A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rowan’s seed

The Witchen or Wiggen tree, lady of the mountain or poetical delight of the eye is a small tree growing generally up to 30 feet in height. Her slender branches point upwards as though reaching to call down the moon. She grows almost anywhere tolerating poor soil but needing light and air so prefers high altitudes. When Rowan’s creamy flowers fall like a froth of silky softness, small green buds swell and as the season progresses ripen to rich red berries.

One of many trees to be regarded by the ancients as a tree of life, When Hebe lost the cup of the gods, great eagle was sent to fight the demons for it. It was said that wherever a feather or drop of blood fell, a rowan tree would spring hence its feathery leaves and blood red berries.

Serpents or dragons are said to guard rowan trees. Alongside Hebe the rowan is connected with two powerful sun goddesses, Bridgid of Ireland and Brigantia of England.

Rowan has been used since ancient times as an astringent and anti biotic. It’s bark can be used in a decoction to relieve diarrhoea, and eases the discomfort of vaginal discharge when used in washing water. Rowan seeds are poisonous to children but rowan berries were prepared in decoction as a gargle for sore throats and inflamed tonsils and used externally to heal haemorrhoids and scurvy.

Associated with the sun, and connected to the element of fire, rowan has strong protective qualities and is a great source of healing. Incense can be made from ground leaves, berries from the tree are used to banish undesired energies. Rowan smoke is a powerful divinatory tool. Rowan wood is very tough. Spindles and spinning wheels were traditionally made from rowan cut between Beltane and Midsummer. The bark a fruit of rowan can be used to dye wool black and bark can also be used for tanning. Jams and wines can be made from the fruit.

Sunday February 22, 2009:

I step carefully amongst the slender trees, their bare limbs arching up to the sky as though to cradle the round silver moon beaming down upon the earth. It might be winter but it is not at all cold. The ground slopes steeply and I notice how the rowan trees lean with the steepness. I walk on.

The rowans change as I progress through the wood. Soon buds form, then feathery and delicate leaves unfurl and are soon frothed by the white blossom. Leaves grow larger and darken; bright red berries swell and hang against their dark green. I walk on under a changing sky, through a softened warmed air that, as the days roll on, begins slightly to cool with the approach of autumn.

Heavily hangs the elegant laden branch, round glossy berries pendulously swinging before my eyes. The deep green feathery leaves, like hands, flap in the breeze.

Is it I who move or do they? Do the berries swell before me or am I changing size? They loom closer, growing larger and larger. Pushing against my cheek with their silky coolness, I find myself burrowing my face into their roundness. Their flesh melts against my lips and there I am head first, immersed in the pinkie softness, not suffocating but definitely submerged.

It is the weirdest of sensations but I don’t fight it. Slowly I am being sucked in, until I am lying curled up in the berry like a docile parasite. The flesh yields, I yield, surrender, let go and am captured.

Who knows how time passes. I am conscious that I am lying next to a big red orange seed and that it sits on the edge of a pale green, slowly moving little stream. I push the seed into the green liquid, climb upon it and allow myself to drift along.

The greenness widens and quickens. Soon I am scudding along a fast flowing torrent bearing me inexorably into the darker greenness beyond.

I am in a pale green tunnel. It leads via forks and turns into another and then another. Soon I have lost count of the turnings and forks. I simply sit upon my red orange seed in the pale green liquid and wait.

At length the tunnel widens, the ceiling arches and the rivulets pools into a great pale green lake under a high arched roof, which when I look closer seems to be made out of the waving fronds of many, many rowan leaves and is itself a darker deeper richer green. The green lake glimmers, throes off an eery acid shimmer, cool and still.

I look across the lake and see a figure standing watching me. Her/his raggedy robes flutter in an unfelt breeze, her/his hair, a brilliant rowan red, falls in cascades across broad shoulders and rounded green clad breasts. Her shape is female but her face … her face, framed by the wavy red locks is pale, austere, angular yet beautiful. Neither traditionally masculine nor feminine, she/he watches me from quiet, unreadable dark green eyes.

My seed bumps the side of the lake. I clamber out and pull the seed onto the lake-edge. Kneeling before her, I look up in wonder. Now I see her robes are made from rowan leaves, and as I look up at her, I see the hair is bunches of bright red berries hanging heavily about that still face.

Silently, she stoops and strokes my face. Her hands are soft and feathery like the leaves of the rowan. I see that they are circled in berry bracelets. I gaze at that quiet pointed face, into those dark, dark green eyes and my heart shifts within my chest and I sigh, a deep releasing sigh.

Not taking my eyes from her face, I grope before me to the seed boat; I scoop my hands under it and lift it. It is light, light as a leaf almost, I think as I reach over to lay it at her feet. It is all I have to give apart from my love and reverence for her beauty and all she stands for. I fold my hands on my breast and bow my head.

I hear a gentle crack. I look up. She is gazing at the seed. I look down and see that the seed is splitting. Out from its centre pops a green shoot. Rapidly it pushes up into the aerie green light, delicate and frail, reaching out for life and sustenance. Before my eyes, the shoot divides gracefully and slowly spirals round and round, growing small twigs that become elegantly arching branches. And the rowan spirit leans into it, becomes one with the tree, grows on and up to the roof of the parting cavern which opens to reveal a pale blue spring sky beyond.

I kneel next to the tree, resting my cheek on her smooth bark. I see the canopy rise, thicken and grow out and up. Day becomes night, becomes day becomes night again and on and on as the world turns. I see her branches arch up as though to invite the moon to nestle in her arms. And I see the moon move closer and lie in that tender loving embrace. Her branches are festooned with ribbons, bells and tokens. I feel the power of the prayers and spells made by her side as the years move on.

And there before me stands my own rowan tree, slender and bare in her February beauty, little buds beneath the surface waiting to break through. I kneel before her. Her slim branches shelter me as I give thanks to her guidance this year of the trees. How apt that her feathery leaves will pass on the honour of marking the year and its beauties, to the birds, my next goddess muse, set to start at Ostara.

“Beautiful trees, I love you. Be always with me where ever I am. May your generous branches nurture and support the winged ones that I will follow this year to come.”

“Lovely tree” I say, reaching out and touching her smooth grace, “I have completed my pilgrimage to the trees this year. I have honoured the standing tree people who are your relatives and all their spirits. I willingly opened myself to tree wisdom, and have been nurtured by strong tree trunks. I have dreamed and sung beneath sheltering branches and my words have honoured the beauty of the trees. I have also taught others to love trees too. I bow to the generosity of the trees in allowing me to connect humbly with their spirits and worship the magnificence that is all trees, big or small, young or old.

I call to the element of earth, to thank you for holding me and grounding me in this, my work for this past year. I have grown strong like the trees. My strength has led me to work in the world (when I am not with the trees) to work for love and respect for all peoples and especially to champion the rights of those whom others despise and would hurt. Let me have the strength to go on with my life’s work, to grow in my skills and influence so that I may free my people of the chains of ableism.

I call now the element of air. Let your breath blow me onwards through the year as I fly with the birds. I will fly to inspire, and so that we may all know and love justice. So mote it be!”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tribute and promise

Tuesday February 17, 2009:

During the afternoon it has rained. Sawdust is smeared across the garden, even the leaves of the choisia are coated with it. I crouch down and touch the assembled logs, reach forward and meet the tree stump with gentle fingers.

The trunks lean together as though for warmth, their smooth surfaces soft with the wet sawdust, their still ivy clad bark rough and dry to the touch, despite the rain. My hands trace their sturdy shapes, the strong thick branches curving and dividing in an elegance of symmetry, leaning precariously against each other and the now exposed ugly wire fence.

It’s as though someone has taken off the sky. Under this great emptiness above my head, lies the garden; vulnerable and defenceless like a bareheaded frail old man on a cold winter’s day.

I sink down onto the low edging of the shrubbery, am enfolded in the fragrant choisia, my head in my hands, shoulders bowed in despair. I sit silently with the fallen tree. Where is its spirit now? What has happened to the creatures that depended upon it for sustenance and shelter, I wonder?

In its relatively short life, this dear tree happily hosted the ivy, allowed the pigeons to roost, and accepted the webs of the garden spiders, surrendered to the wood lice, slugs and snails. Tolerantly it permitted me to dress it, stroke it, sing to it and hug it. Always, it gave comfort with its solid cheerfulness, its quiet ever-present dominance in this little garden.

In spring, its light leafy green helped the dark holly - its near neighbour - to shine. In summer as its leaves patterned and darkened, it added to the opulence of the fertile garden. In autumn it shone golden in the western sun before letting its leaves drift gently on the autumn wind.

Never again will it reach out its arms to protect this garden. Never again will it shine in the early morning sunlight or glitter and glow at days end, lit by the western sun. Never again will its leaves tremble and shake as a tough little easterly comes searing into the garden, or its leaves tremble in the rain, sheltering all who stand under it from the storms of autumn. It is gone, it is gone, it is gone!

I remember the promise made beneath the nearly budding branches of my rowan tree on Imbolc Eve, at the start of my tree pilgrimage last year.
“I pledge to love and protect the trees, for without you all, all humankind is doomed. “

So much for my promise, I think angrily. I’ve failed. I failed to protect a tree I had responsibility for and now, every time I walk in the garden I will be reminded of that failure.

And at last the tears come. Great hot rivers of grief course down my face. My breath, caught in my throat, shakes with the long withheld sobs. I surrender at last to the pain, the guilt and the misery.
In time, I grow quiet. I get up from under the choisia and crouch down before the trunks. Touching the stump, I whisper.

“I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I will build you a beautiful memorial. I will make a sheltered habitat for the garden creatures to nest in and to play in. You will never be forgotten for, in your trunk and branches lies a reminder of your glory. And the ivy will march determinedly upon you. The birds will sit and feast and sing and crap upon you. I will decorate you with whatever takes my fancy and the folk will dance about you as you grow and change.

I will sit beside you and dream. As the years turn, others who come to the garden will watch you evolve, grow weathered and decay until you are ready to return into the earth from whence you came. And other organisms will come and feast upon the soil you have enriched. Other trees and plants will grow where you once were. Who knows, in years to come, another generation of hornbeam may stand here proud and sturdy and strong. Another tree lover will sit beneath it, hold it in her arms and sing to it, as I have done. Someone else will find pleasure and comfort as I have in you.”

I struggle to my feet, walk slowly round the garden to stand in front of the rowan where my pilgrimage began. I will return one more time to close this pilgrimage, to give thanks for the journey I have been on and all that it has done to move and change me, but not tonight. Tonight, I morn the loss of a beautiful tree, acknowledge my part in its demise and my responsibility in the world to protect and nurture the trees.

Rest in peace dear hornbeam

Tuesday February 17, 2009:

11:31 am

I've just "undressed" my lovely hornbeam tree. I've removed the alter at its feet, the Samhain ancestor walk ribbon around its girth, the green man sconce from its chest and the cluster of bells from high up in its branches (don't know how I got them up there, I must have climbed up!). I've laid my hand on the flat of its flank and said "goodbye".

The tree surgeon stands, chain-saw in hand as I divest the hornbeam of its sacred trappings. I don’t dare even whisper to it.

In my mind, I say “I love you, I’m sorry, please go now. Goodbye dear tree and thank you for being in my life.”

The tree surgeon shuffles awkwardly as I bite my lip. I wish he’d go away and leave me with my tree, but he’s impatient to get the job done.

“I will not cry, I must not cry,” I vow to myself fiercely, my fingers failing to undo the determinedly tight knot in the Samhain ribbon. One by one, I hand the items to my gardener, tersely instructing her where to place them. Gently, I stroke the leaves one more time, don’t dare to embrace the tree although I tell it silently that I want to. I lay the flat of my hand on its ivy-clad trunk one more time and in my mind whisper, “Now go, dear tree, go. Blessed be, hail and farewell”

Head down, my face hot with the effort of not crying, I stomp back in doors and firmly close away the murdering world.

11:50 am
Chain saws are whining and the poor tree’s top most branches are hissing and bumping as they are dragged across the garden, sounding every bit like a large dead body might when being hauled off for summary disposal. I imagine their sighing swishing, a whispered protest, their version of kicking and screaming. I want to kick and scream on their behalf, but of course, I don’t. I try not to think murderous thoughts about the tree surgeons, the neighbours, the surveyors.

And now, the air is filled with the crunching and grinding of the pulping machine as it chomps its way through the twigs and small branches I've allowed them to take. I can't stand it! When will it be over. I am called outside to supervise the size of logs and branches I want to keep. I touch the dear tree’s dismembered body and inside, I weep.

The tree’s crime? It was too big for this garden or so the surveyors said. Its robustness caused the cracks in next door’s extension. The tree officer didn’t agree with this but felt that the tree did not merit a protection order, being surrounded by other trees and being only a humble hornbeam. But I know that the London clay, swelling with the rain and cracking with the sun has shifted the ground upon which many houses have been built. This is what happens when one builds on heavy clay and has extremes of wet and heat. Firm structures that don’t bend and move, crack and eventually they fall down.

1:30 pm
I help pile up the pieces of trunk around the place where the tree was. The tree surgeons have finished and are gone. The tree, cut almost to the ground lies amongst the scattered ivy, quiet and desolate. We pile up the trunks, the big fat branches, make a temporary cairn around the place where the tree was. I pick up a small fat piece of trunk, cradle it in my arms, and rest my cheek against its rough bark before laying it tenderly amongst the others.

One day soon, something beautiful will rise from this felling today. I picture a memorial, a pile of balanced and fixed trunks and branches. Ledges for the birds to sit on, places to leave offerings. Perhaps there’ll be an archway of some kind, a doorway into that other world. Soon, I will ask those who love trees and the goddess and those who love me or just love making things in and out of nature, to come and help me make something by which to remember the dear hornbeam. Together we will make something that will evolve as the years go on, hosting wildlife, harbouring the birds, a place for the folk to dance and for me to dream beside.

Rest in peace dear hornbeam.

The totem guards

Tuesday February 17, 2009:

A blackbird sings loudly. His call, a tumble of fluting notes, astonishingly loud in the early morning garden. I blow him a kiss and I move down the path towards the dear hornbeam tree.

Cool ivy leaves flutter under my tenderly stroking fingers. I reach round and clasp the trunk in an urgent hug. Today is this dear tree’s final day as a tree.

I lean my cheek against its rough bark. “Dear tree, I am sorry”, I whisper, “I am so sorry.” Only a few hours now to go. What can I do to support the tree now that it is about to die?

The path leads down between overhanging bushes, their leaves damp and cool, misted with dew. I push through them gently and edge my way down. All around is green, a riot of shrubs, great trees rising from beyond them into the dawn sky. A gently woody sweet perfume pervades the air, laced with a rich moiste loamyness. Everything here is so very much alive.

Here I am in a dark leafy dell, sheltered by the branches of trees meeting overhead. I edge my way down to a scattering of rough hewn stones and the darkness beyond them. A Fogou lies behind a curtain of ivy. I stoop low and make my way in.

It is warm and dark in here. I breathe deeply, savouring that distinctive Fogou smell that damp slightly mildew earthy aroma, so familiar and so evocative. The soil beneath me is soft. I subside down onto the ground, leaning my back against an earthy bank and wait.

“What can I give the hornbeam tree on this it’s last day?” I ask of no one in particular. I wait.

The darkness oranges, flickers warmly and I see the reflection of a dancing fire on the packed earth wall before me. I turn and, there is a vibrant little fire burning brightly in a great square hearth, which seems to have been hewn from the Fogou wall. Before it, lays the she-wolf. AS though hearing me – though I have said nothing, she turns, pointing her mussel at me and makes that soft whining noise in her throat that makes me want to cry and to hug her all at once. And then she is with me, leaning her heavy head upon my thigh.

We sit and wait. The light from the doorway darkens and I know something is outside but is reluctant to come in. I touch the she-wolf’s head and we rise and move out into the relative light of the dell beyond. A great bear sits by the doorway and I crawl over and sit down beside her, the wolf following.

A shrub shakes and I hear a snuffle. The snout, eyes and then whole head of the wild boar emerges, then moves slowly over to join us. Above me, a goat bleats and I turn to see her standing precariously on the top of the Fogou. I smile and she leaps down and joins us. Adder slides out from under a pile of rocks, a blackbird begins to sing loudly on the tree by the Fogou’s entrance. a raven’s guarg-guarg joins the cacophony as it struts into the dell. My power animals have come to join me!

And then I know what I must do. I need to bring all my allies to be with the hornbeam tree today, to sit with it till the time comes for him to be destroyed. I get up and lead the animals back to the tree, stand before and call the garden animals to come join in the vigil.

A blackbird is certainly giving it some welly in the tree a couple of gardens down. On the other side, a robin is chirruping at a nonchalantly cooing wood pigeon. The fence rattles and creaks under the weight of the cat. The squirrel pelts along on the other side, keeping his distance from the prowling mog.

“Come animals of the garden, birds of the sky, the creeping crawling things of the earth, come! Come allies of my path, totems of my life with the goddess, come! Come and be with this tree until it is no more. Come and be with me in my pain and sadness. Help me bare what must be done. Help this tree now”

I breathe and stroke the tree. Reach into my pocket and find the container of seeds. I pour it over the alter and on the ground around the tree. Then I kiss the tree tenderly and leave.

Father Hornbeam

Monday February 16, 2009:

I stand beside the hornbeam in my garden on its penultimate day as a living tree and cast a circle. For some time, I’ve been aware of a doorway into another world underneath one of its great branches. This morning, I decide to allow myself to explore it, with the set intention of connecting with the spirit of the tree and finding out what I need to do to release it when the tree is felled tomorrow.

I am on the crest of a hill. All around me, in monochrome with an ashen grey emphasis roll hills, sweeping down to a dark dead-looking great city by a snaking still river. All is quiet. There is no sign of life. Dread creeps across my skin in cold Goosebumps and I feel heavy and sad.

The tarmac path is straight, running down the hill towards the dead city. I walk slowly down, noticing that the grass on the hillside looks lifeless and grey. The leaden sky presses down upon me. I walk on.

Nothing changes, nothing moves. I am the only sign of life on the hill side. I plod on towards the city which doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer.

A rattling croak breaks the silence. I look up to see big black crows circling and cawing urgently to each other. What can they be searching for in this dead landscape? They circle above me as I walk on.

I’m lost in a slough of deep depression. I plod heavily on.

Now I walk through a burnt out forest, the tree stumps blackened and jagged, the grass lumpy like the scattered rough ash of a human cremation. What terrible cataclysm happened to cause this? I think momentarily of miles of burnt forest in the Australian bush. I walk on.

And as I walk, I begin to notice a change. Amongst the scattered ashes, the harshly pointing burnt stumps, one or two leaves are unfurling. Here and there, a brave bud pushes through. As I walk, the landscape around me greens; changes and the trees grow up all around me. In time, I am walking through a fertile forest and the air is populated with birdsong. Spring perfumes every breath I take. Small scurrying in the undergrowth signals that I am not alone. I walk on, placing my feet carefully yet jauntily on the path that winds between the trees.

I push through a leafy vale into a woodland clearing. In its centre stands a great tree. I can tell from its bark and its sturdy shape that it is a hornbeam. Before it, another stout hornbeam lies, as though in prostration, although in fact it has been felled. I touch it gently then step over it and sit down, facing the live tree.

I gaze at the big tree in front of me. Its strong trunk rises up into the sky. Its great branches spread out protectively overhead, their leaves providing a thick sheltering canopy. I look down at the roots and see, amongst the grasses and brambles, the spiralling ivy, small busy creatures scuttling and scurrying. This tree hosts a whole environment, a rich pallet of colours, a vibrant ecology of fora and flora.

I hang my head and weep for the tree in my garden. I feel this hornbeam’s paternalistic protective energy hold me, as though I were a small and distressed child.

“Father hornbeam”, I say, between sobs, the hornbeam in my garden is condemned. It has to come down. How shall I help its spirit leave?”

I sit quietly thinking, watching the still silent tree in front of me. I remember, my tree is decorated with bells, a green man sconce and a silk ribbon from the Samhain ancestor walk. At its feet stands a simple alter. When I take these from the tree, then it will be time for the spirit to leave. I shall “undress” the tree only when the tree surgeons are ready to cut it. Until then, let its spirit live happily on, gracing my garden with its joyfulness.

I rise to my feet, bow and thank the father hornbeam for his wisdom and return to my garden.

Just a Simple Blade of Grass

Full Moon, Monday February 9, 2009:

A delicate latticework of leaves, like a green-toned intricately carved screen separates me from a wide green sward. I prize the tendrils apart and squeeze through, careful not to damage their fragile silky coolness.

I stand in a wide velvet green circle of grass, edged by darker trees. The promise of spring newly come, hopeful and young is evidenced by the trees, the grass, the clear sky and the fragrant air. Every colour of green is here, from the dark shiny holly, to the vibrant new green of the beech.

On the other side of the circle I see a great old gnarled oak, magnificent yet twisted, its writhing branches stag like against the soft blue sky. I tread carefully across the grass, soft and cushioned under my bare feet. I kneel down before the tree, my quest in my heart.

I gaze at the tree, trace its patterns and shapes. The complexity of its growing is strong, sturdy and purposeful.

I focus on a single blade of grass springing from beside a gnarled root. How graceful it is, I marvel. How delicate its tapered leaf, perfectly bisected by the finest of stems. It offers itself to the world in its uncompromisingly simple purposefulness. The blade trembles frailly in the imperceptible breeze, and I sigh softly, reach out and tenderly touch it.

Here is a single blade; I examine it intimately it till I know it absolutely.

“I would know myself in all of my parts,” I find myself repeating again and again beneath my breath. In knowing, I accept myself. Acceptance is simple, that’s all.

I bow to the ancient tree. Between my finger and thumb, the blade of grass slips smoothly from base to tip. “Simple, oh so simple,” I sing softly to myself as I turn and walk back across the sward, duck and carefully edge my way through the latticework of leaves.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Babe in the curricle

Monday February 2, 2009:

I kneel before the unlit gas fire and carefully construct the Bridie bed. I line a basket with soft wool and silk, cover with faux fur and lay the bed down upon a little woolly rug. My fingers tenderly touch each texture, imagining what it would be like to creep beneath those covers and sleep. I sigh and remember the embracing snow outside. There’s still time to savour the dark.

“Dom-dom, Dom-Dom, dom-dom” The little drum beats a heartbeat and I sit down beside the Bridie bed. In my mind, I am out in the cold dark garden, still shrouded in thick soft snow, its surface hardening under the frosty sky.

Nothing moves but the beat of my feet, treading carefully and purposefully between the shrubs, under the arches, beneath the trees. Around me, clusters of snow flowers caught in the leaves of the trees slip easily out of their embrace and fall with a thwat. The wind shivers the branches. Droplets of frozen snow caught in the apex of two twigs meeting slip slowly and scatter, pitter-patter onto the frozen ground below.

I listen to the drum beat and breathe. The world is enfolded in Bridget’s mantle. It sleeps like a babe in a basket, lying mute and at peace beneath the soft covers, girding its strength for the returning light and the growing time.

The birch tree stands silvery and black, tall and graceful, its delicate branches reaching out to the slender rowan growing just on the other side of the path. They lean towards each other, their trembling fingers entwine. I walk under the dark arch that is their meeting point.

Trees line the path, growing together over my head, they make a dark lacy tunnel against the silvery sky, their branches, dusted with snow highlight their tangled structure. Beneath them lies the shimmering snow. I walk amongst them, placing my feet carefully, reaching out to touch their trunks as they edge closer, inclining towards me as I moved deeper and deeper into the woods.

Now I am edging carefully between them. Easily they relinquish their snowy gifts. Soon I am covered in snow. Tongues of cool iciness have found their way down my back; have slid between my breasts under my coat. I push on.

The snow creaks and groans under my feet. Snow plops wetly from the shivering branches as I pass. The wind softly sighs against my warm cheek. Nothing moves but the snow and me.

The path opens out into a small clearing. There amongst the white snow shines a cluster of creamy rocks surrounding a silver pool. As I move closer, I see that the pool ripples, is fed by a small tumbling spring whose tinkling voice I can now hear. I move closer.

I kneel in the snow and lean over the pool. Below me, my face shivers in the softly moving water. I nod to myself and then plunge my hand in, braking up the image, sending it spinning to the edges of the pool.

I scoop up the icy water, drink greedily its cold freshness, feel its coolness travelling through my body, spreading out to my very fingertips in a silvery sense of peace. It is the clear sharpness of spring water. It is the soft smoothness of fresh milk. It is sweet yet savoury, reviving yet soothing. I drink deeply.
I am sated. Refreshed and renewed. But I can’t move. The shimmering image in the water gazes up at me. I am transfixed.

The gurgling of the stream catches my attention. I see now that the spring feeds a little stream as well as this pool. It meanders amongst the rocks, across the clearing and disappears into the dark woods. I get up and follow it.

The walking is hard. The trees have grown so close to the water that I have to skirt round them. Time and again, I am led back to its side by its persistent bubbling voice.
The river leads me through the woods, to the edge of a cliff above a rocky beach. It tumbles down into a water hollowed bowl where it bubbles and churns effervescently before spilling over the rim and streaming across the pebbles to the sea.

I follow, slipping and sliding, stumbling, turning my ankles, falling, then getting up again and doggedly going on. At last I arrive on the beach, a small cove, littered with boulders and little rock pools. The pebbles slide beneath my feet as I step carefully to the gently lapping edge of the sea.

Alone on the beach, I watch the tide ebb and flow. I look out to see and notice the silver line at the place where sea meets sky. All is quiet, nothing moves but the sea and the lazy tongue of water that was the stream.

The light on the horizon becomes brighter. I watch it spreading, the silver turning to a soft gold, the sky lightening into the beginnings of the palest of grey blues. And there in front of me, a curricle bobs on the waves. Slowly, it moves towards me, carried on the gentlest of tides until it beaches at my feet.

Kneeling down, I look into the boat. There, wrapped in silks and furs a child sleeps peacefully, her soft skin creamy and pink, her hair the lightest of red-gold. One plump arm is flung around the neck of a sleeping creamy woolly lamb. Cheek to cheek they lie, softly breathing, at peace and safe.

I watch and wonder. What should I do with these two dear lambs? Should I carry them from the Sea or let it take them where it will?

The sun rises slowly above the horizon. I turn back to the pool and see, picked out in the sun’s first ray, a delicate fragile snowdrop, her demure head gently drooping. I go to her, kneeling and bowing my head. I reach out to stroke her, to cradle her little soft head between my fingers. Her cool silkiness is like the gentlest of kisses.

Then she is lying in my palm, accidentally plucked from between the rocks where she grew. I am sorry and feel ashamed. Tears prick my eyes. I don’t know what to do.

I go back to the child in the curricle. I tuck the little snowdrop into the blankets; rest its soft silkiness against the sleeper’s warm cheek. Under my hand, the boat bobs. A wave bigger than the rest lifts the vessle, spins it and gently bears it out to see.
Standing among the breaking waves I bow to the retreating boat. On the wind, I’m sure I hear a lamb bleating and a baby’s gurgling laugh. I turn back and walk up the beach to the stream and the pool.

It’s a hard scrabble up through the woods. Is that the old moon I can see peaking out from amongst the latticework of branches? I’m not sure. Is that a feather laid across it, I muse as I walk through the woods or a trick of the light against the twigs? I think about new beginnings, of commitments and of letting go of what no longer serves me.

“I leave behind panic an fear of failure” I say to the tangled trees, pushing my way into the clearing. I take with me the courage to lead,” I declare to my reflection in the shimmering pool. “I trust and honour myself as a witch, a crip and a dyke in how I serve London,” I vow, cupping my hands and drinking deeply of the icy water.

“Dom-dom, dom-dom, dom-dom, the voice of the drum calls me back. The room is warm. Outside, the wind rattles the windows.

“Blessings upon you Bridget”, I say, pouring her out some cool water, placing seeds in a bowl and a creamy white oatcake on a little plate.

The tender mantle

Monday February 2, 2009:

“Beneath her snowy mantle
The busy city sleeps.
Among the shaking birch trees
The Russian wind cavorts.”

Gently the quietness descends. Nothing stirs. London lies sleeping under the softness of Bridget’s mantle. This is her gift for Imbolc.

Awoken by the unusual stillness, I stumble into the garden, my feet sinking silently into the deep yielding snow. A brisk northerly wind blows flakes caressingly onto my cheek, into my hair and my outstretched seeking hands.

Step by step, I cross the garden. As I brush by, shrubs and trees bent under the weight of the settling snow scatter their icy burdens.

I stand before the stolid hornbeam, touch the snow sprinkled ivy it wears like a silky dark green jacket. The Green man sconce is completely submerged beneath snow, frozen like a mask. Gently, I stroke it away and sigh a greeting to the tree.

The holly branch swings low before me. Can I get past without it dumping snow all over me? I duck low, but not low enough. The icy crystal clusters slip seductively down the back of my neck melting coolly upon my still sleep- warmed skin. “Why thank you tree” I say smilingly to the holly, bowing low.

The icy rind crackles under my feet. I step carefully, aware that beneath it lies sheer smooth ice, as treacherous as an ice rink. Below the deceptive softness of the snow, the ground is hard as iron.

Amid the crunches, the sound of heavy wings criss-cross the garden in a counterpoint of soft fluttering. Fleetingly I wonder why the birds aren’t singing this morning. I listen to the tender softness of their wings, purse my lips, round my cheeks and blow a greeting to them in my own feather language. We “thwoh-thwoh-thwoh” to each other contentedly, as the snow continues to fall. We are alone, the birds, the snow and me.

The alter beneath the rowan tree is buried. Tenderly I brush away the soft snow from the dragon’s spikes, smooth it away from the great egg-shaped cobble, blow flakes off the roundel of hornbeam sitting on the icy slate. I hiss with pain. My frozen fingers hurt. I warm them on my mug of tea.

“What a beautiful morning” I think as I begin my dawn prayers. Around me, the birds circle, the bushes shift in the wind and from time to time let slip their icy clusters. Behind my closed eyelids, I see silver sparkling faces watching from amongst the trees. Beyond my hearing, the air chimes and tinkles imperceptibly. Is that the frost singing, I muse?

I move slowly to the green lady plaque on the graceful birch tree and clean away the snow from her face. I squeeze between the bending shrubs and find myself back at the hornbeam.

The hornbeam has a great strong arch of a branch. IN the space left by its prickly thorny neighbour is a gateway to another place. Every morning and evening, I stand and greet the tree. Every day, the gateway is there.

I stand before it now and my mind wanders through, eager to explore. I call it back. This is not the time to make that journey, for I know that the tree wants me to be purposeful when I do go through. It will wait for another day, I think turning to walk back.

London has stopped. The signs of spring may be here underneath the snow. Winter’s icy grip reminds me that there is time still to savour the darkness. I am glad. Along with the rest of the world, I decide to take the day off.