Dawn had broken somewhere but not here, under the unbroken blanket of cloud. The wind wheeled the crows high and scattered in the sky and the overgrown wisteria knocked against the window of their bedroom. The letterbox downstairs whistled occasionally. They lay in bed, cosy under the thick duvet.
“The dog needs a walk before you go to work.”
A warm hand reached out and touched the soft skin on her belly. It gently moved over and around it, drawing her close. They lay, touching, breathing into each other, sleepy and peaceful, curled into the warmth of their bodies.
“I’ll go then.” She kissed his closed eyelids and turned to get out of the bed.
In the darkness she put on her socks, tucking in her pyjama bottoms, pulled on her warmest navy blue fisherman’s jumper bought at the coast and went downstairs. Sleepily she pulled on her wellies and after looking out of the window, decided to put on her raincoat.
“You coming?” she asked Dog. “Silly question,” she added, as he started knocking wellies over with his bounds and knocking into her legs with glee.
Buttoned up, she paused before opening the door; the doorway from hearth to elements was clear today. Some days there was barely a transition. But today, as she opened the door, a shower of trapped gutter water dropped onto her head and the door instantly began to pull away from her grasp in the howling wind.
“Some edges are pretty sharp, aren’t they?” she grinned at Dog. He bounded off in hot pursuit of a phantom cat. Shutting the door, she turned and gave herself to the day. The wind was blustery and noisy, the rain had already told her that it was in charge, horizontal and bitter against her skin. “Ouch,” she muttered as it stung.
Most days she liked to be out before the dawn. Liminal times, spaces, and portals had held a special fascination for her recently. Times like dawn and dusk held such clear messages for her. She did her best thinking and intuitive work at these times. These were the times in her life when she felt most in touch, her cup was filled by the Sacred most easily at these times and in those places in the landscape. To feel the slowly brightening day wake up around her was one of her most precious pleasures. She had missed that time today, so the messages were much more earth-bound, such as take your waterproof and be careful in the woods in case you get hit by a falling branch.
“I must fix that gutter,” she muttered to herself.
The chickens, awake and out of their house were wet, bedraggled and fussy. She threw some crusts over the high fence to them and said good morning. Why do they insist on staying outdoors on days like this, she wondered? Chickens are such calming creatures. They’ve been a domesticated species for thousands of years. They are distant relatives of the European pheasant that had been brought over the Britain by the Romans, but had existed for a very long time before that, dutifully producing eggs for humans. When she was pregnant she had loved to spend her days around the chickens, cleaning out their house, pottering, giving them scraps, or during the long, heavy summer months just sitting in a sunny spot in their enclosure, her and Dog, watching them. Sometimes one would come and peck her bare toes and she would giggle. Even with thick wellies on they still come and peck at them.
“I really love you girls” she said. She meant it. The family had long taken in chickens that had been farmed in battery barns, living in cages the size of a sheet of printer paper in artificial light. When they came to her they were bald, emaciated and terrified. Some chickens died within days of being exposed to pathogens in the soil. Some took weeks, if not all of their lives, to return from the place of terror they had been trapped in, pecking each other, fearful of humans and very scared. Yet all of them were beautiful souls who needed a chance in life to reveal their magic. Industrial food production assumes, erroneously, that a chicken’s only magic is to lay eggs and to do so regularly. Yet what these chickens had taught was that their true magic was in their souls.
This particular group of chickens were just over a year old and had been with the family since the summer. The week before they had experienced snow for the first time, which caused great hilarity amongst the girls.
“This one is saying ‘no way! I’m not going out there, I’ll get super cold feet!’ ” giggled the seven year old, fluent in Chicken.
One ran out into it, making a beeline for a tasty morsel, only to find it was a twig, kicked up by the dog. She stopped, made a reprimanding ‘brrrrrk’ and turned to peck at the frozen water canister. Peck, peck. Mum got a shovel and smashed the ice, as the chicken looked on like a nosy, bossy manager. She smiled as the chicken filled her beak and lifted her head to gurgle the water down her throat. Whatever a chicken does, it does it with completely focussed attention, she noticed. It may seem to us a trivial thing to be so focussed on, but to a chicken every single action grips them completely in its magic until it is done. Like looking at a twig, or drinking water. Even pecking toes, or running after the dog.
One chicken still hadn’t completely grown all her feathers back, after arriving seven months previously; she had been named Afagddu, pronounced Avagthee who was the welsh goddess Ceridwen’s very ugly child, in honour of her utter ugliness. Afagddu still exhibited the deepest wounds from her time imprisoned in the cage; she was still very wary of the other chickens, who would peck her remorselessly. She did not like to be picked up and always waited in the background when scraps were dropped, waiting until her more boisterous coop-mates had barged their way in and grabbed their morsel.
“Here’s a crust for you” she said, throwing it into a corner where Afagddu could run and eat it without being mobbed. Another lesson from the chickens is that they are not kind; they are still wild at heart, living in their own dispassionate world in their own dispassionate way.
She moved on, past the chickens, out of the garden gate and onto the moor. Up the low hill they climbed, battered and stung by the oncoming north wind and rain as they combined to give her a dose of their raw elemental power. Hunched against the dripping rain, she failed completely to stop it going up her sleeves and down into the face opening. Her coat flapped so loudly and the rain clattered on the fabric of the hood that her hearing was nearly entirely impaired, yet something made her stop and turn around. Half way up the hill the view was already opening up beyond the house; she could see the rooftops and the trees, the glint of the swollen river and far beyond that the rise of the southern moors. Now the north wind was at her back, trying to push her bodily back down the hill. Yet she stood, braced, poised and alert. Something had caught her attention.
Looking out, nothing seemed out of place. The world she knew, her house, the village below where her friends lived, the shop, the little school where her children went were all there, lying peacefully in front of her.
She turned back around and kept walking. Dog tore around her in wide circles.
The top of the low hill is marked with a single standing stone. For many years she had been coming up here, to wonder at it. Some say it is a glacial erratic, some that it once belonged to an entire stone circle, or that it was a way marker for an ancient route across the moors. The wind up here was uninterrupted and fierce. She had to force her way through the invisible air to get to the stone. As she always did, she paused, hand outstretched, hovering an inch or so above it. In her mind she doubted she would feel anything in this howling gale, but it was a ritual she never failed to undertake. When greeting a stone, a tree, an animal and most certainly a human, it was important to connect to its energy first. Some beings were like open books; she felt their energy waxing and waning as clearly as reading the moon phases. Some took far more time to connect with and some took forever, much, much longer than the span of her lifetime.
This particular stone had taken its time to introduce itself to her, but one sunny day, in fact when she had been pregnant with her third child and had been visiting for some time, the stone had responded to her hand hovering there. A warm fuzz emanated from the top of the stone that day, a sensation that wasn’t uniform over the entire surface. She had gasped aloud in happiness. Stone magic is slow, it takes eons to understand. Many of the stone circles had been erected long before the particular stone energy had been truly connected to, she was sure of it. She had wondered at this before; what did the builders of the great circles that dot our landscape learn from those stones in that first generation? Is what they learned the same as what we learn today?
Today, nothing at all happened as she put out her hand. No sensation met her palm. But again, suddenly she was gripped with a desire to turn around. A voice, it seemed, shouted a clear instruction to her: look.
She turned and saw.
To her left, in the east, the sun had suddenly broken through the ragged clouds and made a slanting ray of light that illuminated her. Sheets of rain in front of her face sparkled and danced as each drop caught the light as it bounced and refracted all around her. Drips forming on her hood shook like crystal balls, iridescent and brilliant. Her wet eyelashes caught the light and she was suddenly blinded, cocooned inside the water as it split and made rainbows, over and over again around her. The wind and the rain rewrote patterns of light before her, swirling and falling, bouncing on blades of grass, on her coat, on the dog’s fur as he stood, quiet now and lolling his tongue. Nothing stayed still and yet for a long, long moment this broken, glorious light-show played all around her as she smiled and sobbed and sang with joy, not sure if it was of the rain or her tears that she was a part.
Then it was over. The sun hid behind a bank of cloud and the brilliance diminished. She caught her breath, deeply alive to the moment that had just been, trying desperately to not let it go. But it passed, as all beautiful moments must.
Sighing, she looked at Dog, who looked back at her, now just a wet and fed up animal, ready to go home for his breakfast.
“Me too,” she said.
In companionable silence, they allowed the wind to push them back down the wet moor, through the gate, past the chickens and through the door. A little shower of gutter water fell on her as she opened it.
“I’ll sort that today”, she thought.
Her gaze fell upon a small feather that her daughter had picked up in the autumn on one of their walks. It was a pheasant feather, a short and inconspicuous one. One of the little hidden ones that keeps the bird warm and flying. The wind had picked it up off the window and dropped it on the floor. She picked it up, putting it back on the windowsill. Smiling at small magics, she went to get the children ready for school.