude. Each day, I think, I must journey to meet the spirit of the tree and find out what it wants and each day, something else happens to distract me.

My year of celebrating the cycle of the trees is sliding away from me and I find myself sitting in misery, unable to motivate myself to do anything. Any sense of control I have over my life feels like it is seeping away.

Like a heavy blanket of woe, the inertia is profound. I would gratefully allow myself to sink into that space of rest and reflection between Samhain and Solstice were I feeling better about myself. Right now I feel confined by misery, failure anddisapointment. I mourn the writing, yearn for the trees, and grieve over the loss of their peaceful presence.

ON a day when I can not stop crying, I make myself ask for help. The outpouring of love from friends brings my head back up. I ask to be taken to trees; I make space to write up the Samhain experiences and my soul gulps down the words greedily as though parched since the beginning of time. The blackbird owl begins to sing again.

I’m a part time worker now. I vow to behave like one but habits of a lifetime, allowing what work I have to fill all available space, is very hard to wrestle to the ground. But I‘m giving it another go.

So I walk in the garden in the morning and am filled with a gentle calm. I stroke my hornbeam tree and promise to come to journey with it this very night. A gust of wind blows a shower of leaves from the gently rocking branches above my head. They float to the ground with a soft patter as though the tender skir of a woodpigeon’s wings. The breeze dances the leaves across my feet and I cup my hands to catch more, holding them quivering upon my palm before releasing them into the autumnal gust.

At night I sneak out under cover of dark. The London soundscape weaves an urban backing track as I cast my circle and call to the spirit of the tree. I hold the tree, my fingers laced in the cool ivy, my cheek resting against the warm rough bark. I breathe its perfume and wait.

Beyond the bushes in which I shelter stands an ivy clad tree. Is it my tree? Yes, I think it is. Tall and stout it stands, covered with ivy, great branches of cascading golden leaves fall from it’s crown, it’s trunk a soft brown showing through. But it’s not a tree!

I gaze at it, trying to pick it out amongst the tangle of foliage. It moves and the golden leaves flow down its ivy covered body, the skin beneath brown.

“Hello”, I whisper as it turns in my direction and I see its face between the strands of gold and green, androgynous, strong, pointed and beautiful. And I wonder what I can do to help – because although it seems calm, I feel it is not happy, although I wonder if I’m projecting my own feelings onto it.

I wait and watch from behind the bushes. It knows I’m there and I think of all that I could do to celebrate its life and presence.

Then it comes to me, no matter what the verdict, I shall celebrate this tree here and now. I shall make it an alter to honour it, I shall continue to greet it each day, I shall admire it and maybe I shall also dance with it and before it. I imagine inviting tree lovers to come an party wit the tree, see them dancing with it, sitting at its feet eating and drinking, honouring it for the merry tree it really is and I smile and blow the tree spirit a kiss. And if it gets cut down, well I’ll make something beautiful from it, but I don’t have to think about that till it actually happens.

I am holding the tree, hugging it tightly, my cheek against its rough bark and soft ivy. It smells sweet, green and woody. I thank the spirit of the tree for showing me how to be joyful with it, no matter what the future holds for it and go off to find something to make an alter.

Later, as I make my evening prayers, I think about the learning from that spirit. No matter what the future, live today in joy is what I know it said to me? Like the tree, I don’t know what the future holds either so I might as well party anyway!

The wisdom of the trees! I love you hornbeam.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tears from heaven – Queen’s Wood

Saturday November 1, 2008:

At noon the leaden sky finally let go its heavy Burdon. Weighed down with the paraphernalia for our ritual, we tramped undauntedly through the deserted woods to a secret dell beyond the fierce holly trees.

I stood in the downpour and drummed. Rain dripped from my hood, soaking the shoulders of my duffle coat until it leaned against me like a sad friend. The green trees shook raindrops upon us as we circled our elicit fire and called in our ancestors.

Beneath my feet, the ground softened, trembling almost as the sky let go its load. It was time for me to let go mine. I reached out to the fire and gave to it some more of the pain I held. How many Samhains would it take before I was free?

And the heavens gave us their tears as they witnessed ours. The trees heard us as we gave the fire our burdens. They soaked up our voices as we sang. They watched us as we circled our elicit fire and shook their leaves in encouragement, as we each unpeeled and let go of what no longer served us and opened ourselves up to a new life.

The fire spat bravely into the deluge. We circled and tied ourselves together in symbol of community. Bound as one, we held the connection and honoured our community. Our cut and tied cords, we would wear through the winter to remind us in the dark times of each other and that we were not alone.

I climbed across the sodden blankets into the tent, our womb of Ceridwen. Inside, I lay on the ground face down, feeling the softness of the wet earth, cool and yielding. I listened to the rhythm of the rain upon the tent above me and offered up a prayer for rest and renewal, for I felt so tired and heavy.

Welcoming hands pulled me out and upright. It was a new year. Every day was mine to shape.

Gratefully, I stood amongst the trees and aloud the rain to soak me. Reaching out to touch the cool wet leaves, I stroked the raindrops. I breathed in the smoky smell of wet burning twigs and the mellow green damp mouldy perfume of an autumnal wood, and was refreshed. It might be pouring, but this was a beautiful place to stand and to be and to live in, even if it was pissing down. Why didn’t I do this more often, I thought, picking up my drum and beginning to drum in rhythm with the rain.

Rain penetrated down to my skin. It was time to go. Quickly, we took down our circle, collected up our bits and pieces and once more struck through the sodden watching woods to feast gratefully in a warm steamy car on a suburban street in North London.

Beyond the tender veil – Hampstead Heath

Friday October 31, 2008:

Dark and cold is the night,
Still and quiet is the earth,
Deep is the sleep of death,
Frail is the tender veil.

The night sky a dark dome sprinkled with stars curved over the rolling heath. We circled upon the grass to feed on the stillness of the earth, to mingle her energy with the starlight, embracing us in a shield of protection.

Halloween on the heath was busy. As we walked, revellers passed by us disappearing rapidly into darkness. Across the hill, others shrieked and laughed, and the air was tapestried with the sizzles and pops of exploding fireworks. Still the quiet undulating land called us to walk upon her softness.

Beneath the gentle spreading branches of the lime tree, we bound ourselves together in a snake and called to our circle the ancestors of blood, of place, of struggle and of love. Here when the veil between the worlds was thinnest, we walked through it in a slow walk of attention to meet and gain wisdom from those gone before.

Following a sombre heart-beat drum, the line of walkers moved slowly, placing our feet in the space left by that of the person in front. We snaked our way up and down the hillocks, between trees and bushes across the rounded belly of the heath.

Beside me, I felt the shadows come to walk, the grass flattening, the wind dropping as they moved close. AS We turned back upon ourselves a great presence came to move slowly beside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the glimpse of a great shaggy bear moving beside me on all fours. In my ear, I heard her low and ragged breathing growl, soft and comforting. Old beyond time and the world, she was steady in her movement.

And as we walked, I knew I could walk forever with her by my side. Deep was the feeling of comfort spreading through me, like a warm dry palm placed upon a fevered brow, a soothing gesture of compassion common to favourite grandmothers.

We turned again and I felt her slip away. I bowed my head in thanks and farewell and felt the cool evening wind upon my cheek again.

Back at the tree, we told our journeys stories. From one of my capacious pockets, I pulled a long sparkly glittery piece of ribbon and began to tie a fat flamboyant bow upon one of the yielding branches. “With this bow” I said, “ I honour the life and work of Paul Patrick, gay teacher, LGBT campaigner, flamboyant drama queen and all round brother in struggle.” To Seal my prayer, I threw back my head and committed to the lively heath a piercingly loud, best wobbly soprano rendition of “And this is my beloved” with lyrics appropriately perverted by an alter ego of blackbird Owl’s. As my voice soared into the dark night, I imagined Paul, lost in music, merrily and dramatically conducting my performance, his hands arabesquing wildly as I reached to wack the high notes inexpertly. My caterwauling done, I blew a kiss into the air, danced a little caper and bowed to the tree.

Each spoke our learnings from our journey our messages to and from the ancestors. The tree quietly accepted our prayers and gifts and we joined hands to embrace her and then each other before opening the circle to feast on miraculously produced goodies of all kinds.

Around us, the sky danced with stars. Fireworks soared into the night. The wind rustled the leaves and blew soft kisses upon our cheeks. We walked quietly back through the wild heath, still a turmoil of howls and hoots as others masqueraded and played with the spirits out to fiesta.