Dixie-Goat winking at me

Yesterday evening, I was mugged by a goat for a lollipop.
Not what you and I might call a lollipop, admittedly, but in the world of goats, it was a lollipop, and an exceptionally delicious one at that – A mineral lick! – A stone full of all sorts of goatish delights, and a highly prized object if you’re a goat.

I tried to sneak into their field with it. I know my goats, and know them to be greedy (one in particular…), so waited until they were out of sight behind some trees and rocks. All was peaceful. A dove cooed softly from the branches of an apple tree. A gentle breeze stroked the leaves. Very carefully, I lifted the chain from the gate and eased it open. I crept in. All was still calm. I felt rather pleased with my sneaky success as I placed the mineral lick on the ground and began to cut it out of its wrapper…

« BADABOOM BADABOOM BADABOOM BADABOOM » The sound of thundering hooves, galloping across the orchard behind me.

« Maaa Maaaaaaaa Maaaaaaaaa MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA  Lollipop! LOOOLLIPOP! »

« No! Wait! Wait! » I call out in vain, as I scramble to pull off the last of the wrapper.

But my goats have been transformed into five horned and hooved Usain Bolts. They arrive in a greedy mass of hot bodies, stamping feet and hard horns.

« STOP! » I use my fiercest voice. I am meant to be the head goat around here after all.

« Maahaahahahah » They laugh as one.

I grab the plastic wrapper, (if I leave it, I know they’ll eat it) and pulling horns and pushing bodies, manage to escape the melée. The gate is only a few yards away…

A few yards too far. « Oooph » I am butted…

« Maahaahaaahaaahaaaaa! » The goats roar with laughter.

I spin round. Standing in front of me, with a huge grin on his face, is Dixie-goat, the naughtiest goat I have ever known.

« What do you think you’re doing? » I glare fiercely. « That hurt! »

« Maahaahaahaahaa! » The rest of the goats are ignoring their mineral lick now and instead enjoying the entertainment.

« Pfft! » Dixie snorts with derision.

« You won’t be getting another mineral lick, if that’s how you say thank you! »

Dixie turns his head to one side and surveys me with a haughty expression. « I believe you. NOT! Maaaahaaahaaahaahaa! » He steps back and rears up. « Play with me! » he commands.

I back away. « Remember last year? Remember the morning I found you dangling upside down trapped by your hind leg in the fence wire? Who was it that rescued you?» I try another tack. « And when you were a little kid, who made sure that you got food when the big goats bullied you? » I continue to back away.

Dixie eyes me skeptically. « You two legs talk a lot of silly nonsense! »

« Daisy looks like she’s enjoying that mineral lick. » I change tack again, staring very blatantly across at the other goats.

Dixie stops in his tracks, all thoughts of butting games forgotten.

« MINE! Maaa-ine! MAAAA-ine! »

There is one thing that trumps playing – FOOD! And if someone else is eating it, he wants it.

The other goats scatter as he charges back over to the ‘lollipop’, bleating indignantly. I escape.

This morning, I look over my shoulder in the mirror – One perfect, blue, horn-shaped bruise…A butt on the butt. Mugged by a goat for a lollipop…

Here in the depths of Armorica, I can usually hear no manmade sound; no cars, no overhead planes. But this morning, one sound carried through the forest – bells, ringing out from a distant village.

I stop to listen… The bells sing in antiphony with the forest, deep golden notes answer the silvery arpeggios of song birds and the mellifluous amber hum of bees. They sing a timeless song of the sacred, bells and birds and bees.

There are bells in the city too…of course! And birds and even bees. But how often do people stop to listen to their song? How easy is it to hear above the constant background din?
On the rare occasions that a human is brave enough to venture here (‘Danger Dragons’ sign on the gate is there for a reason…), one of the first things that they comment on is how quiet it is here. Quiet?! It’s not quiet. Even in the depths of midwinter, on the coldest, bleakest of nights, there are owls calling to the shadows, the blood-curdling cry of a vixen, the answering bark of her mate… and there are sounds I’ve heard nowhere else, unearthly cries like banshees keening over the corpse of summer past.

But I know what people mean when they say that it’s quiet. Something is missing. Something that is so ubiquitous, that for most people, even living in the countryside, it has become a sound that they filter out of their consciousness – A constant low level hum, like white noise. Distant traffic, invisible planes, power lines… It’s probably there now, behind the surface sounds of your life, but it’s only when it’s not there that you realise that maybe life on Earth didn’t always sound like that.

In the years that I lived in central London, I didn’t notice it. How could I? There was never any moment when I wasn’t bombarded by a cacophany. Humans are adaptable. I adapted. I slept through car alarms, police sirens… Yet now, I find even a small town overwhelming. But I hear things now that once I wouldn’t have noticed; the unusual song of a migrant bird, the sound of rain approaching across the forest, the footfall of a deer, the grunt of a boar in the undergrowth, the change in the alarm calls of birds as a danger approaches and recedes.

The same is true with smells. I take a visitor into the forest. Fox! The scent of fox is overpowering. A little further on, a pole cat has marked his territory. A subtle hint of wild rose, the rich loamy tang of mushrooms… My visitor with a nose accustomed to petrol fumes, curry houses, antiseptic cleaning products, human chemical perfumes, smells nothing.

I stop to listen to the bells, ringing out as they have done for over a millenium, my ears hearing the same music as the ears of the monks who lived here 700 years ago.

I listen to the deep silence behind their song, the same deep silence as ears heard long before the monks arrived, long before humans arrived…The veil of time dissolves.

I lie down in the long grass, one ear to the ground, and listen. Above, the forest sings on. Below, I hear another song – a creaking, sighing, whispering song; invisible life beneath the soil, moving, growing; I hear the Earth breathing, hear her heartbeat. Above and below, inside and outside, forest, bells, Earth and me…What a beautiful song Mother Earth sings when you listen.

This morning my cat was chased by a hen. Not a large, ferocious looking fiendish hen, but a fluffy and very pretty little red hen. The name of the cat will be withheld to protect her reputation. The name of the hen however… Henbane Hendragon, wild hen of the Western Reaches, intrepid pioneer and explorer of lands never before seen by poultry eyes.
Whilst her fellow flock-mates are happy to spend their days gossiping together within the bounds of their orchard, Henbane hears the call of the wild.

Every morning, after a quick social breakfast, she is off, flying over 8 feet of deer fencing, to spend her day roaming the forest, following her beak wherever it may lead her. And every dusk, she is back, ready to settle back into the hennish evening routine…gossip, mutual preening, more gossip, a few squabbly pecks, politics, food, who’s been flirting with King Cockerel, who ate more than her share of grain…Henbane clucks. She knows the right noises to make. But only one small red ear is listening. Little do they know the adventures she has had… the things she has seen…Little do they know the magic and wonder, the thrilling terror and the secret delights of the wild forest beyond the fence…

My cat flees up a tree. She doesn’t want hassle with a hen. Sharp beaks and sharp tongues are not for her. She likes hens. She also likes mice. Yes, she eats them, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like them. She watches them eat from her food bowl with a benevolent, approving smile…

I leave my cat and hen to their own devices and set off with the dogs on their morning walk. The forest hums a gentle, early morning summer tune; waking crickets, woodpigeons, arpeggios of blackbirds and thrushes, and… Something moves in the undergrowth ahead! Something big.

My dogs are transformed. No longer waggy tailed, loll-tongued puppies, but full grown wolves…Noses hard to the ground…PREY…

A red deer hind emerges from amongst the trees, on the path ahead of me. She stops. Dogs head off blindly in the opposite direction!!! She canters off, back into the forest.

The Deer… This is not the stag that so many know, but the hind. A creature of grace and beauty, gentleness and poise…An animal who symbolically connects to the wild forest, to sacred and magical places; whose magic calls to you to release the trappings of the material world and go deeper into that forest…

Today is the full moon, and a full moon conjunct the asteroid Cyrene. In Greek mythology, one of her epithets is ‘deer chasing, second Artemis’.

I turn to leave and a memory stops me in my tracks.

Two and a half years ago, in this same place, I found a young deer, who had been chased by hounds into my pond. She was exhausted, shivering and terrified. Where I live used to be a deer farm, so it’s surrounded by deer fence. Somehow she had got in, but not the hounds. However, getting in was one thing, getting out another.
Something shifted… I turned away and walked back to the house…fast…, found some serious wire cutters and returned with them. Everything calm…focused…I cut a big hole in the deer fence.

I go back to the pond.
I can see the little deer is weak. I step down into the pond, I wade in deeper. Only, it isn’t ‘I’.
The month is February, but I feel no cold water, and as I approach the deer, there isn’t the slightest question in my head. Infact there is no human ‘chatter chatter’ in my head at all. Nothing beyond what I’m doing now. I reach out and pick up the deer. She feels lighter than a cat! And she doesn’t struggle. She lets me pick her up, lets me carry her out of the pond, across to the hole I’ve cut in the fence.

I lay her down on the other side and walk away. All I feel is a profound, soul-knowing love.

Half an hour later, I return. She’s gone. Run back into the forest. Alive. Free.

Maybe she returned today…Maybe she has met Henbane…Maybe there is so much more to Nature than humans believe… (to be continued…)

Harvest blessings! Today is the festival of Lammas or Lughnasadh – A time to give thanks for the first fruits of the harvest. The first wheat sheaves have been cut, the hay harvest is over, and the boughs of the trees in the orchard are beginning to hang low.
Yesterday evening I brought my hay in from the fields, where it has been drying.-The completion of a year’s cycle. And yet already, next year’s crop lies sleeping within the earth, waiting for the kiss of the spring sun to wake the new growth, waiting for the caress of the spring rain to work the alchemy of life.

150 bales of hay this year. A good harvest. This winter my goats will feast, and reward me next spring with luxuriant fleeces. The cows in the bottom field will feast, and give in return the creamiest of milk, and cheese that carries a memory of flowery hay meadows.

The rest I barter. Some bales bring me straw, for poultry bedding. Others grain, for poultry food. Delicious eggs are their side of the deal.
Yet others get me the firewood I need to stay warm through the chill months of winter.

The hay is in. But the harvest is just beginning. In the vegetable garden, the hard work of the past few months is now beginning to pay off…lettuces, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, beetroots, peppers, chilis, onions, shallots, garlic, peas, beans, mange-tout, carrots, leaks, spinach, chard, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, melons, courgettes, pumpkins, salsify, turnips, parsnips, swedes…As the Earth gradually draws back in to herself, she offers up her bounty.
And then there are the herbs; chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, angelica, chervil, basil, mint, sage, borage, sorrel, comfrey, st john’s wort,.. And the fruit; strawberries, raspberries, red and black currants, and soon blackberries, sloes and elderberries…Soon too the first cherries and plums, then peaches, pears and apples. The nuts – walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts- will come later, as will most of the mushrooms


As the days shorten, and the shadow of winter approaches, I prepare. Via a barter on top of another barter (!), I get jars of honey from an elderly beekeeper a short flight through the forest as the bee flies…and made by bees who feasted in spring on the same flowers that are now lying in hay bales in my barn, ready to start the next barter cycle. Some of the fruit and vegetables that I can’t eat (enough for a small village…!!), will go into making preserves. Some go to friends (bad news if you don’t like marrows…)

And others do something much more exciting…

Cider! And from the cider, calvados (apple brandy) and pommeau (and if the cider is vile…cider vinegar! Lol).
Elderflower champagne, elderberry wine, marrow rum, sloe gin…

So today I give thanks to Mother Earth. In those dark, cold winter days, when the trees stand skeletal against an iron grey sky, I will pour myself a glass of apple brandy, and remember crickets singing in flowery hay meadows, pollen laden bees and newly fledged birds trying out their wings above plump fruited apple trees.

Last week it was HOT… A steamy, sultry, stifling hot. So I did the only sensible thing and made my way deeper into the forest, following an ancient path beneath the cool green canopy; a path that has sunk a couple of metres or more into the ground over many centuries, as countless feet trod its way.

I descend…deeper, cooler. Around me, the scent of sun caressed pine trees mingles with something darker, older…centuries old oaks and beeches…, and the sappy exuberance of hazels and birches.
My feet pad softly on the cool earth, crumbling pine needles as I walk.
Birdsong, joyful, riotous, in praise of the life gift of the sun. Yet as I descend further, it seems to soften, as do the shards of sunlight slanting through the trees, turning from yellow-gold to amber.
I hear another sound now. A bubbling, cascading melody that flows through me like liquid, dancing sunlight.
The path has ended. I step off onto an almost invisible track; one made not by human feet, but by those of the forest dwellers, deer and foxes, badgers and wild boar…and perhaps by others less known to humans.

The river lies before me. I stop.
Around me, the forest. Far, far away, humans.
I listen to the song of the river…

I gaze into the water…

I see reflected the greenwood. I watch the water meander on. What has happened to that reflection? Where is it now? Has it gone…a momentary image like a photograph, reflected in water and then vanished? Or is there something else in water…? The Water Element…

Water cleanses, purifies. It carries away all the old, worn out debris of lives. But there is more to Water than that…

Imagine two pools of water. Take one scoop of water from each and pour them into a bowl. Which part of the water in that bowl comes from the first pool and which from the second?…Now take one droplet from that bowl. What is in that one droplet is identical to what is in the bowl….a perfect copy.
Now imagine two rivers flowing to the ocean…

Imagine each river carries in those water droplets a memory of what was imprinted as it passed by…the forest, a mountain meadow, a city…a child bathing, a cow drinking…Imagine those memories washing down into a great Ocean…

I gaze into the river and see water that has come from a spring deep inside the Earth; water that as it emerges into the light of the Sun, has never before been seen in that form by human eyes. It cascades down mountains, meanders through meadows and forests, to flow into the sea…

The next day. Rain clouds are building  in the West. The land is dry and dreaming of rain. The first drops fall……….I turn my face to the rain. Why would anyone want to shelter inside and not feel those soft raindrops upon their cheeks?!

I listen to the song of the rain….A song of deep, dark earth, wild mountains, greenest forest…of drinking deer and spawning frogs, muddy water rats and iridescent leaping fishes…of drowsily meandering river and wide estuaries where the ospreys dive…And then I hear the ocean sing… I hear the roar of the Atlantic; storming, raging waves…furious crests blinding white beneath an icy Northern sky…and then coconut kissed, turquoise hued coral seas gently drifting towards a beach of softest vanilla sand…
I hear the song of the rocky cliffs of Finistere…hear the song rolling in over the magical forests of Merlin, carrying all those memories…memories held within one tiny raindrop, just as within the whole vast ocean…

The first drops kiss my cheeks just as they kiss the earth….

Happy Ratcatchers’ Day!

It’s a day worth celebrating. Ratcatchers were courageous people in the bad old plague days…heroes even. And I have to admit to a certain fondness for the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Whether it’s the ‘Trickster’ nature of a mysterious piper dressed in jester-type robes, or the un-Disneyfied harshness of the punishment he inflicts upon the greedy, cheating burghers, or the shapeshifting nature of the Pied Piper, casting his net of enchantment…

Anyway, back to Ratcatchers’ Day. It appears to have been circled in red on my cats’ calendar, because this morning, I found the generous gift of a plump rat with long yellow teeth waiting for me on the ‘breakfast rug’.

Small rat-let inside chicken coop

It could have been worse.
I woke up the other day to the first rays of an early sunrise reaching in through the window. I yawned and turned over sleepily. For a moment, I half opened my eyes…I closed them again…and then OPENED them wide! On the pillow beside me was a severed head.

It stared at me with a dull, glassy stare, tiny teeth bared in a rictus grin…
It could have been worse.

Every night I am woken by the cry « Meeowse! Meeeeeowwwse! » My cats are generous. They hunt for 99% of their own food (Their choice! Don’t report me to Bast!), and have no interest in nasty, bleuchy cat food…except for a soupçon of biscuits, which are eaten as a post-mouse digestif. They worry about my vegetarianism. « Look! She’s eating another green thing! She needs mouse! Poor two-legs. We must feed her…We must teach her how to hunt. »

Fierce huntress showing fangs

On a good night, my food is prepared for me.
I wake. I stumble out of bed. The bathroom is close by, but I know my route will be perilous. One step…two…and ‘SQUELCH’…I step in a strategically placed offering of intestines and gall bladder. I continue more cautiously…One step…another…feeling more confident now…’CRUNCH’. A head. Aaarghhh! I step back. ‘SCRUNCH-SPLAT’. I can feel the wounded looks boring into me. « That was your breakfast !  Why do we bother? »
It could have been worse.

I apparently need to learn to hunt for myself. « Meeowse! » I wake up. « Meeeowwwse ». I wait…An ominous sense of foreboding descends. « MEEOWWSE » Cat is on bed.

What now unfolds depends on which horror film I have been cast in.
Scenario 1: I kick at the covers to remove dead mouse from on top of duvet.
Scenario 2: I kick at covers to remove live mouse from on top of duvet. And succeed.

Scenario 3: I kick at covers to remove live mouse from on top of duvet. And fail.

Scenario 3a: Mouse scuttles across duvet and gets off on its own.
Scenario 3b: Mouse scuttles across duvet and finds a hiding place under the duvet.

Scenario 3b (i): Mouse remains undetected under duvet and builds a new life as a ‘house mouse’ (see later…)

Scenario 3b(ii): Mouse tries to escape by scampering over my body.

Scenario 3b (iii): Mouse tries to escape by scampering over my head.

Scenario 3c: Mouse scuttles under duvet. I am ignorant of this fact. I wake in the morning to feel something odd beneath me. I turn on the light. Squashed mouse. 😦

Once a mouse has run the gauntlet of my hunting capabilities, however, something peculiar happens. The cats appear to have decided as one, that a gift mouse who survives, henceforth has immunity. So any mouse found within the bounds of the house is a mouse in sanctuary.

mouse family eating from cat bowl

Outside the house, the cats are lethal top predators…from cat-flap to supper in less than a minute! Inside the house, however… I hear a scrabbling from across the kitchen. A mouse, happily tucking into the remainder of those digestif cat-biscuits. Another joins him…and 3 more… A couple of metres away sits a cat…watching…beaming with benevolent approval…!

Summer has arrived in Armorica! The air is shimmering with butterflies and iridescent dragonflies, contented bees hum a ground bass to the chorus of softly cooing wood-pigeons and exuberant newly fledged song birds, whilst in the meadows, grasshoppers, cicadas and crickets are dancing…And hidden deep within the forest canopy, the golden orioles pipe…
There is magic in the air. The fluttering, shivering leaves are calling to me…

So…this afternoon I followed the call into the forest.

I have a special place there, a secluded glade, inaccessible other than by a small track leading from behind my cider apple orchard. No other path leads there, no wanderer in the forest might stumble upon it by accident…
My path is made by the deer (red and roe), the wild boar, the foxes and the badgers, and latterly by me. It winds through oak and beech forest into this clearing, in the centre of which stands a single very old apple tree.
I follow the path… and stop, just before I enter the glade. I listen. Birdsong, softly rustling leaves…The outside world has gone. No distant rumble of a motorway, no grumbling drone of a plane, none of the white noise/human-debris buzz that you don’t even realise is there, until it’s not…

I move slowly forward. A cloud of butterflies wafts up around me as I walk, billowing up from the carpet of flowers.
Around the apple tree, the grass is flattened into round dents. The deer sleep here. Come softly to this glade in the evening and they’re here, dark eyed and timorous, accutely sensitive to humans.

No photo of this glade here…It’s a place that belongs to something not to be photographed…Something that touches the numinous…

I lie down in the cool grass and gaze up through the branches of the apple tree…Quert/Queirt…
If you’ve read any previous blogs, you will have seen mention of Quasnon/Couesnon, the Fairy Queen, whose domain is a rocky palace that looks down upon the forest. Q is an odd letter in the Celtic tongues. In the Irish Auraicept Na nEces, it’s commented that ‘where C stands before U it is Queirt that is to be written there’.

The letters CU together are a synonym for « warrior », as in Cuchulain. (from the word ‘cu’ meaning hound or wolf).

When you read the word warrior, ‘cu’, substitute Queirt. The apple tree is the spiritual warrior, a tree symbolising the sacrifice of the warrior/magician making the journey to the Otherworld and back. ( « The Spirit of the Greenwood. »..)…and for me, it is a connection to Quasnon/Couesnon.

I lie back…the leaves flutter softly…and far above a buzzard wheels and cries…The oriole pipes again…I blink beneath the shafts of light slanting down between the branches, dappling the forest floor…Something moves…Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glance…just behind a tree…I see a shadow, catch the dark, potent tang of a stag in the wind…I hear the softest of footfalls…

Ziggy Shortcrust

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