The Faery Trees

The Faery Trees

 

  The scent of the elder trees seemed to shimmer in the hot June sunshine, making a heat haze of aromatic oils and dust, as Becky flung herself down in the shade and buried her face in her hands and wept, loudly. The hard earth beneath the two bending bushes had been packed tight by the baking of the summer sun and by small feet, she noticed with some surprise. The worn footprints, made when last the ground here was muddy, were no bigger than her own would have made, and she saw for the first time that the two stunted trees leaned together to make an archway, and beyond it, she could see a narrow path, vanishing into the deeper woodland beyond. The path was barely more than a rabbit run and she wondered why she had never noticed it before.

  She wished she had thought to bring a bottle of water; her throat was dry with the heat and it hurt through her wailing. A sob rose again unbidden and she scrubbed at her face as the tears began to course down her face again.

  “Why are you crying?”

  Becky jumped with shock, and saw to her intense surprise that a girl was standing over her, her face hidden in the mass of wild flaxen hair that tumbled round her shoulders. Becky’s own hair was tied back neatly in a tight plait to keep it from escaping and looking untidy.

  “Nothing,” Becky said, gazing at the girl with awe, and rubbing the tears away hastily.

  The girl came and sat next to her, her face still shaded a little by her hair and by the dappled shadows cast by the trees they sat beneath.

  “You sound so unhappy,” said the girl. “Tell me about it.”

  Becky drew a deep and shuddering breath.

  “It’s my Gran,” she said. “She’s mean and nasty and she won’t let me have what I want.”

  “That’s terrible,” said the girl, her voice sympathetic.

  “So I have run away,” Becky continued. “Just for a little while, to scare her, the mean old bitch.”

  “Why don’t your parents help you?” the girl asked.

 “My parents are divorced,” Becky said. “Dad works abroad. Mum went back to live with her mum; that’s my Gran. So Mum goes out to work and Gran stays home with me. Only, today, we were going to get me new shoes after school, and this is what she made me get!”

  Becky pointed dramatically at her feet. The sensible and comfortable shoes were coated in the fine white dust kicked up by these chalky fields in drought.

  “They look…” the girl tailed off without finishing.

  “Exactly,” said Becky triumphantly. “They’re hideous. I’m going to be a laughing stock at school tomorrow.”

  The girl patted her arm.

  “We could swap,” she said. “You look like the same size as me.”

  Becky glanced at the girl suspiciously. The girl was wearing much the same clothes as herself, jeans and tee shirt, but while Becky’s jeans were a standard supermarket brand, ironed and laundered and ordinary, this girl wore designer jeans, with the artistic rips and chains Becky coveted. Her tee shirt had a neat little Chanel logo on it, and round her neck, where Becky wore a tacky Best Friends Forever pendant on a worn thong, this girl wore a heavy gold chain, bearing a suspiciously real looking diamond. And her shoes! Well, her shoes were the exact pair Becky had seen in a magazine and had begged her Gran to buy for her.

  “Why would you want to?” Beck asked grudgingly.

  “To make you happy,” said the girl, throwing back her hair and smiling a big broad, braces-free smile. Becky has stopped smiling properly the day they fixed her teeth with braces.

  “OK,” said Becky, kicking off her shoes with speed, in case this strange girl changed her mind.

  Within a few moments, the exchange was complete. The high-heeled red shores hurt Becky’s feet but after a few moments staggering around, she found she could walk just fine in them. The girl buckled her new sandals and smiled in a way that reminded Becky of her cat’s face when it had just stolen some cream.

  “Drink?” said the girl sitting back down in the shade and proffered a bottle.

  Becky took an experimental swig and nearly choked.

  “But that’s cider!” she exclaimed.

  “And?” said the girl shrugging.

  “It’s nice,” Becky said meekly and took a long drink.

  The sun peeped through the leaves and sparkled on the diamante trimmings of her new shoes; Becky felt the drowsy heat of late afternoon fill her and her eyes felt heavy.

  She woke to hear her name being called and shivered. The sun was setting, blood red in the West and the fragrance of the elder trees had begun to smell like a tomcat had used the earth here for a toilet. She scrambled awkwardly to her feet and swayed out from under the shade of the two elder trees. Her grandmother was crossing the field, coming towards her fast.

  As she caught sight of her granddaughter, her whole body seemed to spasm, as if with shock.

  “Oh no you don’t,” she shouted and Becky cringed before realising that Gran was not shouting at her.

   Gran seized her arm firmly and then bent to yank the glorious shoes off Becky’s feet.

  “Not my granddaughter, not ever, you conniving little thieves,” she yelled and to Becky’s horror, she threw first one and then the second shoe at the narrow path between the elder trees.

  “But Gran, we swapped shoes, they’re my shoes now!” Becky protested, but then stared open-mouthed, unable to believe what she’d seen.

  The path had closed up, like a book shutting and now there was no trace of the way through between the two elder trees. Of either pair of shoes there was no trace at all.

  Her Gran gave her a little shake, and pointed at the last rays of the sun as they dipped below the horizon.

  “Just in time,” she said. “Another few minutes and I’d have been too late.”

  Becky felt her tears returning but now they were tears of incomprehensible relief. Gran looked at her, and passed her a hankie.

  “Well, losing your shoes is a fair price to pay, I guess,” she said. “You can walk home barefoot or I can give you a piggy back? Which is it to be?”

  Becky went to school the next day in her old, worn out shoes and a much better frame of mind.  

 

(C) Vivienne Tuffnell 2009 

              

    

Sheep and Wolves

I wrote the following poem a few years back out of sheer frustration at the spiritual market place and how hard it is to discern what is right and what is not.

Sheep and Wolves
  
  “Those of you who would happy be,
  Come along and follow me.
  If you want your highest bliss
  Do as I do, dress like this.
  Check your brain in at the door,
  You won't need that any more.
  Hand your worldly goods to us;
  We know best, so why the fuss?
  Peace of mind it don't come cheap,
  Now get in line with all the sheep!”
  Shepherd's pie I hear them say;
  Tell those sheep to run away!
  Beware the wolves who dress like me,
  So alike it's hard to see
  Who'd be your guardian and your God,
  Rule with kindness, not the rod.
  Think of this when wolves are here:
  The good shepherd inspires no fear.

Quiet Day Blues

I used to be able to have a regular ‘Quiet Day’, that is to say the day retreat from my usual daily whirl, taking place at a local retreat house. I used to manage to go a couple of times a year, although the full retreat was something I haven’t had since I was about seven months pregnant with my daughter(and that’s a story for another day: virtually the only woman at a Roman Catholic abbey retreat house for a completely silent retreat. I found it immensely helpful. I’m not sure about how everyone else felt about my presence though.)

We went to a variety of retreat houses around England over the years, from Laund Abbey in the wilds of Leicestershire, various abbeys and convents, and the small retreat house of the Sozein Trust. This poem was written at Morley Retreat House, in Derbyshire, in late February and despite the persistent cold of the Midlands, the birds had decided Spring had sprung and were making the most of a pause in the bad weather.

 

Quiet Day Blues

This was supposed to be a quiet day;
But now I’m being deafened!
The creaking floorboards,
That loudly patterned shirt
Were bad enough.
But
The birds won’t shut up.
I’d not realised how quiet Winter was
Until the birds conspired
And declared it Spring
Despite the chill and damp.
It’s raining but they don’t care;
All around me specks of fast-moving feathers
Zoom and dart
Chirp and fight
Till I am exhausted just watching.
So much for quiet thoughts:
The time for that was Winter,
And now they sing, It’s Spring, it’s Spring.
Time for action again.
This was supposed to be a quiet day;
But now I’m being bullied
Into the future,
By birds!

 

Spider as totem

I deliberately didn’t find a nice picture as so many people dislike this creature!

I grew up with a big brother who loved insects and butterflies and spiders and I learned quite early not to be afraid of any of them, or I’d find one in my bed or in my wardrobe. If you have a big brother, you’ll probably know the kind of nastiness they inflict on little and unsuspecting sisters!

Many years ago, I started seeing spiders. I don’t mean suddenly noticing them, but seeing them where they were not. When I woke or when I was dropping off to sleep, I would see a big spider, often either on the covers or the pillow or on the wall near my head. Until I tried to show my husband one on the wall and discovered he couldn’t see it, I did think they were real live spiders!

The usual routine is I see them, notice them and then they scuttle away where I can’t see them any more. Now, Spider in many cultures is a revered being. Some believe that Spider created the first writing, others that Spider wove the universe.

I believe that for me, Spider is a totem. It might not be a glamorous one, like Lion or Bear or Buffalo. But given the way a lot of people react to them, it’s still a powerful one and I do believe it’s a totem for the writer and creator and weaver of stories.

I went to try and rest this afternoon, feeling very unwell, with glands and muscles aching, and when I woke, Spider was there, and scuttled away as usual when I tried to see more closely.

Below some of the wisdom associated with Spider, drawn from the Animal Spirits website. I will put a link on my blog for the whole site. What does Spider mean to you? 

Grandmother Spider wove the fabric of the universe.

  • Master weaver

  • Weaver of the web of fate

  • Wisdom

  • Creativity

  • Divine inspiration

  • Shapeshifting

  • Understanding the patterns of illusion

  • Female energy for the creative force of life

The Comfort of Ashes

I wrote this poem the day after Ash Wednesday a few years ago and it’s now a part of an Easter cycle of poems.

The Comfort of Ashes
 
There’s something clean about ashes;
Rubbish reduced to uniform powder.
No heaps of trash to hurt the eye,
No rotting corpse to hurt the heart.
Clean
Simple
Impermanent.
A gust of wind, a wash of water
And it’s gone for good:
Dissolved
Dispersed
Disappeared.
It does not disturb me that I am such dust;
What the fire cannot touch
Never can be touched
By hand or flame or even eyes.
Let then the residual ash be blown
On the wind and be gone,
Returned to the kind earth
Whose bones gave me form
And let my soul go home unhindered.

A Wasted Day

and I might even be tempted to add….a wasted life too.

I’ve had a headache since Sunday, one of those that waxes and wanes and sometimes has you crawling into a darkened room and hiding from the light and loud noises. Today it is affecting my vision slightly, or it may be my perception rather than my actual vision.

The only useful thing I have done today was walk the dog. I’d even hoped the fresh air would help my head but it hasn’t. I feel spaced out and unreal, and I haven’t even taken any tablets. I did try and sort out some arrangements for the student I am taking on for a week in March, but even that I didn’t get very far. Mostly all I have done all day was read. I’d be reading still, propped up in bed with a cat perched on my stomach, but I finished the book.

It just feels as though time is slipping through my fingers and I am doing nothing. Nada, niet, rien, nothing. I feel blocked on about every level I can think of:  emotionally, professionally, spiritually and creatively. I used one of my new meditation CDs yesterday to try and at least find some peace. It took me on a journey, and if you are familiar with this sort of meditation you know the kind of thing I mean. Anyway, during the meditation I was given a “gift” from the Well of Wyrd. Trouble is, I have no idea what it means. The gift was a block or a cube of wood. I have a horrid, sneaking suspicion it means simply that: blocked. I’ve had better presents, I can tell you!  

I feel like everything has ground to a resounding halt. I’m feeling like death warmed over, and I don’t feel as if there is a lot to look forward to. I’ll feel better tomorrow probably but the issues remain. I can’t find any motivation to push forward in any direction and I don’t know how to find that motivation either. I keep going to bed hoping that I will feel better in the morning, that I’ll have an inspiring dream that tells me where to go, or the plot of a story, or simply some reassurance that despite evidence to the contrary I’m on the right path.

I’m not ranting exactly because I’m not actually angry. Just despondent and low.

If you’re the sort to pray, I’d be honoured if you would pray for me.

The Hero

The Hero

 

Once upon a time- that’s how fairytales begin. Or it might begin, in a kingdom far, far away. In days of old when knights were bold… but how old is old in a time when last season’s clothes are absurd antiques and doubts are cast not just on the courage of those bold knights but on everything else as well? The jury is out but the evidence is that they were anything but gentle, and the average modern football hooligan probably has more courtesy and honour. After all, even in today’s allegedly lawless times, it’s not considered honourable or even legal to strike the head from another man’s shoulders. There are some, I admit who practically beg for such treatment but I doubt politicians have ever been popular; the high king’s advisors have ever been known as lickspittles and toadies, and are so today whatever names they bear.

   The age of chivalry was in fact a brutal one but pictures are painted and poems penned that portray it in the glowing pink light of artificial nostalgia. But that romantic world has grown brighter than the shadowy one that was real. We don’t want to know about the sweat and the dung, the short brutish nasty lives; we want mysterious ladies in gowns of floating silks. We want a hero whose armour shines and whose sword is never red with the blood of the innocent or of the incidental casualty. We want those rules that can never be kept, to have been kept: a code of impossible honour, a world of justices and joys. And we seek it not in our world now for we know deep down it can never be. So we seek it in the past: an ancient shining past where our dreams might once have been true. Atlantis and Camelot are both children of the same yearning dreams.

   There is a Jewish proverb, better a live dog than a dead lion, and it sums up the kind of practicality we have deep down and yet are somehow ashamed of. Running from a defeat is never seen as sensible, practical or even right; we prefer death-or-glory stands to the canny retreat. In cinema, literature and in our view of history, our preference is always for the glorious defeat, the captain going down with the sinking ship, the king dying on a bloody battlefield surrounded by the slaughtered heaps of his faithful bodyguard. We don’t laud those who saw which way the wind was blowing and left before disaster struck; it’s not memorable, it’s not honourable and it certainly isn’t romantic! History and literature are littered with the bodies of lovers who said, “If I can’t have you, then I shall have nothing.” A myriad Miss Havishams wander the corridors of our consciousness, clad in wedding rags and one silk slipper like an elderly Cinderella who never got to go to the ball in the first place. We don’t applaud those who survived, moved on, thrived and found new love. The star-crossed lovers are not Darby and Joan, celebrating sixty years of happy marriage. No, they are the teenage Romeo and Juliet who died at their own hands rather than lose that one bright moment of perfection.

  Let’s face it, when it isn’t us, we adore tragedy. I hesitate to say it but that’s why piles of flowers and teddies materialise at the site of an untimely death. That’s why Diana will always hold a place that Camilla never can. Live fast, die young- one way to achieve a kind of cheap immortality. Surviving, moving on, rebuilding simply don’t hold the same glamour. Rags to riches stories only really appeal because secretly we all hope for an equally meteoric fall back to rags. We say. “Oh how nice,” but I’m not sure how often we mean it. There’s almost always a secret shiver of spite and jealousy that quibbles, “Why them? Why not me? I’m as good as they are.” It feels better when we can say from a safe distance from a tragedy, “What a shame! Oh how sad!”

  Arthur lies sleeping, our once-and-future king, but we should take great care we never wake him. There’s too much blood-and-guts reality in the true Arthur for us to stomach these days. We’ve grown beyond true monarchy. I’d rather we had our rough approximation of democracy than have the tyranny of the old kings back and tarnish and fray our romantic visions of the past.

   But we need heroes- no I shall go further and say we are desperate for heroes. And so we try and create them out of what material we think best: film stars, models, TV celebrities, pop and rock stars, and God forgive us all, footballers. And they fail us and we vilify them for merely being ordinary fallible venial human beings. They disappoint us and yet we create more.

  Are there any real heroes left? Any lantern-jawed Lancelots left to charm and enthral us, fallible enough to be likeable but heroic enough to still command our respect and even our love? There are worthy men and women, heroic ones even but they lack that certain something, that magic ingredient that makes them special like Arthur, Gawain, Percival and dear old Lancelot. So I shall have to create my own heroes, spinning them out of my own yearnings and dreams like gold from spun straw. Arthur can live again, a modern Arthur born of this our real world but with some of the glitter and glamour of the Round Table, and his knights and ladies can dance their graceful steps around him. We all need heroes, but these days I prefer to make my own. I’m sorry, but there isn’t a pattern. It isn’t like painting by numbers or knitting. It’s more like freestyle climbing- massive risk taking, surges of adrenaline that might rocket fuel an elephant and the sense when you’ve completed it that you have done something hardly anyone else can do. I admit that failure doesn’t result in a plummet to the death but emotionally it can feel a little like that. And at the end of that creation process, there stands blinking in the sunshine a shiny newborn hero, fresh for a new world but with ancient genes that stretch back into the oldest memory, the oldest stories. We’ve all changed since our first ancestors told tales round the fire at night-so why not the hero too? Because there is something eternal and unchanging about an archetype- the hero simply adapts and grows with the generations but remains in all essentials the dream we all dream: the Hero.