Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A True Love Story

A few years ago, we saw an advert in the local Smallholding Association newsletter for a pair of geese. I persuaded T that geese would be a useful addition to the menagerie as they would help keep the grass down, act as 'guard dogs' and hopefully produce goslings that we could sell on.

We fenced off an area of the meadow for them, and finding an old dismantled shed hidden in an overgrown part of the garden reconstructed it as safe night time accommodation for them. We added a baby bath picked up at a car boot sale for them to bathe in, and an old washing up bowl for drinking water. Thus prepared we went to pick them up.

Their names seemed obvious - they were Brecon Buff geese (a traditional Welsh breed), so the goose was immediately christened Buffy. And by logical extension, her partner became Angel.

Buffy and Angel lived together quite happily for a couple of months, roaming free in their part of the meadow by day and safely shut away from marauding foxes each night in their shed. They learned the daily routine very quickly and would quite happily amble off to bed each evening at dusk when they saw me coming down the path, ready to bolt the door behind them.

Things went on peacefully until all hell broke loose one day when the local hunt came charging through our plot. The garden was filled with baying hounds and chaos, the geese honking in alarm and the chickens squawking and flapping in terror. I panicked, being unable to find Tigger and worrying that she'd be set on by the pack. Luckily she appeared, shocked but unscathed, and the hounds tore off up the lane. Before I could remonstrate with the huntsmen, they had all followed the hounds and peace once again descended.

I've never been in favour of foxhunting so I was quite annoyed by this episode - and even more so the very next day, when I heard a great commotion from the geese. I went outside, where I could see Angel honking for all he was worth, but no sign of Buffy. Thinking that something must have startled her, and perhaps she'd flown over the fence and now couldn't get back to Angel I wandered down the hill. Buffy was nowhere to be seen. Then I heard a loud crack from under a gorse bush - and walking over to investigate, found myself face to face with a fox. The fox which had just snatched and killed Buffy - the crack had been her neck bones.

I was so sad - and I was furious. Furious with the fox (which now fled), furious with myself for not keeping the geese safe from harm, furious with the damned hunt for failing so dismally in its efforts, and furious that they had presumably chased this fox out of its normal territory and stranded it here, so that it was desperate enough to attack a fully grown goose out in the open in broad daylight.

Angel was bereft. It was heartbreaking to see how much he missed her.

Sadly we fixed the fences so that they were fox-proof. In penance we dug out a proper pond for Angel. And we spent time each day petting and playing with him - we even bought him some toys - but it was obvious that he was desperate for the company of another goose.

I began trying to find him a new companion. I scoured the ads in the Smallholder Association newsletter, looked out for adverts in the country store and the local newspaper, rang waterfowl breeders and chased up leads suggested by friends and neighbours. Nothing. It seemed no one had a Brecon Buff goose they wanted to part with. Finally, after several months I couldn't stand seeing Angel so lonely any more. In desperation I placed an ad in the Smallholders Association newsletter. It read: 'Recently widowed gander seeks young Brecon Buff goose for friendship, perhaps leading to romance. Please contact....'
Almost immediately we had a call from someone who luckily had a young Brecon Buff goose for rehoming, and even more luckily found our lonely hearts ad funny rather than insane.
We went to pick up the new goose, agreeing with her previous owners that if Angel rejected her, we could take her back. As geese tend to pair for life, we were worried that he may not take to her.
We needn't have been concerned. It was clearly love at first sight. As soon as Buffy #2 was released from her travelling box into the goose run, Angel ran across with wings protectively outstretched and stood between her and us. They bonded immediately, and Angel totally lost interest in playing with dull old humans. Who says there is only one true love for each of us? The new Buffy was now the centre of his world.
And a few years later, Buffy is still the centre of his world. Angel is the centre of hers. They eat together, swim together, sleep together. Angel still puts his wings around her protectively. And he guards Buffy fiercely from any perceived danger, be it an unfamiliar human, a jackdaw looking to raid their food, a chicken that oversteps the mark or even the dreaded wheelbarrow (which is clearly a menace to right-thinking geese everywhere, if Angel's outraged reaction to it is anything to go by). The lovers are inseparable. And right now, Buffy is sitting on a fine clutch of eggs, with Angel proudly guarding her. Hopefully in a few weeks we may hear the patter of tiny webbed feet...

Saturday, 26 April 2008

A Different Point of View...

Following on from my description of Avalon Spring, if you'd like to know more, see additional photos or just get another viewpoint, Deborah and Donald have now blogged about our magical time together too. Reading their descriptions has brought back many wonderful memories as well as making me think, 'Oh yes - why didn't I write about that??'. Such is the value of differing views and voices.

Deborah Oak's account may be found here, and Donald's (in the first of several instalments) starts here.


Monday, 21 April 2008

Herbert the Hero

Herbert is a large ginger-and-white tomcat, sturdy, handsome and laid-back in nature. I'm not sure where he comes from - I suspect he's a barn cat from one of the local farms. Herbert comes round periodically to court my three girls, Tigger, Bear & Marley.

Unlike the other local toms who pester, chase and scare our cats, Herbert is the perfect gentleman. He gives a yowl to let them know he's around, and then waits for them to come to him if they want to. And if they don't, Herbert is happy to leave it at that.

Bear and Marley (I'm afraid I don't have a photo of Herbert)

The cats react in their individual ways, Tigger with regal, world-weary disdain, giving the cat equivalent of rolled eyes and an audible 'Tut!'.

Bear runs up to him in exuberant tomboyish excitement - 'Come on, Herbert - let's play!!!'

Marley takes one look at Herbert's muscular shoulders and fine whiskers and turns to girlish jelly, rolling coquettishly on the ground at his feet.

Herbert remains perfectly genteel and courteous with all three of them. Masculine and assured, yet polite and chivalrous he reminds me of the hero in an old western - big, imperturbable, slow to anger, yet undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. And always, always well-mannered around the womenfolk.

Last night, I was awoken by an unearthly racket in the garden. The cats were woken too - Bear was quivering on the bed beside me, Tigger was halfway up the stairs looking freaked out and growling. When I got to the kitchen, Marley was staring out of the window in horrified fascination.

The hair-raising half-animal, half-human sounding shrieks were unmistakably fox. It sounded as though at least three were engaged in mortal combat just outside the window. However, when I turned on the exterior light (which only momentarily interrupted the cacophony), I saw that there was only one fox - and Herbert.

Herbert was perched on a raised flowerbed by the wall of T's workshop - and the fox was making repeated dashes at him, bark-screaming and snapping, obviously trying to drive him away. I'm not sure what Herbert had done to so enrage the fox, but the animal was clearly furious and determined to see him off. And Herbert was clearly just as determined to stand his ground.

Marley and I watched with our hearts in our mouths - the fox had the advantage of both size and fierceness. But despite the fox's frenzy, Herbert calmly stood his ground, gazing steadily back at the aggressor and refusing to budge an inch.

Eventually, the bewildered fox realised he had met his match in Herbert and padded off sullenly into the night.

I went out to make sure Herbert was uninjured (he was), then our hero took his leave too, leaping agilely over the garden wall.

That really is one cool cat.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Arte y Pico Award

Catching up with Blogland after my visit to Avalon Spring, I'm flattered to find I have been given an award by the lovely Moncha over at Dreaming of Avalon.

It is called the Arte y Pico award, given for 'Creativity, Design, Interesting material, and Contribution to the blogging community', and it originated here. Thank you so much, I'm deeply honoured to have been chosen and feeling very flattered that Moncha thinks I fit the bill!

Firstly I must share the rules, which are:

  1. Pick 5 blogs that you feel are deserving of this award, based on their Creativity, Design, Interesting material, and Contribution to the blogging community, no matter what language
  2. For each award giver: include the name of the author and a link to their blog, so they can be visited.
  3. For each recipient: show the award with the name and link to the blogger from whom it was received.
  4. For both giver and receiver: show the link (
  5. Publish these rules.
And now I get to pass the award on!

I choose:

Dancing Mermaid: mccabe's blog is a delight - I am in awe of her words, her art and her photos all of which always lift me up and make me feel better about the world.

At Brigid's Forge: Because I love Lunaea's words and photos - and I love to see the pretty Goddess rosaries she produces.

The Gold Puppy: Reya is a friend from real life as well as the blogosphere - unfortunately the Atlantic separates us! She always has such an unusual slant on life (I call it Reyavision) which makes me think, and her photos are just fabulous!

Jackie Morris's Blog: Jackie is an amazing and talented artist and writer. I love her 'Three Ginger Cats' blog, but she also has this blog which showcases her gorgeous artwork and photos. If I could afford them I would have her paintings hung all round my house - until that day comes I content myself with sighing over her blog.

It's The Journey, Not the Destination: Donald is another dear friend across the pond. He too is a talented artist, photographer and writer. He's only been blogging a short while but I'm so glad he decided to join us so I can enjoy his work!

If you haven't visited any of these wonderful blogs before I recommend them all heartily. Have fun browsing!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

A Week is a Long Time in Gardening

I love how being away for a few days highlights the changes in a garden. You know how it is - you go off for your holiday and when you get back - wow! Hasn't everything grown!

Having been away from home for just over a week at Avalon Spring (see my previous post), there are so many changes to admire. The blackthorns are covered in blossom, as is the weeping cherry - and my Amelanchier canadensis isn't far behind. The herb bed in the veggie patch is smothered with cowslip blooms, yellow as spring sunshine, though it merely had pale green buds when I left. The flowerbed by the kitchen is studded with sweet violets, and the weeping willow leaves which still looked spiky a week ago have unfurled to the extent that the hanging branches look fluffy, almost boa-like. The apple tree leaf buds are breaking and the elders are in full leaf already. What magic occurs in just a week!

I'm still awaiting the return of the swallows, but I have seem some by the River Towy in Carmarthen so they can't be far away. No wonder the poets always wax lyrical about April.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Avalon Spring

Yes, after months of planning it was finally time for Avalon Spring. On 4th April I packed the car and set off, picking up my friend and fellow facilitator, Gaia, en route.

We gathered at Alessandra's house in Hemel Hempstead along with the other teacher-facilitators and worked hard planning the evening rituals and honing our 'Paths' (classes) with our teaching partners. I say 'worked hard' - and we certainly put in the hours - but the group was friendly and harmonious and we had so much fun that it scarcely seemed like work at all.

Then on Sunday morning, the day we were due to move to the venue, we awoke to this:

Snow in Alessandra's garden, 6th April 2008

The weather had changed from mild and sunny to winter overnight and we awoke to a heavy fall of snow. I have known it to snow in April before, but I don't recall it really settling - and certainly not in such abundance!

The mood in the house changed to one of mild hysteria. Not only did we have about 8 people planning to camp for the duration of the event, but we had also planned to hold many of the classes outside to compensate for the rather restricted indoor space available. Clearly, this was a serious problem!

Our worries were compounded when Brighde Eire's car broke down. We had a large amount of equipment and luggage to move as well as people. With one car down we were seriously short on transport. We agreed to meet at a café and discuss things over coffee. And while driving over to the café disaster number three manifested: the exhaust pipe of my car broke and was dragging under the car.

As witches we are accustomed to looking for meanings, signs, omens, cosmic messages in such things. Could someone or something be trying to tell us something? We were starting to feel jittery!

Over coffee we came up with solutions. The lack of indoor Path space - and the impracticality of utilising outdoor space due to the snow - could be solved by cutting down from four separate paths to two by combining the 'Air', 'Fire' and 'Water' Paths into one. We kept the 'Earth' Path unchanged as it would be producing the food we'd be eating. For the campers - well, we had warned them to bring plenty of cold weather gear due to the uncertainty of the April climate, and as the snow had chosen to fall the day before camp started hopefully they would be fore-warned. One of my fellow facilitators, Sayre, managed to hook up my exhaust pipe with the aid of a wire coat hanger so that at least it wasn't dragging under the car, although it still growled ferociously. And the lack of car space was solved by packing all of the luggage and equipment into the available cars, and putting most of the facilitators on the train.

Arriving at the venue we were all taken aback by what we found. It was smaller than we had expected. And spartan. The kitchen (which the Earth Path would be using) was actually a barely screened-off part of the main living area - which the combined Air-Fire-Water Path would be using. How would we cope with noise levels and conflicting needs? Clearly this camp - which we had been describing as a 'new model' was throwing up a lot of new challenges. But we were determined to rise to those challenges.

We decorated the bare walls with saris and hangings. We created elemental altars in the four directions, plus an 'emotions' altar and a camp altar for campers to add to. Gaia had brought along three of her amazing Goddess paintings which made great focal points. Alessandra had brought fairy lights which we strung around the room. We used more draping cloth as additional screening for the kitchen area. Things started to look better. Fran had brought along a huge tent which Naomi transformed with rugs, cushions, draped fabrics and a 'Brigid' altar into a relaxing sanctuary for anyone who might feel overwhelmed by the cramped living conditions. The Air, Fire and Water Paths turned out to combine amazingly harmoniously as it transpired we'd all been planning a similar 'arc' to our work. The Combined Path and Earth Path planned together to minimise disruption. Perhaps it would work after all!

We were anxious about how people would feel with only a choice of two paths, after we had advertised four. But when everyone had arrived we held a meeting to explain why we had made the changes and everyone was very understanding and supportive. And so the grand experiment began in earnest.

The microcosm!

So, looking back, how did it go? Amazingly well actually. So much for portents of doom! By the end of the week everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves - some of course more than others - and got something from the experience. For myself, these are some of my personal highlights and favourite memories I shall be taking away: my role as fire tender during the first night's ritual which put me deep in trance and led to a new relationship with that element; watching the sharpest sliver of a new moon growing nightly in the sky; the magnificent job done by the Earth Path in not only feeding us, but also helping us experience our food in a sacred, mindful, magical way; the blackbird who sang to us so beautifully every morning; the joyous hilarity of the last night's ritual in which dancers in the two concentric circles moving around the fire began anarchically swapping places so that everyone could experience both the dark and the light; the way the Combined Path took the best bits of its three original components and re-wove them so seamlessly into something new and dynamic; the sun coming back out after we did some weather magic; the enthusiasm with which the campers rose to the challenge of creating their own 'Community Ritual'; Fran's beautiful poem read to us over dinner; the chance to discuss how 'Introvert' and 'Priestess' are not incompatible concepts (thanks, Dawn!); Chris's song; the open-hearted generosity shown by people supporting the raffle and auction; my dear friends Annie & Georgia adding to my bids at the auction for the necklace I had fallen in love with to help me win it (I really am blessed to have such good friends!); forget-me-nots and violets in the grass; meeting with old, dear friends and making new ones.

Community-created food mandala, which was left out as an offering to the local wildlife.

It is amazing how 32 adults living together in very cramped conditions for five days can manage to co-exist compatibly. We all had different expectations, outlooks and needs; yet somehow we worked around and with each other. Someone described the situation as a 'microcosm of the macrocosm' - after all, planet Earth is a crowded place where we all have to try and live in community - and I find it very heartening that our microcosm worked so well. Blessed Be.

My fellow facilitators and dear friends (Thank you all for a wonderful and memorable week. Love you and miss you all!):
[back row L-R] Sayre, Georgia Midnight Crow (seated), Suzanne Swan (standing), Deborah Oak, Annie, Dawn Isadora
[front row L-R] Gaia, Fran, Donald, Will, Alessandra Proserpina, Brighde Eire.
Naomi isn't in the photo as she was busy giving a lift to someone.

P.S. Deborah Oak's account of our magical time together may be found here, and Donald's (in several instalments) starts here.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Party

On this bright spring morning of birdsong, rushing water, leafbuds and smiling flowers, I found myself thinking, 'How sad it must be to die in winter, knowing you will never see another spring'.

But then how sad to see spring if you knew that was it and you would never see the explosion of joy and delight and life that is high summer. And who wouldn't want one last autumn experience of glorious leaves, harvest home, woodsmoke and misty mornings? Or indeed the beauty of a frost-jewelled, snuggled-round-the-hearth-fire-with-loved-ones midwinter?

Never wanting to leave the party for fear of missing something, when would be the ideal time to bow out? Given the choice, I suspect many of us never would. Perhaps it's best then, that most of us don't have the choice, or even the foreknowledge of when.

Perhaps with the human instinct to look forward to what's coming next, the best idea is to see the end of this life not as a full stop, but as a step forward on the next great adventure. We may be leaving behind daffodils and swallows and sea urchins and elephants and picnics in the park - and I for one will miss them all greatly. But when it's time to peek around the next corner, I'm curious to see what's there too.

And if it should turn out that there is nothing round that final corner after all, well - hasn't it been an amazing and beautiful party?

I hope I'll see a good few more seasons yet. But just in case this should be my last spring, I'm going to drink in and savour every last delicious drop.

It really is a most beautiful morning. I hope yours is too.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Spring Senses

Five spring sights...
The bright wrappings of Easter Eggs... Bluetits checking out the nestboxes in the garden... Drifts of daffodils in the hedgerow... The hazy promise of fresh green across the woods... A pair of ravens wheeling and diving in their courtship flight...

Five spring smells...
The pot of hyacinths on the table perfuming the room... Damp earth after rain... The first cut grass of the season... Warm, spicy hot cross buns... Pungent wild garlic leaves in the woods...

Five spring sounds...
The distant drumming of a woodpecker... A chorus of birdsong at dawn and dusk... Soft rain against the window... Lambs bleating in the fields... Children singing on St David's Day...

Five spring tastes...
Purple sprouting broccoli... Chocolate, marzipan - Easter treats!... Rhubarb fool... St David's day cawl... Leeks fresh from the garden...

Five spring sensations...
The soft powderpuffs of pussywillow catkins... Smooth twigs spiky with leafbuds... The chill of fierce winds softened by warm sunshine... The tenderness of new leaves... The warm smooth shell of a new-laid egg...