The “Ancient Heaps Tour”

Today I have put my body in a place that is an edge — it’s a small valley that meanders between the flat topped mountains on the borders between England and Cymru. I am technically “at work” as I collect mistletoe berries to plant further west for folks as part of my living.

We go back, this place and me. I’ve been coming here for nearly 30 years, at the same time of year and following the same routes. Today sky is sullen — grey cloud devours the blue of early morning that came on the heels of the most colourful daybreak I’ve seen in a good while. Earlier, sitting with steaming tea in the doorway of my van, I watched dawn spread a golden sheen across the fields and woodlands of Cymru below the mountain pass. I felt the gilded blessing of it — we have been gifted to live another day. Sheep and small, rough-coated horses are so silent and still that they seem like cut-out images — it is as though we are all holding our breath as day is born…. I meander on with overgrazed land and chomped gorses to a solitary stark may tree and sit on her roots to listen as winds voice is translated by her thorny branches. A sudden skylark explodes upwards into frosty air and her bubbling incantation draws me further into the timeless space.

This is a pilgrimage of sorts, though I shy from the word with its strong links to christianity. It’s a journey who’s destination is the finding of wholy in the everyday. By putting myself here, in this place with its particular qualities, I move away from metaphorical explorations of what it is to be a human on this planet and am instead, belonging.. By consciously placing myself in the back-and-forth of being Earth and being able to witness Earth as something separate from me, some magic happens — “others” move to meet me when I move wholeheartedly to meet them. For example, I sit and listen in to what is shifting and moving in that moment in the world — both the one within me as and the one I am being in … a wren appears close to my head at the exact moment I ask the place how to proceed with a gnarly challenge — wren brings counsel to be modest, work hard, stay low and attend to what is hidden, but to aim high. Later, I am sitting out under grey cloud, hollowed by nagging doubt . Finally I ask out loud in frustration “ Am I doing what you made me to do ?” of the cold day. As those words leave my lips sun slides from behind cloud and illuminates the rough grass bank I’m leaning against. Soon I am taking off layers and the sweet scent of primroses in full bloom reaches me, hidden beneath brambles — I take that as a “yes”.

I say this place is veily — a place where “the veil between the worlds is thin”. It is easier for me to cross the threshold and be both physically present and as spirit here, alongside spirit made flesh in tree, horse, rock and sky. I don’t think I’m alone in this experience of edge here. Along this small valley are ruins of a monastery, a stone circle, an abbey, two chapels — one of which was plonked in the middle of an ancient circle of yews and who’s name in Cymraeg translated means chapel of the boundary/edge. That such a collection of sacred places are here hones my hunch that people over aeons have felt close to and have sort connection with what they perceive as divine or spirit here.

I have been meeting my friend Mike in this particular graveyard at this time of year over nearly 3 decades. The 10th century sandstone church is carved with serpentine patterns, animals and strange people and a green man and sheelagh na gig peer down

….the single Christian motif of a lamb with a cross seems odd but not unwelcome amongst the menagerie of wild beasts and foliage inhabiting the corbels.

Some years, one or other of us wouldn’t show as we raised families, got ill, got busy and/or lost in our lives.. most years though, one of us would be sitting on this bench beneath the golden flowered yews, fluttery with anticipation and eyes scanning the quiet lane for the other. Rooks are always raucously present and busy with nest building, their chatter and swoop so often in the soundscape of our time together. That Mike died on this very day in 2015 has changed but not ended our mutual musings. His death has distilled our friendship, made it clearer — like sheep’s skull I saw picked clean and shining white from the sheltered rushy hollow on mountain’s flank earlier. We shared stories of our lives when we met in the flesh and walked, leaning into each other. We were silent mostly as we crafted our words carefully, given as gifts that would enrich, surprise and delight the other…the silences seemed more sonorous than anything we could speak — substantial and pulsing with a charge. Sometimes I hear him speaking in the low notes of stream as water tumbles between rocks

He is here today — in his heavy army coat, his beautiful hands rolling a fag and silver grey hair cropped close …and his eyes — ever curious, and changing like weather from wild to gentle. The sounds of a cold spring morning ripple around us — a tractor starts up, blackbird alarms from the white-berried mistletoe, rooks kerfuffle and I say “Shall we walk on ?”

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