A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Monday, April 13, 2009

Goose World

Sunday April 12, 2009:

The sky, a misty grey hangs low above us as we walk through the moistness. It’s so early on Easter morning, we almost have the world to ourselves. Only the birds trill and halloo to each other from amongst the newly budding trees.

Girdled by softly humming traffic, Finsbury Park lies neatly before us. From time to time an occasional panting runner disturbs the peace as the fairground workers quietly begin their set-up. WE walk on, past the silent café, drawn towards the lake by the honking geese flying low above it.

Disappointingly for me, municipal anxiety about health and safety has fenced off this lake. Abandoning the fantasy to sit under a willow and commune with the webbed-footed ones in their habitat, we walk its circumference, searching for the best place to connect with the geese and ducks, a vantage point from which we can feed them and experience their cheerful waddling, grumpy quarrelling and sheer greed without being in beak range.

I lean over the fence and proffer a morsel of hot cross bun to the bossily honking goose not two feet away. The wind scatters the crumbs as the pigeon, geese and ducks close in. The message has got round fast; it’s breakfast time!

Casting the circle, I call the spirit of the birds to be with me as my companion reads from The Kalevala :

“In the beginning there was water. In the beginning there was nothing but grey water, and flying over the water there was a golden-eye.

She was looking for somewhere to build her nest. She flew east and west; there was nowhere. She flew north and south; there was no speck or spit of land. There was only wind and wave.

The mother of the water took pity on the bird. The mother of the water raised her knee above the surface of the water. Like a bank of sand, the knee of the mother of the water rose up above the waves.

The golden-eye landed on the knee. It seemed a good place; she made her nest there.

She laid seven eggs: six were golden, the last was iron. She settled down on her nest. She brooded for a day; the eggs of gold and iron were warm. She brooded for a second day; the eggs of gold and iron were hot. She brooded for a third day; the eggs of gold and iron were burning the leg of the mother of the water. They were scorching her skin. She felt as though her sinews were melting in a terrible fire. The mother of the water could bear it no longer. She twitched her knee.

The golden-eye flew up into the air and the eggs smashed into the sea. With a hiss of steam the mother of the water lowered her leg down into the grey waves.

The golden-eye was circling in the air, calling and crying to her broken eggs.
But a beautiful thing was happening. A strange and beautiful thing was taking place. The broken eggs were becoming a world.
The lower half of one egg became the world beneath, the top half of another became the sky above. The golden yolk of one became the shining sun, the white of another became the pale moon. A mottled shell became the stars in the sky. The dark shards of the iron shell became the dark clouds.
The golden-eye was circling the air inside a world of her own making.
And the mother of the sea rose up and saw this new world. She swung her hand through the waves and arranged the headlands, she made the coasts smooth with the underside of her arm, she lifted lands and continents, she sunk her heel into the deep hollows.
The golden-eye circled in the air above her and the wind whistled in her wings.
That was how our world began.”

I raise my great heavy wings, stretch out my long neck and lift up off from the lake’s bank. The world turns spiralling beneath me as I soar into the white sky.

Alone I fly, a great grey goose, wings spread like angel’s, my neck stretched, my great body dark against the light sky whilst beneath me, the world spins. She shows me her rivers and lakes, her seas and oceans. She shows me her hills and valleys, her forests and mountains. She shows me her great cities darkly clustered on the banks of wide rivers. I fly on.

Behind me the sun rises. A great winged shadow - my shadow – casts darkness over the land below. All is quiet as though a pall of sleep has fallen heavily, pinning the living world beneath .

Like a sleeper,the world turns again. The sun gleams upon the moving waters, lightens the dark lands and guilds the tree tops.

Below me, the lake lies, cool and grey in the morning light. Two women lean over the fence feeding the ducks and geese that cluster by the water’s edge. A hungry pigeon bobs its head respectfully as it pecks from an open palm.

Down, down, down into the lake I dive, emerging fluttering and honking, spraying water in all directions as I vigorously flap my great wings. In front of the women, a bossy Canada goose is ordering the quarrelling ducks about in the crumb flecked water.

It is dark. It is quiet and it is warm. I lie cushioned in softness, held in something hard yet slight. I move my head and where my beak touches, the brittle hardness breaks and I feel cool, cool air and the warm heaviness of something feathery and firm on top of me.

Something is poking at my pocket. Instinctively, I move backwards as the goose on the other side of the fence honks at me. I toss the remains of the seeds to her and she lets my leg alone.

“The water’s clear”, says my companion, beginning to describe some of the antics of the ducks ducking and diving in the lake. Several upend themselves and present their bottoms to the day. She wonders briefly if that yellowy duck with the tufty head is a golden-eye.

Ferreting in her bag she pulls out a piece of paper and begins to read from The Wind IN the Willows, by Kenneth Graham:

All along the backwater,
through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
up tails all!

Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
WE like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call
WE are down a-dabbling
up tails all!”

“Brrrr” It’s a bit cold. Time for a duck’s dance!” I say, beginning to flap my arms and waddle, feet turned out.

“Don’t forget to stick your bottom out too”, comments my companion, matching her words with actions. I stick out my bottom and begin quacking, waddling and flapping.

“I think it’s time for breakfast” I say, slightly out of breath. “Let’s open the circle and get going shall we?”

My companion reaches into her capacious bag and pulls out yet another piece of paper.

“Before we go …” she says and begins to read From “Song of Myself”, by Walt Whitman:
“My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck on my distant and day-long ramble,
They rise together, they slowly circle around.

I believe in those wing'd purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional,
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else,
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me,
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night,
Ya-honk he says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation,
The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listening close,
Find its purpose and place up there toward the wintry sky.”

Walking back through the park, I imagine I am wearing “the tufted crown intentional” – headgear that is perhaps more purposeful than its cousin the (tufted) crown imperial”! . I waggle my head experimentally and quack cheerfully.
Silenced only by a double chocolate egg, I walk on munching. Behind us, a small group of geese rise up above the lake and honk their “goodbye”, - or is it “good riddance”?

Blackbird Owl’s Sacred Avian Calendar

Ok, I ‘fess up! There is no rhyme, reason or rule for what I am trying to do this year. No great pagan avian calendar gifted by the gods and channelled by the great priestess of the birds. No old runic carvings to examine and decipher. Not even a gothic late Edwardian tome written by a bloke with slightly dodgy politics after too much sex, drugs and The Charleston! I’d like to say I channelled it whilst flying on the wing with some great migratory flock of golden birds. I’d like to say even, I had a conversation with the blackbird and the owl and they revealed it to me.

Last year’s trees were hotly disputed – so I plumped for what sounded right to me. I read a few books, which all disagreed with each other and went with my own notions of what sounded right – well until I got depressed and lost the plot, that is. This year, I spent some time trying to mix some kind of bird calendar with the slightly dodgy tree calendar I used last year. Well, didn’t I get my feathers in a twist! The trouble is, thirteen moons don’t necessarily fit into a calendar year. And from thence it was but a short step to confusion.

And in that confused state, I phoned a friend, my favourite witch, The Low Priestess. And by purely consciously mind and middle earth means, I ‘vet come to a conclusion – and that was actually most of the battle. I don’t care if it doesn’t fit in with myth (what myth?), it doesn’t matter it if it doesn’t totally work ornithological either. What matters is that it squares to me.
And with a scirring of wings in the coolness of the dawn breeze, here it is:

Blackbird Owl’s Sacred Avian Calendar.

Blackbird and the rest of the thrush family.
Blackbird begins to sing his triumphant song as the wheel turns through Imbolc. The first bird I connected with, one half of my name. Allegedly some druid thinking associates this bird with the forge and I associate the art of smith craft with Brigit and Imbolc is her festival.

Spring Equinox
Duck, Goose and other pond companions.
Come the spring equinox , the ducks are a-waddling and a-courting and doing all manner of rude things. The geese that stayed are a-strutting and those who’ve returned fill the skies with their rusty gate calls. Spring makes me happy and so do ducks.

Swans are the great lovers, mating for life. Although Beltane is more about sex, I associate these beautiful birds with late spring sunshine under the dappled willows.

Summer Solstice
Pidgin and his cousins the doves.
Pigeon, ubiquitous in cities like London, but also the sound of summer with their “Droo-droo, Droo-droo”. I hear their call and immediately I am sprawled beneath a shady tree on a rosy summer afternoon, snoozing gently.

Pheasant and other game birds
August is the season of game hunting. The plump pheasants, partridges and grouse fly in fear of their life, yet lead the guns a merry dance too. After the first harvest, summer begins to think of autumn and the game bird flies across the wide moor.

Autumn Equinox
Swallows and other migrants
Summers end and the avian summer visitors fly south. The swallows fill the sky on their journey to over winter in Africa. Of course birds migrate in and out of the British Isles throughout the year but the time when the swallow leaves marks the end of summer and the cooling of the days until winter.

Owl, raven and the crow family
AS we move into the darkness, the owl, the Cailleach and the raven the destroyer speak to me of the death of one thing and the birth of another, echoing Samhain as we die to what we no longer need, and are reborn anew.

Robin and Wren
Here are the twins at the time of the birth of the sun and the death of the dark. Robins and Yule are a common partnership. Wrens were hunted on St Stephen’s day. Together they sing.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dancing for the ducks – Waterloo Park, North London

Wednesday April 1, 2009:

“Oh, I should be a-protesting” I remember guiltily as I get off the 210 bus outside Waterlow Park. My companion and I have come to pay our respects to ducks, it being duck time of course.

I did toy with dressing up in flame coloured clothing and going to dance like a fool in the city along with like-minded souls, anything to protest the crimes of capitalism. Alas, a lunch date has slipped into my diary and it means that instead I only have time for the ducks before dinner. Well that is my excuse anyway.

We stride through the sunny park, stopping briefly to admire a new play area, the structures looking strong enough to bare an adult’s weight. But I am impatient for ducks and I’ve not much time, so we scoot along. The quacking and honking dances to us on the wind. And here are the ducks waddling around on the edge of the pond, splashing in the cool water under the willows.

There is something cheerful about ducks. I just can’t help quacking along with them. Somehow, their presence lightens my heart. I laugh and quack away as I get out the oatcakes and begin to scatter crumbs.

Ducks, geese and wood pigeons fix their attention on what I suspect is breakfast mark six and cluster and clamber on the other side of the fence. I get out the RSPB toy mallard and squeeze it.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” quacks the toy duck.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” gives back the mallard with a green head.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” grumbles a rougher sounding duck from over on the left, a little belligerently.

WE all fall to quacking and soon the song of the toy, ducks and humans weave together in a cacophony of happy calls in tenor, bass and alto. In and out of our song the Droo-droo, Droo-droo” and “honk-honk, honk-honk” of the pigeons and geese move. Soon the air is filled with a joyous orchestra of the pond side and we continued to sin contentedly for some time.

Finding a seat, my companion and I sit down to contemplate the ducks in comfort. I call the spirit of the duck to come to me and sit back and wait.

I am upside-down underwater. With my bum in the air and my orange feet sticking up comically I am perfectly happy. Dignity? Who cares about dignity, I’m looking for food!

Below me the sky, pale blue smeared by the dark weedy water, shines opaquely. Above my head, the muddy bottom of the pond is my duck’s sky. I see amongst the weeds, curious openings and dark places and wonder what is down there. I see also, other heads like mine and the furiously paddling feet above the bottoms of the other ducks, geese and coots with whom I share my pond. With a flurry of splashing I right myself, shake the water from my wings with an enormous amount of flapping as I swim into a pool of sunlight.

We stand by the fence again, lured by the comic waddling birds. A red faced coot comes over to investigate the alien quacking from my toy duck, followed by another and then another. Not to miss out on anything, several mallards waddle up onto the bank and gather around.

What are the qualities of the duck, I muse as I lean against the fence? According to a rather waft and over emotional bird oracle I’ve found, the duck is his own worst critic. But I see ducks as optimistic and cheerful souls. Yes they argue amongst themselves and at times their squabbles can be quite vicious. But, every time a duck waddles into my thoughts, I think of a happy creature with that flat billed smile and my spirits rise. Their ubiquity is reassuring, for it is always easy to find ducks. Perhaps that too means they don’t get enough honouring.

And with that in mind, I suddenly need to dance. Splaying out my feet like a duck’s, I begin to waddle from side to side and to flap my arms like wings. I nod my head and quack as I rock from side to side. My companion joins in and the ducks waddle closer to watch in appreciation.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” calls a particularly handsome purple headed mallard, according to my companion. He turns, waddling on orange feet, his black tail and brown rump apparently looking rather magnificent in the sunlight and with a splash, enters the water and paddles away. Soon an Armada of mallards, their colourful heads erect, their orange feet furiously paddling, shoot across the pond in search of a small child in pink with a lot of bread to give them.

“Hail and farewell ducks,” I say, bowing to their retreating backs. “Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for making me want to dance.”

Following the winged ones

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. Hail and welcome winged ones!

I have no text, no ancient lore to follow. I have only my instinct and my promise - to connect with the birds this year. In the helter-skelter rush into spring, and the busyness of my life, I have had time only to regret that I did not spend more time preparing. But Ostara has passed and I don’t yet know completely the calendar I will follow. Being a bit of a completer finisher, this irks me somewhat.

I wander round the garden listening to the glorious dawn chorus. Maybe I should align the birds with the trees? Blackbird is the bird of the threshold. He begins to sing soon after Imbolc. Let him companion Rowan then, I decide. The geese fly high in the white skies of March, let them fly above the naked elegant ash tree. How merrily the ducks paddle and play. Let them waddle and quack amongst the wet roots of Alder. How beautifully the willow weeps into the swollen spring waters below. Let them weep with the soulful swan as she glides beneath their shade.

I know that as the year casts her crone’s mantle that owl and raven will be there. The sacred twins, the robin and the wren will herald the beginning of the year in birch. All that seems right. But where to place the pidgin, for I must have pigeon? And as I think of this, the other birds begin to peck and squabble, clambering for inclusion.

The tree calendar is aligned to the moons. In 2008, birch began on the new moon which appeared on the day after St Stephen’s day. It seemed right that Wren and Robin companioned it. The month of birch next comes in the second week of January 2010, late for the robin and the wren. Now if I’d worked with birds this last year, everything would have fitted in beautifully!

So what about working with a bird for each festival? Blackbird would fit in with Imbolc, Duck with Ostara, Swan with Beltane. Owl and or Raven with Samhain and Wren and Robin with Yule. My mind boggles. I could just decide, but I can’t decide so I go off to talk to the ducks, because, whichever calendar system I decide upon, both agree that it is time for ducks!