Overnight unseen arriving the one, the only snowfall to mark the season’s presence and passage. Soppy, slushy, slippy already retreating, but snow nonetheless, an unusual occurrence in The Levels where the land rests low and the water table rides high. Snowdrops appeared a few days prior delicate blossoms bright green and white against the muddy woodchip, though made of sturdy stuff, these harbinger flowers. Together for a moment ephemeral snow enchanting snowdrops, Winter’s last gasp, Spring’s first sigh.
Today is a special day for me. Seventeen years ago I arrived in the UK never to leave again.
After I fed the cats at a little after six this morning I went up to my study and looking out the window I saw in the field behind the house across the road a sight that brought tears to my eyes.
The Mists of Avalon – the wisps of misty cloud that rest in the early morning on the Somerset Levels this time of year. I was overwhelmed by the knowing, deep and resonate well beyond mere knowledge, that living in the house we moved to four weeks ago was finally home.
Feelings of intense gratitude swept through me. After living in places from one end of the UK to the other,from the Devon coast to the farther reaches of Orkney, I am a last home.
Home. The place of my deepest truest belonging. Home. The space to set down proper roots. Home. Where I will welcome friends from all over to share with me the magic and wonder of Avalon. Home. Where the dining table will see feastings. Home. Where I will at last know the settled rootedness I need to do my work. To write and to create. To be fully myself. Home. Haven. Shelter. Harbour. Anchor. Home.
Therefore, on this anniversary day of my coming to the UK and at last having come my settling place, I say to the gods, ancestor and spirits of the land who brought us, led us, here to this wondrous place: Thank you. I will endeavour to the best of my ability to fulfil the tasks you set before me.
There is joy. And there will be more.
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.
On 2nd December 1982, I wrote a sequence of poems to mark the successful completion of a course of counselling to get over writer’s block. I had worked with a wonderful counselor who taught me to journey, though I’m not sure it was called that, and begin to engage my inner landscape/mindscape/soulscape. I can still go to the places I discovered with his guidance, still see and feel them in my being when I choose to do so.
The sequence of poems became a book I published two years ago: Paused at the Edge of the River, Waiting. Only since last week has that book gained a much fuller, deeper context for me. I have a new relationship with the words I wrote so many years ago. Words written by a me of several lifetimes ago, or so it feels. I used imagery that I really understand now.
And here is how I know this is the so . . .
Last week I spent a day in Langport, on the Somerset Levels, to engage the River Parrett. It is a river I’ve known since the Autumn of 2000. I have visited it and walked its banks in the company of another who has stepped out of my life, leaving pain and sorrow in his wake. At some point over this past Summer, however, I knew that the Parrett was my Muse. It is possible to reach a bit of it by walking out of the village where I live, but it is not a familiar part, and I really am not sure of the footpaths. Not yet.
Somehow, I knew that for my first real engagement with the Parrett it would have to be in and outside of Langport and on the way to Muchelney, parts of the Parrett I know. Well, last week I felt the time was right so I took two buses and spent £14.40 I didn’t really have to make the journey – the pilgrimage to meet my the River as my Muse for the first time.
The day was perfect, not too hot or chilly, sunny with clouds and a day there weren’t many people on the River. When I got there first, I walked out onto one of the little platforms standing over the River to look down into it.
Then I ate the lunch I had packed sitting on one of the benches near the riverbank gazing into its flow.
After eating I walked out of Langport towards Muchelney. Being in no hurry I took my time, camera in hand as well as my notebook. I juggled recording visual and impressionary images to return to and ponder later. I walked with and through and past Willows that were alive with the calls of Willow Warblers and Long Tailed Tits. There was a Moorhen on the water skirting the edges of the bank. And Dragonflies, the whole path seemed to have become a dancing ground for them, their handsome red bodies shining in the Autumn sun.
One had gotten too close to the water’s surface and was unable to get out and I had no way to rescue him. I could feel his terror and fear, flailing his wings trying to escape the River’s grasp. I sensed him getting tired and finally his resignation to his fate, a fish would come along at some point and take him. I sent my thoughts for a crossing to his Ancestral Dancing Ground that would mean he’d celebrate soon with his Dragoncestors, including the giant prehistoric ones.
I walked on and saw a Kingfisher hovering like a Kestrel and plonking into the River, again and again. When I looked at the not too well focused photo at home it turned out there were two of them on the far embankment.
Just beyond the Kingfishers I paused at a place that held deep memories of time spent with the man who had stepped out of my life. Memories of sublime joy and affirmation, as well as ones of shard sharp sorrow. I paused and allowed the hurtful memories to be released, but there seemed no point banishing those that taught me about the joy my body could experience.
The Willows who witnessed my joy also stood witness to this act of letting go. So, the hurt is gone, dropped into a puddle that will dry away and take the memories of pain with it. The memories of joy join the flow of the River, the Awen and Life. These are available now in the vast reservoir of experience to tap into when creation requires it.
I walked farther on but did not get all the way to Muchelney, as I didn’t want to walk with the beasts in the fields. I got to where I got a clear look at the church there and that was fine for this visit.
So, turning around I ambled back.
Then there was the Apple Tree. She is an old tree, or at least I sensed her thus. She is not whole, but bears a hole in a part of her that is broken off.
Lichen covered she is wise. Still bearing fruit, she gave me an apple and told me that I must come and take some of her Mistletoe for Yule. I felt comfort in her presence and a connection of spirits, hers to mine and mine to hers.
Taking a slightly different path, off the main track, for the last bit of the way into the village, I came upon, under more Willows, a swathe of tiny mushrooms.
I took a photo with my pen to show the scale.
They were a wonder, though I didn’t know how much so until I pulled the close-up I took onto my computer.
There were also some scary grey-black ones. A wonder, too, though in a different way.
I had engaged the River Parrett as my River, my Muse. I claimed the space as sacred for and to me, in my life going forward. It is no longer shackled to memories that hurt my heart or stab my soul. I am free to know the Parrett as a manifestation, a riverfestation of the Awen.
I am building new memories. I am enjoying new experiences. I continue to learn about myself, my place and my purpose.
No longer am I paused at the edge of the river, waiting. Not even am I paused at the river flowing. There isn’t any more an edge at which to pause. I am part of the River. Part of the Flow. Part of the Awen that connects me to my Muse. Connects me to everything of wonder and mystery. life and being, creation and creativity.
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.
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.
All around there were delicate grasses, yellow archangel and remnants of bluebells, and one lone cuckoo-pint.
Saw Alfred’s cakes and for the first time knew what it was that I’d seen a few times before.
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.
The views across the Levels were amazing. Hard to believe how recently they were under water for weeks and weeks.
I marvelled at the beetles on the green leaves, and what I think are musk beetles, though I didn’t get a photo.
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.
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.
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.