Beltane at the Cave
The sky is darkening, from an intense pale blue to a darker but equally intense and clear blue, flecked with clouds the colour of doves’ wings and that faint blush pink of a linnet’s breast. It has rained off and on all day, bringing the final April showers after a dry month. From below the wide ledge of clean, white sand that is the entrance to my cave, scents rise from the forest below. Resinous aromas from the many firs and conifers of all kinds, the fainter scent of blossoms, and the pungent odour of wet earth and vegetation, all mingle as I wait for the light to fade past a certain point.
I kneel, the sand wet under my knees, and bow towards the setting sun, my head almost touching the earth. A shiver runs through my whole body. The evening songs of the birds falters, then ceases, and I know this is the moment. I lift my flint, and bring it down hard onto the rock, and miraculously, a shower of bright sparks flies out. It lands on the little pile of tinder, and after a moment, a thread of smoke rises. I lean forward, blowing gently, cupping my hands around the newborn flame, blowing, blowing, blowing, until the flames rise like hungry chicks clamouring for food. I feed them, dry twigs and resinous pine needles and they crackle greedily.
I add more fuel, slowly, letting the fire build until I can add small logs, and by that time, the light has faded almost entirely from the sky. When I am sure my bonfire is burning steadily, I fetch a stool so that I can sit by it. The knees of my trousers dry in the warmth that emanates from the fire. A chill breeze seems to roar down off the mountain, making my fire crackle and roar back at it. I pull my blanket around my shoulders, and gaze into the blaze.
There is great sadness, a weight that bears down on my heart, a sorrow that is more appropriate to Samhain than to Beltane, and I sigh. This is the place where I am always alone with my thoughts, where no other human comes to be with me, but this evening, I feel the void. A great change has taken place in my lineage. I have, my default, become an elder. One might consider I am a new matriarch, but it weighs on me, because I have lost my mother. Oh, I know, I know. Nothing is ever lost, they say.
Through the flames I see that my companions have come. Great she-bear who kept me company through the deep winter, Reindeer, and others, shadowy in the penumbra of the fire, sit with me, silent and respectful. I welcome them but I do not speak.
As the last light vanishes from the sky, and the Evening Star glitters into view, I hear one last burst of bird song. It’s one I have not heard for some time, for this bird, once common and little thought of, has become rarer. I see the singer, perched fairly close to me on one of the stunted apple trees at the edge of the ledge. A song thrush, singing so beautifully that tears, healing tears, rise in my eyes and spill over as I remember that my mother’s name means song thrush.