Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Sheep In The Woods

In the Withy Bed, two fields across from our cottage, is a temple made of conifers. I swear even the most insensitive, disinterested person couldn't fail to feel the difference as you walk into the circle of trees whose foliage blocks out the light, and creates a soft, silent carpet when it finally falls.

I found it last October. Despite living here for nearly five years now - and knowing this land since I was a small child - I have until the last year or so stayed out of this little patch of woodland but, on hearing and seeing evidence of shooting, I started to walk this patch regularly; watching, noting, just keeping an eye on what was supposed to be there and what wasn't. And if I'm honest, something was calling me. She was calling me.

In the conifer circle, among the ash and hazel, on a 'sunny showers' kind of day, not cold, the bright sun glittering off raindrops everywhere, I could feel the magic of the spot. I looked down for a moment and there she was...the skull of a sheep.

I am a bone collector. I have a mantle covered in jaws, skulls, spines and teeth, from a tiny shrew to the beautiful badger cub skull that Dooley brought me during his first days home. I picked up the sheep and immediately saw her with the others.

She had other plans.

As I walked away with a spring in my step, excited by my find, I heard her say that she didn't want to go. She asked me to take her back and then, after I dismissed the words as me being 'a bit mental' and kept walking, she told me to take her back.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. The collector in me put up a fight but the One Who Listens in me, er, listened. The sheep told me she wanted to be here in the woods and she wanted to be 'brought together'. I laid down her skull and saw a rib. I brought that to her and saw another. And another. Then another bone - a scapula. More and more of the bones of her scattered in the circle.

I had gathered her bones and after spending some time doing another sweep of the circle, I left her and walked away down a deer path through the hazel. She wasn't done. A short way out I felt an 'itch' that made me look more closely at the ground and there was her lower jaw. I carried it back and decided to do this thing properly. She was already in a safe, sheltered spot at the foot of a conifer but I was sad that she was alone, after all, sheep are social animals.

Back in the field I pulled sheep's wool from the hedge's low branches and, with some twigs for legs, made a little 'sheep' to keep her company. I found some dog roses and took them back to her. It felt peaceful. She felt peaceful.

In the following days I took Evie to see her and as the weather had changed for the worse, we built her an Eeyore house and covered it with foliage. We go back and see her regularly. She has been quiet. Until recently.

On the days that I call in the directions, I talk to the Sheep In The Woods, to the east where she lives. I don't expect a reply but it feels to me that if she called me to find and help her, we have a relationship. Lately I've felt some restlessness from her. She's ready to move. So, when the weather dries up a little, I'll take her to the edge of the woods and find her a sunny spot in the hedge where I collected the wool. On the open side of it will be ewes and lambs who sleep piled up together in the sunny mornings and shelter there when it's cold and wet. She'll be with her family.

Of course she may have alternative plans. I don't doubt she'll keep me informed.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Expecto patronum

The rational part of my mind tells me that a woman of my age has to face up to her second hormonal storm before emerging on the other side as someone quite a lot different, just as she did as a teenager. And that this storm may be beginning by turning my migraine into a monster. Certainly, it is worse if less frequent. Perhaps it is lower serotonin levels since I came off SSRIs and then, more recently, broke my SAD lamp. Perhaps it is the bizarre weather. Perhaps it is all the above and more.

And then another part of me says,'Well if you will go doing releasing rituals, calling in yew trees and other powerful energies, in the presence of two swans, you should not be surprised if you find yourself deep in a healing crisis where things get worse before they get better'. After all, what I was trying to release was a lifetime - in fact lifetimes because some of it is inherited - of fear. And some of this stuff was dark and traumatic.

Recovering from the physical and emotional battering I took from Monday's migraine, my brain felt bruised and sore. I was exhausted. Worst of all, was the fear. During the attack (good word) I was beset by memories of sad things and 'bad' things swirling around me like JK Rowling's dementors (surely she must be a migraineur to have created them). Yesterday, out of the blue, I'd still feel waves of fear of bad things happening. Horror movie things. Low serotonin levels are key in depression and anxiety so maybe it was that. But...maybe this fear is taking its sweet time leaving me, dragging its nails down my insides as it clings to me.

Today the waves are gentler, fading. I calmed myself last night by thinking that this aside, I am in a very good place. I have so much good around me, so much love. And I have optimism and hope, exciting plans even, after this winter of quiet examination and play. I also have wolf and hawk. I wouldn't mess with them.

And it occurred to me that as a light shines brighter, so the surrounding darkness becomes more defined. The stronger the sun, the darker and clearer the shadows. And that's all it is. All it is.

Saturday, 8 February 2014


Just as I was standing here, loving this ash tree in the foreground, a deer strolled across from the right. She moved slowly into the group of Leylandii conifers you can see at the back there. There are seven or eight trees in an almost circle and they provide a sheltered spot. The Sheep In The Woods is currently in residence, although you wouldn't know it unless I showed you.

This sweet deer was a beauty. We often see them here but today, neither Dooley nor Zoey spotted her or caught her scent so I got to stand and watch her for a few moments before quietly walking off to take the dogs away. It's almost time for me to stop bringing them into these woods. There will be young animals and anxious soon-to-be-mothers here and they need their peace.

We were lucky to be out during a sunny break from the rain. As we headed home we passed a rabbit sitting by a hedge, catching some much-needed warmth. Again the dogs were oblivious but I gently shoo-ed her to safety anyway.

Last night, at 10pm in a dark and windy field, we heard the most unearthly sound coming from the direction of these woods. The winds were strong and yet the cry - mournful and almost human - was loud. The dogs spooked (turns out Staffie X Labradors are big babies). The rooks and jackdaws in Ladies Wood spooked. I spooked. I'm familiar with the voices of most animals here but I'd never heard this before. Common sense says it must have been a deer, but why? In the dark? I'll be listening again tonight. Might have to ask the resident naturalist for his expert opinion. I hate it when that happens.*

*I think, maybe, it was a fox. But if it was, s/he was clearly in a melancholic mood and has had operatic training.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A woman of substance

On balance I like getting old. It's something to do with the way that when you're young, you're an almost empty vessel holding nothing but potential and wonder. That's an amazing way to be and feel. Optimism is your default position and the world is your hamster. Life is all on the outside of you, waiting for you. That's seductive and positive and naturally we are drawn to it.

But the older you get, the more life has moved inside. You assimilate it, become it, embody it. It's more than just experience, it has actual substance. I know I feel more substantial - and not in a 'can't get into my old jeans' way. It's to do with gravitas and gravity and all that stuff. You become more solid.

Just by living it seems, we manifest our selves. How wonderful is that? We create ourselves by taking in life and sculpting it.

Yesterday, coming from a day spent with dear friends, meeting new people and then returning home to my beloved family, I also thought about how much of what we are, what we build into ourselves, is connection and the love that brings. The more years you are here, the more connections you make. The more connections you make, the more love you stand to have in your life and once it's in your life you merge with it and make it part of your bones and your soul.

At 50, I really feel that now. As a young woman I had little experience of love and nurturing that wasn't Labrador-shaped, and I believe I inherited an inability to be comfortable around human affection and empathy that has blighted quite a few of my family. My mantra in my teens and twenties was,'I don't know how to do life'. But I learnt. And I practised. And I screwed up royally. But I was making connections and I got lucky. Eventually my practising paid off and I got actually quite good at 'doing life'. I drew to myself souls - in human and non-human bodies - made of such love that nowadays I am just soaked in it.

I am heavy and full in the way of the West, the autumn and the harvesting time, and the days of appreciation for what we have been given as the fruit of our labour. And as I sit in the morning, with the simple things - a notebook, a candle, tea and two snoring dogs (very simple) - and think about what I have to be grateful for I have to say, I'm grateful for getting older.

Happy birthday to one of my very favourite connections ever, Susannah. Love you. xxx


Sunday, 2 February 2014


As much as I am a morning person and dislike late nights, it's a bit of a treat to realise that staying up late to watch the best tv ever and, therefore, taking the dogs out an hour or so later than normal, means I get a bit of a lie-in.

So it was that the three of us headed out this morning without a torch. Yes. That is correct. Without a torch. I know. But even better than that was the pure magic of seeing the rooks and jackdaws waking up and taking to the sky. It's been a while since we coincided. Standing beneath trees with the sound of hundreds and hundreds of wings beating the air around you is breathtaking. I wish I could capture the sound but so far I haven't been able. And their chatter...I love it so much. Imagine this recording times a hundred. I'm longing for my morning starts to align with dawn again. Although instagram might start to creak a bit under the strain.

It seems fitting to mark Imbolc - the festival of awakening - with morning light. And I'm especially fond of this day for its association with Brigid who surely must the goddess of choice for all Firekeepers (although the revelation that she invented whistling could put me right off her). Happy awakening to you - light a fire, visit a spring, spend time with a willow tree. You know you want to.