All Hallows Day

Sunday 31 October, All-Hallows Day, the eve of All Saints Day. It will be, as always, the small pleasures that weave brightness into a day. This day dawned into a mist that blots and blurs outlines, blunts sound and smudges the sun to the dull gleam of a well worn sixpence. The last leaves on the bird cherry trees hang limp necked and then, in a stir of air, fall like a shoal of little yellow fish and land as quiet and soft as a hare’s breath. A first flock of fieldfares, the Norse tribes have arrived. In the afternoon, when the sun burned through, my shadow companion’s long legs scissor the path. A charm of King Harrys gather on the feeder. A quiet day cures an overdose of life.

In late afternoon as daylight fades, mist blooms again and melancholy and an unquiet quiet seeps among the shadows, it is Hallowe’en., the time when we pray for deliverance from ghosties, ghoulies and long legged beasties, it is Fright Night! For Celts, it was Samhain, summer’s end, one of their ‘thin’ times, when the veils between the worlds thinned. At dusk, as a half consumed moon rises, the countryside becomes a place of myth and mystery, lanes and lakes, meadow and marsh and unleafed and birdless trees hold an uneasy power and from these are born the songs and stories, rituals and rhymes for the ending of a year. No dreadful American import of Trick or Treat have a place here.

In one of the papers, writers told of their own Fright Night. M.R. James’ stories of a haunted and malevolent countryside, a painting by Ken Currie, films, uncanny clowns with their whitened faces and a piano concerto by Mozart. One writer chose Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘The Listeners’, she said no matter how many times she read it gooseflesh rose on her arms. Beautifully written and uneasy but far more goosefleshy is the ‘Lyke-Wake Dirge, this is ancient and would probably have been sung by a woman over a dead or dying soul. It is in Yorkshire dialect:

 

This ae night, this ae night

Every night and all

Fire an’ fleet an’ candleleet

And Christ receive thy soul.’

 

Listen to the whole song sung on You Tube by ‘Pentangle’. The words are raw-boned, bleak, uncompromising and speak of a harsh and moral law by which to live. The last line becomes a prayer for the dead or dying soul.

Across the North Yorkshire Moors is the Lyke-Wake Walk,a trail of forty miles.

 

Pat Mlejnecky

p.s.

Norfolk birds

The Midnight Folk

The First Player:

In the lean hours Fox trots among the untamed trees. He follows a path which sneaks through the wood, a narrow path made by hoof, paw and claw. Time is his own, he comes and goes unbidden. Thorn tipped claws and polished ears that take soundings, eyes full of moonlight so they shine silver. Tree shadows net him and he becomes a creature of leaves and light. Then he is gone in a shiver of air, a trick from Night’s sleeve.

The Second Player:

Scissored from darkness, the bat banks and glides, flickering to and fro. He knows the songs of sight in the night. He stole the night from the birds and learned its secrets, its mysteries. For a moment he is fixed in the moonlight and then flings back into the dark.

The Third Player:

What does the owl see as he stares from his perch searching the shadows? What will the darkness reveal? What does he hear? A wood mouse’s footfall, a scurrying shrew? What does he sense? A vole rustling in a tent of grass? His silent wingbeat has its own music, his husky hoot questions the darkness and rattles the bones and quickens the heartbeat of the soon-to-be-dead. With solemn deliberation he swoops up and away, a haunting presence.

The Fourth Player:

The fire filled stars look down on Brock, the bear of the woods, of ancient lineage, masked, a dusky lord. On a bank among a straggle of ferns, woodsage and foxglove all bound about with honeysuckle and a bony trellis of ivy he has mined shafts with his scimitar claws. Shafts which lead to halls, galleries and chambers, he has raised ramparts and dug ditches. He stands and considers, his is an old magic. For a whispered spell, a ceremonial summoning, he may pause in the dappled light, turn and honour you, in slow ritual with a look from his moon filled

The Fifth Players:

Enter Night’s Cinderellas, the Forester, the Old Lady, the Footman, the Emperor, the Tiger and the Elephant, moths as silent as shadows, settling as dust on late blooming honeysuckle, last bells of foxgloves and purple cockades of thistle. With wings closed and coloured like worthy fustian, sober tweed and stippled, striated, ringed and veined in pearl, umber, soot, clay and frost, forming constellations which flash secret messages. They open like a patterned fan to show underskirts of seaweed green, berry bright red, saffron yellow and mauve as pigeon’s neck feathers.

Pat Mlejnecky

the hours of the day

COUNTRY DIARY

The quiet hours which, when counted on Time’s abacus add to weeks, months, years and the circling seasons. It is easy to miss magic moments in the business of life.

THE HOURS OF THE DAY

Vigil and Lauds

0300

Daylight is beginning and the waning moon, that thief of the sun’s light, is dimming and looks like well thumbed glass. The Moon Spinners are busy, they are sea spirits who walk the shores of the earth. They each have a spindle and onto these they spin the milk white moonlight. Their task is to see the world has its hours of darkness so they spin the moon out of the sky like white wool. As night follows night the moon’s light wanes and at last its light is gone, the world has darkness and rest and creatures are safe from the hunter. On the darkest night the sea spirits take their spindles to where the sea lips the land to wash their wool. As it slips from the spindle it unravels in long ripples of light and see, there is the moon, at first just a thin thread of light. When all the wool is washed and is a white ball in the sky then, once more, the Moon Spinners start to wind its light onto their spindles until the night becomes safe once more for all hunted creatures.

Prime

0600

The dog roses are in flower, Keats’ sweet ‘eglantine’ in his ‘Ode to the Nightingale’. This ancient riddle is about the dog rose, can you guess why?

We are five brothers at the same time born

Two of us have beards, by two no beards are worn

While one, lest he should give his brothers pain

Hath one side bearded and the other plain.

Terce

0900

Wood pigeons have learned how to use my bird feeders and I watch them bumbling about, huffing and puffing. Many people dismiss pigeons out of hand because they are everywhere and some, who know no better, refer to them as ‘flying rats’ but both these creatures thrive because of our dirty, careless ways, they reflect our untidiness, our waste and mess back to us. This country is known as ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Pigeons who ‘served’ with the RAF in wartime were the first recipients of the Dickin Medal, the Victoria Cross for animals. They are considered to be one of the most intelligent birds in the world and are one of only six species with the ability to recognise themselves in a mirror. The passenger pigeon was one of the most numerous birds in the world until we killed every one.

Sext

Noon

Bombus drones round the garden, she takes centre stage on a rose, she is laden with bags of gold. In a painting of Napoleon his red velvet Coronation robes are embroidered with golden bees and so is the carpet he stands on. At the moment of Christ’s birth the story tells the bees deep in their hives hummed the ‘Old Hundreth’. In Somerset there is still someone who makes the straw skeps that bees used to be kept in. She says it is a natural shape which mimic the hollows in trees that bees would naturally use and she thinks the honey has a better flavour, it still retains grains of pollen.

None

1500

He may have been able to juggle the full moon on one finger but I have magic too. I stare up to the sky hoping to see a buzzard and lo and behold, church steeple high, there is one, he glides in slow lazy circles and a second one joins and yet a third, kitelike in the sky, strong magic! Cirrus clouds echo their wing patterns. What does their fierce, meditative gaze see, how do they map the land so far beneath? Like dowsers, do they sense underground rivers, the caves like honeycombs beneath our feet? Slowly, effortlessly they glide away using the power of the wind with hardly a wing beat and I watch their pathway through the sky.

Vespers

1800

The heat of the day is cooling but ringlet butterflies are out and about still dancing their summer rituals over the seeded grasses. Their wings are a browny grey with constellations of rings and dots in yellow and black on the upperside and when in flight these flash mysterious text messages to each other.

Compline

2100

Dusk breathes shadows and darkness to web the trees. A tawny owl’s voice gathers the night, I hear but cannot see him, his feathered cloak makes him invisible. The old Gaelic prayer, ‘God send us all another day.’

Pat Mlejnecky