The Third Fall

When I wrote ‘The Fall. THE FALL and the Apple’, I only thought of two Falls that were part of my personal story.

There is another, however, one which I have only been introduced to since living in the UK. One I witnessed yesterday, and only the third time in such a spectacular fashion. But this time there was a difference, for in the middle of the experience I connected it to the other two Falls, and it too was connected to apples for it occurred within the mysterious realm of Avalon, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.

This third Fall is that which occurs at the end of a Starling Murmuration sequence.

We were at RSPB Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels. I had spent the day indoors at a meeting nearby whilst my partner explored the reserve, and he brought me there after he picked me up to share what he had discovered. During the day it had gone from sunny and bright to overcast and windy, eventually adding mizzle to the mix.

We walked down to the big hide and back in a cold wind, waiting for the Starlings to come in for the night. I had seen the murmuration there before, from a distance, with a friend who works for the RSPB, a couple of years ago. I had also seen it when out on the Levels many years ago, also from quite a distance the big sky the sky dancers stage. My partner had never had the experience, seen the display.

At the time posted on the notice board at the RSPB building on site, the Starlings began to arrive. Last evening was different from the previous times I had seen the massed dance, from a distance. I had heard the beating of hundreds of wings swooping over my head. I had watched them turn and swirl and wheel, seen masses of starlings blacken part of the sky and then open up into a loose mass. This time was different.

What I had never seen up close was want happens when the aerobatic display ends: what happens after The Fall.

The Starlings rise and drop several times on the way to the reedbed to roost, but the final act in the aerial ballet, The Fall, I had not witnessed up close. The reedbed was swarming with Starlings. Literally thousands and thousands of them. This sort of display only happens in late Autumn and Winter.

There are no adequate words to describe the spectacle. The entire reedbed roiled and quivered, the chittering was incessant, the sound of the thousands of pairs of wings continued to beat as the mass settled for the night, which took time; it was not a rushed settling in, settling down. Some of the birds stopped to take a bath or have a drink. The reedbed was thick and dark with Starlings as small groups continued to move back and forth. Even when it appeared the space could hold no more, overhead another huge group would arrive from behind us churning and whirling, and then another from the right, over the trees. Fall after Fall after Fall. More and more Starlings arriving.

I could feel the intensity of whatever drove these amazing birds to seek the place of their night’s roosting, the place they would shelter for the night. I wondered who choose the site for the night, of all the various reedbeds on the Levels, wondered why they all came to the one in front of us at Ham Wall. I wondered how they all knew when the gathering was taking place. I was curious how come there were always a few stragglers who came in at the very last. I wondered how they got separated from their group. I wondered if a raptor got to any who were late and not part of the massed sky dance.

So many questions. And, I suppose I could find some of the reasons behind this behaviour; for now, however, I am content not to have the answers. The mystery is fine, essential still. The mystery is part of the magic of experience.

I would love to see the morning rising, and am sure I will manage to do so one day. In the meantime I am left to ponder this Fall, the third Fall, its deeper meaning and its lessons.

Leaves fall from trees in the Autumn. Sap rises in the Spring after the trees Winter rest bringing trees back to life, reawakened. Starlings fall from the sky into the reedbeds to rest for the night. In the morning they awaken and rise to begin their daily cycle again.

Mystery. Wonder. Connection. Awe.

For all the words I have written here, I was speechless last evening. Clearly, to me, the marker of a deep and profound spiritual experience.

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The Dawn Quartet

I was wakened by the rain
heard through open windows
pat patter pat beating
like a small tight drum,
then beyond the cloud water’s music
the winged ones began
their chirruping songs
to scores they only know
once the pattered drumming
slowed and ceased.

Head resting on my pillow,
cats eager to see if at
o four hundred I was awake
enough to heed their
presence and desire
to break their nightlong fast,
I heard the morning’s
emerging avian songs,
voices added one on one
the vocal ensemble reached
but four this morn,
no dawn chorus then for me.

Still, I was blessed,
and with a grateful heart
listened to the sweet refrains
of the dawn quartet
to begin my day,
the damp air perfumed,
the ground wet and leaves
bedecked in glistening droplets
after several dry weeks
under a cloud shrouded
breeze bearing sky.

Haiku on a Stormy Day

Unable to flee
Trees bend in thrashing storm wind
Roots reach deep hold firm.

Birds wheeling sideways
Wind rushed wings onward fly
Difficult to land.

Pollarded treescape
Land floats on hidden waters
Somerset Levels.

Catkins dance waving
Pollen spreading far and wide
New generations.

Sun peaking from clouds
Clouds pushed on wind swiftly
Calm soon returning.

Wind unrelenting
Atmospheric songs wail
Silence forgotten.

Howling wind keening
Mournful song marking the day
Waiting for relief.

An afternoon at RSPB Swell Wood

First I want to thank my friend who is an administrator for the area RSPB for taking me on this wonderful adventure, since I don’t drive.

When we headed out from my cottage yesterday afternoon, it was a bit mizzly so we went to plan B – Swell Wood, plan A was Ham Wall. That’s for another day. It had nearly stopped when we arrived at the car park where there were only two cars.

Arrival

From the time we opened the doors, and in spite of the road noise, bird song filled the air. Since the feeders were empty, she filled one of them with sunflower seeds.

Our first stop was the hide for the heronry. With all the leaf cover it took a few minutes to locate the nests. And, I forgot my binoculars so we shared. Saw several nests heard lots of calling from the treetops. Saw an egret nest and egrets flying off as well as heron. There were other little birds in closer as well.

We then walked around the top walk and at one point the road noise vanished. The atmosphere was magical. Once we’d made that circuit we took off for Scarp Trail, lots of up and then lots of down, followed by way more up to get back to the car.
Virdiditas 3Virdiditas 2

All around there were delicate grasses, yellow archangel and remnants of bluebells, and one lone cuckoo-pint.

Grass with seedsGrass with multiple seeds

Yellow archangelCuckoo pint

Saw Alfred’s cakes and for the first time knew what it was that I’d seen a few times before.

Alfreds cakes

The ivy twisting around the tree trunks looked like Celtic knot work. I have wondered before if it is not where the idea for such patterns originated.

Knot work 5Knot work 4

Knot work 3Knot work 2

Knot work 1

The views across the Levels were amazing. Hard to believe how recently they were under water for weeks and weeks.

Levels 1Levels 2

I marvelled at the beetles on the green leaves, and what I think are musk beetles, though I didn’t get a photo.

Red beetles

When we got back to the car after filling a second feeder my friend moved the car to the other side of the car park and we waited to see who’d take up the offer of food. It didn’t take long for a pair of Chaffinches to arrive and work the ground for what had fallen from the holes in the feeder right in front of us. Then to the other feeder a Greater Spotted Woodpecker arrived. We heard some hungry noises coming from a hole in a tree before we were back at the car and figure this must be a parent bird.

Greater spotted 3Greater spotted 2Greater spotted

At the same time a squirrel showed up with the Chaffinches and worked the ground. When the woodpecker moved to the closer feeder another visitor took over the second feeder.

Squirrel 4Squirrel 1

Squirrel 2Squirrel 3

For those brief few hours, I soaked up the tranquillity and the virdiditas. Tall trees reaching up to embrace the sun, which wasn’t much in evidence, linked like the ribs of a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Air slightly moist and smelling sweetly clean. It was an opportunity to relax and allow the spirits of the wood, on the edge of the Levels, to reach out to me as I opened to allow the connection and communion. There was the low strong murmur of tree speech all around me. I felt welcomed. I felt at home. I felt the presence of dryads and woodland sprites. I sensed the dancing energies of trees and of the bird life all about me. Chirrup, song, melody was all around me heard with my inner and outer ears. Vision, vista, beauty were everywhere I looked seen with my inner and outer eyes.

I was walking in Swell Wood and I was walking in The Wood, if that makes sense. I was there and beyond there. The magical nature of this small, magnificent gem of a woodland opened the portal for me to enter a Wood much larger and far more complex. I was moving in two realms, happily nattering away with my friend and at the same time communicating in silent presence with the greater energy of where I was, beyond where I was.

I was very aware of being on the edge of the Somerset Levels, a place of fascination and enticement for me. Although I am not able to get down into them without much travel and expense on buses, I love them. They are a place of particular mystery and wonder. There are connections I’ve not had the opportunity to explore fully, but I feel the pull. I it feel more strongly now. The gods and spirits of the Levels are calling me and I know I need to find ways of entering the openness of this landscape and meet them more fully. Yesterday, as we drove back through the spaces they inhabit I heard whispers and echoes reaching out to me, calling me to engage with them. It is another calling I am not going to be able to pretend I don’t hear for very much longer.

The deep Mystery of Willow is present in the Levels in a way that I sense is unique. Where I live I tiptoe on the edges of it, does this sound familiar? But I have not allowed myself, and also at some profound level of my being not been allowed until now to contemplate such a connection.

I have made deep links with Yew and Beech already, but Willow only by a gentle touch not mutually deep exchanges between self, being and presence. And it’s not only the mystery of the Willow; there is other mystery and magic there for me. There is something about the land itself, even beyond the surface and visible landscape that calls to me. From where I sit now it is ephemeral and insubstantial, but it is surely real, reaching out and pulling me to explore.

All of these experiences are intensifying my practice of Druidry, enriching my spiritual and religious path, as well as my self-understanding as a Druid. They show me I have so much to experience still and only hint at how deeply these realities and experiences will take me into the realms of the gods, the ancestors and spirits of this land who frame, shape and ground my life and being as a Druid, as a person.

All this wonder, enrichment, challenge, awareness from a brief journey to and through an RSPB reserve.

Any Wednesday

Today I walked with the gods, ancestors and spirits who dwell in the landscape nearest where I now reside.

I walked passing houses storied by the people who live in them. Storied by their inhabitants through acts of love, violence, indifference, hope, and despair. Storied by those who chose wisely and with honour, and those who are trapped in decisions made in haste and acts of self-indulgent deceit.

I walked beyond these and also by the hedges and banks that are home to the small ones, furred and feathered, sheltering from the increasing and inconsistent cold. I walked alone. I walked shedding feelings of sadness, of promises made to me and not kept, of days never allowed to achieve the potential invested in them. I shed these. I walked. I took photos to focus my intention and attention on the world of nature all around me.

It was any Wednesday
as I left the tarmacked road
and moved along a different trail,
but it was not what it seemed.

It was any Wednesday
as I followed the beckoning of the stream,
and moved along the muddied way,
but it was not what it seemed.

It was any Wednesday
yet bore revelations most profound
through the yawning gate of deepest winter,
and I saw with newly opened eyes,
and I heard with unblocked ears,
and I felt with reawakened senses,
walking with and amid those
who long before walked paths
not so different from my own
in following the lure of the winter’s day.

I watched the robin watching me,
saw the wren dart past from a withered hedge,
listened to the wind in the bare branched trees
and through dry hedge leaves,
I saw the preening swans and flying ducks,
and heard the stream coursing relentlessly to the sea.

We do not know the musics
our ancestors sang to
nor the languages of their song,
but we can know what inspired them
in the squelching mud,
the sharp bite of cold wind,
the warmth of midwinter sun,
the tumbling of the stream’s waters
and the calling of the wild things:
the quacking of ducks,
the cackling of herons,
the crawking of ravens,
the thrumming whoosh of swans skeinning low,
the howling of hounds.

We can still see bold oaks
twisting ivy and whithered bracken,
a cheeky robin,
a furtive wren,
a flitting band of sparrows,
but we must open the inner eye
and allow the deeper ear to hear
and the mind to pause its ceaseless doubt;
we must be willing to walk and pause,
to greet and be greeted
to watch and be watched
to wait upon and welcome
those unanticipated,
those least expected,
those who are willing to pull back
the curtain between now and then
as yet is a step we take together.

It was any Wednesday
but no Wednesday nor any day
will ever be the same.

A Day too Still

Walking on a day too still,
the world all silent waiting,
wondering what portends,
querying the hush,
quiet enough to hear
Poplar’s leaves
drifting
groundward,
though in the distance
combines rake the fields bare.

Going farther
at the stone bridge can be seen
through Stream’s running waters
long tendrilled trailing grasses,
bright Stream Nymphs’ hair.
and the gathering of bubbles
over mini rapids congregating
air’s infusion linking
elements and Elementals.

On down the path
where Stream babbles singing water’s song
to mudded banks eroded
in days well gone and long forgotten,
hear Heron call when taking flight,
strain to see Woodpecker least spotted
rhythmically tapping muffled on a living tree,
see Old Yaffle airborne low,
and Moorhen crossing in front ignoring danger
eager to enter Stream’s bidding,
‘come join my swirling dance’.

Turning round where the path ends
at a mown and empty field,
no gleaning birds to see
the harvest truly past there,
back now observing elderberries
hanging heavy where once
flowers held heads high,
spider woven portcullises
drawn down before the blackberries
with stinging nettle sentinels
only the brave or foolish,
insect or walker,
reach for the fruit.

Then came out the sun
clearing clouds overcasting,
creating a less white sky,
the temperature rising muggy,
but the silence remained
etched into the space
marking fast the day.