October Dawn

Living at the foot of Grabbist in the beautiful medieval village of Dunster is a blessing.  There have been many hours spent enjoying walks exploring woodland, moor, beaches and coastal paths and whilst I am finding it easier to be up in time for dawn, this was the first time I have ventured up through Grabbist’s woods to watch day break over the Quantocks.

Inspiration was at my side.  Images caught, words flowed to become the poem below.  I trust you enjoy and that you may catch a glimpse of how it felt and more …

Happy October everyone!

As new day dawns and wonder breaks

Grabbist’s woodland whispers wake,

Sun, frisky, round – his smile bold

Now risen shining dressed in gold.

Tis rosy pink and misty too

This quiet dawn October view.

The rabbits, blackbirds and the deer

They’re all awake and with me here.

A stag stands guarding peaceful doe

With quiet grace and strong repose

His presence proud, inspiring poise

Live well today and feel Life’s joys.

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The busskie-tailed Fox

 

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I came across the bones of this story last summer whilst visiting Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.  Being a storyteller and collector of old bones I couldn’t resist the call of the museum.  It was there that I chanced upon the story of ‘The Old Woman of Glen Imridh’ and here is my version of that tale.

The busskie-tailed Fox

I’ve never had a mind to write things down until now.  And while an account of yesterday’s story compels me to put pen to paper, it also gives me reason to wonder.  I was named Angus MacDonald after my great great grandfather – a fact that seems to have passed me by, until yesterday that is.

I was out checking the traps on the south west perimeter of the Benmore Estate where I am game keeper.  In spite of sporadic culls foxes flourish in these hills.

The heather lingers in the glen and there was one last trap to check before heading home.   While the late sun was hidden by the hulk of Benmore, I could see clouds of midges hugging the bog below.  My feet were hot and my stomach complaining as I made my way up the slope.

The cage was wedged under an old wall of an ancient broch. I could just make out a bundle of soft reddish fur through the bars with feather whiskers.   Squinting harder as I drew near, I saw a cub asleep at the back of the cage.

Easing the shotgun from its slip I pressed it firmly into my shoulder, flipped the safety and took aim.  I could see the pigeon feathers stuck to it’s muzzle – the cub had clearly enjoyed it’s last meal.  My finger began to squeeze the trigger as I breathed in what I knew would be the cub’s last breath.

Suddenly, a shadow moved across my sightline.  I looked up and standing on the skyline of the drystone, hollow wall was the largest dog fox I have ever seen with a busskie tail.  He was staring right at me.  I say at me, but it felt more like his dark eyes were boring holes into my being.  I can’t explain what happened next.  I found myself in another, and that other was my namesake Angus MacDonald from way, way back …..

Heart pounding and breathing hard, I stopped.  A winter landscape came into view and I scratched my chin, startled to feel prickles and even more to feel unexpected teenage pimples.  It was cold, bitterly cold whilst I felt surprisingly warm.    An expanse of snow stretched out in front of me, not a rock nor a tree could be seen.  I glanced behind.  Two scrawny lads were wading through snow using shovels as walking sticks.

“Angus, can you see anything, anything at all” gasped Fergus.  He had lanky legs, a blaze o’locks and familiar sparkling green eyes.

I stopped, blinking in the dazzling light and scanned the horizon for signs of life.  It was difficult to know where the bothy was in the flat white winter landscape.

After a fierce week of incessant snow, the blizzard had finally stopped.  The people had gathered to see if everyone was safe and it was my mother who had asked about the old woman up the glen.   In solitude since the summer Highland Clearance; the Old One had refused to leave her home.  She was old, very old with no expectation of crossing the Atlantic with the others.  And while thousands of the glen’s evicted had left for the boats, she alone was happy enough to stay and keep the company of one goat and a couple of hens.

“Where is she?” asked Andrew.  His face was flushed from the hours of walking.  He rubbed his ears with mittened-hands, the size of plates and groaned

“I can’t see anything.  How will we see her hollow when all the world is one great white sheet o’ snow?”

I squinted peering across the frozen wasteland to where I imagined her hollow and the hut should be.  And then I saw it.

“I see it!  There!  A whisp o’smoke.  There’s a fire lighted, maybe she’s alive.”

We muscled our way through the thick drifts and down into the brak following the smoke.  Digging an arctic passage to the sound of heavy breathing and shovels of crunchy snow, until at last, peering into a snowy bowl I saw the bothie’s opening in the roof and smoke rising from within.

Panting hard, our clouds of breath spiralled with peat smoke and rose into a clear blue sky where an eagle soared with piercing cry overhead.

The snow was high and there was no sign of walls, let alone a door.

Suddenly, from within the bothie below us there came a deep menacing growl.  A large beast shot up and sprang away across the white glare.  My heart leapt into my strangled throat as I nearly slipped out of my skin.  It was a huge dog fox with a busskie tail.

I looked at Andrew and Fergus and they stared back at me with scared wild eyes.  No-one spoke, we knew what we were thinking.

At last Andrew’s voice broke the silence.  “Is there anybody alive?” he cried.  I shuddered, wondering if the in-living would answer.

“Aye!  A’m in ‘ere” called a woman’s voice.

Waves of relief, warmth and joy swept over us and we began to laugh.  And the next thing I remember, we were inside her wee bothie.

“How are you woman?” I asked “And how is it that you are alive?”

She looked at us and smiled, her face breaking into a thousand lines and wrinkles, “I was fed well” she answered.

Exchanging looks with the others I wondered what she meant and if she had turned mad in her icy solitude.

“We saw a fox jumping out.” I said.

“That’s right” she told us, “N’a’m waantin na hunter tae put a shot intae that fox.  For he is my good friend.   Ever sin th’ snaw cam, every evening he haes visited me wi’ a hare or some doo or ither whilk ah plucked or skinned ‘n’ boiled ‘n’ ate.  Ah hae ne’er eaten so well.  Even mae hens ur healthy – Ah didn’t need tae murdurr any o’thaim.”

And then with no way to explain, only to wonder, there I was back again in  myself again, standing beneath the dry stone wall of the old broch, staring up into the dark eyes of that big fox with a busskie tail.

Breathing deeply into my very being, I took my finger off the trigger and with trembling hands opened the cage of the trap.

 

Magnolia

Inspired by one of the magnolias at Emerson College in Forest Row, I dedicate this poem to all new born babies and to the Earth’s plants and flowers whilst remembering the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,  “The earth laughs in flowers.”

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Multiple limbs emerge through earth

Magnolia’s arms and legs give birth

From April’s flowers – magnificent crowns

To summer’s dome of leaves surround.

 

You are Queen, a kingdom too

Beckoning breeze and birds from blue

While wrapped within your bark flow streams

Where Beings meet creating dreams

And as you hold your arms out wide

You beckon all to come inside.

 

I am mother, queen and world

My life-force flows in dancing twirls

So come and sway with beauty’s charms

Behold, beheld in loving arms

I do not measure, judge or blame

I live my life in cosmos same.

 

Beauty in the Beast

DSC08621For the sharp eyed amongst you, yes the photograph above is of the notorious Sparrowhawk.  I’d been watching her for some time from the kitchen window, camera at the ready when I saw the yellow-eyed fiend lean forwards.  Anticipating take off, I took the picture only to discover that she was in fact bending over to go to the loo.  Not quite what I was expecting!

It’s April and since Spring’s welcome arrival, the air has been alive with trills, tweets and warbles of birdsong.   I didn’t see her fly in.  

Pausing at the kitchen window I breathed in the view.  Beyond the birdfeeders grow daffodils and primroses.  Pockets full of sunshine, they are scattered lovingly between the papal purple of crocuses and sweet heady hyacinth. I love this garden.

It was then that I noticed the unusual shape at the same time as the outburst of alarm calls before … silence.   I focus on the top of the arbour, something’s different.  Peering closer, the upright shape comes into view and I realise what I’m looking at is the creamy soft barred underside of quite a large bird.   

Everything’s gone quiet.  Smaller feathered friends have scarpered.  I look closer.  Her upperside feathers are a subtle brown, the colour of woodland undergrowth.  She’s quite a bird – not one of our usual bright eyed, chirpy visitors, this one is a killer. 

It’s the yellow that catches my attention.  Not the soft pale yellow of Easter primroses, no these are the scaly yellow of long spindly legs shaped at the end with hooked sharp talons.  I looked up – over the lethal looking curved beak and into her eyes.  Wide yellow eyes with dark piercing pupils, they stare unmoving over the medieval stone wall and up the Avill Valley.

I back away from the window slowly before dashing into the study to collect my camera.  Breathing heavily, my heart pounding she was still there when I got back.  Steady and unblinking.  She’s got a mean look in those eyes.

A bird of prey, the sparrowhawk masters the sky with speed, surprise and agility.  Combined with the attitude of a stealth killer, I often see her waiting patiently watching the smaller birds on the feeders until the time is right.   Occasionally the last thing I may see is her long, square-ended tail and broad wings, tearing through the air like a low flying fighter jet. 

At other times it’s all over in seconds, a few downy feathers are left floating in the air, or intermittent piles of fluff, a deadly reminder of this beautiful hawk’s power and precision. 

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Dunster Beach

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With smiles on their faces

And a waggle through their tails

The friends and folk of Dunster Beach

Today left sandy trails.

 

Twixt stormy seas and hailstones

Wild passion and raw grief

It’s good to feel the sun again

And with her light, relief.

 

The sea, she is a mile away

Beyond the scattered stones

Her breath so soft and gentle

Licking gently over bones

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While sky above is bright and blue

Large puddles shine below

For giant waves broke through these shores

As if you didn’t know!

 

And while the shadows lengthen

Stretching all the way to Wales

The friends and folk of Dunster Beach

Need no longer think of gales.

 

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Imogen

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Do you ever feel irresistibly drawn to the raw, wild beauty of Nature?

While this morning broke with the sound of a deep silence, yesterday Storm Imogen arrived with a roar as she battered the shores of England’s south west.  Emergency services asked people to stay at home, but I like many others was drawn to her beauty and wrath, as her giant pounding waves crashed onto cliffs and beaches and into harbours and coves.

Bezel and I arrived at Bossington’s car park and made our way up the wooded path alongside the rushing torrent of Horner Water.  Nearby, a partially flooded field had become an oasis for dozens of white seabirds and gulls along with one lone hen pheasant, who without her waders, paraded the grassy boundary with an air of importance.

We headed for Hurlestone Point; a rocky, rugged ridge that sweeps down from Bossington Hill.  As it descends, it tapers to a head, where the promontory juts dramatically out into the Severn Sea.  From a seagull’s airborne perspective, the head belongs to that of a sleeping dragon.  Sheer cliff sides are it’s bony cheeks while a dark, cavernous through-cave arches into the giant’s dark nostrils.

At the edge of the woods, the unexpected weight of the wooden gate takes me by surprise, and I push back with force meeting almost equal resistance until I hear a satisfying ‘click’.  Heading up into the combe, the rushing wind in my ears suddenly stops and for a moment I seem to walk into the heart of silence.

And then I heard it.  A deep thunderous roar coming from the chasm far below and I knew that Imogen had awoken the dragon.  The ground itself seemed to shudder with a terrible thrill.  Wave after giant wave rolled and crashed, frothing and churning onto the margins of this land, while across the bay Imogen’s colossal shadow moved ever closer, swallowing sea and sky.

Thoughts of descending the steep fisherman’s path quickly vanished and we hasten up the ridge heading to the abandoned Coastguard building.  The higher we get the more exposed we become until finally, struggling up the last few steps we emerge into the face of the storm.

Far below and yet it seems within touching distance, huge grey waves roll in on all three sides. Looking down the dragon’s nose, the ground seems to sway and momentarily queasy, I’m reminded of a pitching ferry on rough seas.  Staggering to keep balance I’m thankful for the railings at the edge and look up.  The wind is too fierce to reach the shelter of the old building.  Day has turned into the blackness of night.  Imogen is upon us and horizontal rain lashes, cold and stinging.  The onslaught is too much and looking at Bezel – he agrees, it’s time to turn back.

Smiling with relief, he skips down the steps and I turn to follow.  But the storm has other plans and pushes me roughly backwards. I stagger to stay on my feet and gritting my teeth, turn again – this time more prepared.  With my left hand firmly holding down my hat, the other grapples with the wet steel rail and I struggle to get a grip until slowly, slowly and step by step I fight my way down.

Eventually, after less than a dozen steps and only when he sees me release the handrail does Bezel lead the way.  Eagerly his walk turns into a trot – until laughing and running down the path we arrive, breathless, dishevelled and half soaked to the shelter of the woods below.

From there on, we meet an upward stream of unruffled, kindred spirits – all of whom it seems, are also eager to face the raw, wild beauty of Storm Imogen.