Walking has always been a source of pleasure and an activity that gives the time to ruminate and discuss things with God. Lately, however, I've not been doing that. The Boy and I tend to walk in silence, companionable perhaps, through the trees whilst I make things up in my head. As the winter draws in we spend less time doing this and the last few evenings haven't been used at all for this activity.
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He loves watching the animals in the dusk, like squirrels and blackbirds, wood pigeons and nightjays, as well as straining to catch a glimpse of the sun through the leaves as they constantly change shape and colour. I've shown him oaks and ash, beech and birch, brambles and raspberries. We've eaten more blackberries than is strictly healthy this year, and that has set me wondering variously on how makes jam through to how our ancestors must have seeded the forests with them through the action of eating so many. The raspberries were also indulged more than once and we ate our fill. If such a small selection of woodland near our decidedly urban home can yield enough soft fruit to keep the Boy and I fed over the course of a few months, to the point where I think I ruined his tea most nights, then one has to wonder how much there would have been for our ancestors and how they would have enjoyed it. Add in wood-pigeons and you have the sort of diet that could easily sustain people for prolonged periods of time. We also found and ate elderberries, but I'm not sure what to do with those or how many one should eat in one go. I believe jam may be involved.
One evening I deigned to speak and we tried to create a new mythology. I am quite taken with the character of Owain and imagine him to be some kind of bronze age King, pre-Roman, travelling through his kingdom on various quests and troubled by some vision of his future. He is polite and kind to his people, a hero of an age that may never have actually existed, talking in earthy tones about the lore of the forest and dispensing kingly justice on those he meets. We saw a circle of slightly older oaks (about thirty years old?) in amongst a stand of birch and oak and I decided that it was a place that Owain went to receive wisdom. Then we went under the railway bridge and emerged in the dim dusk gloaming of a wood of maple. There were horse-chestnuts too, though the conker-scavenging squirrels were gone for the evening, and we walked down past a felled beech to the river (well, stream) and looked across the bridge there. I imagined Owain doing something similar, reaching the edge of his kingdom and gazing out to the alien landscape beyond. Perhaps he saw farmland and cleared forests, an agricultural domain that owed more to intensive farming than it did to the woodland of his own experience. We saw some form of industrial estate with metal silos and industrial noises like escaping gas.
Owain and I turned away. Maybe Owain had also carried his son as he wandered through the woods, though his journey would have been much longer than ours, taking several days. The carpet of leaves that we walked over would have been more homely to Owain than the beaten earth of most of the paths and the mud as it twisted back to the railway more alien to him than us. Nevertheless we did reach the river again and descend the steep bank, stepping gingerly over the remains of another fallen tree (a large birch this time I think) we followed it down to the flood water. Owain would have engaged in some adventure by now and slayed some wicked demon, met with some of his people and engaged in a drinking at which there would have been flagons of ale and songs of heroes past. Perhaps there would have been some good-natured brawling and sleeping in some hunting hall. We'd barely walked a few hundred yards.
And that got me thinking about image and how it is projected. I mean, what would Owain wear to show his kingship in such a society? Would he have been adorned with some bronze icon of his office or would he trust that, instead, to some bronze spear head? As Owain walked down to the pools that we saw as remains of a silk mill, he would have met some ethereal shade that would have passed on a new icon, a new way of showing his honour, skill and kingship. Today was the day that King Owain received the sword, the Sword of Ages once wielded by his forefathers against the foes of the forest and the dwellers of towns beyond the Dunstanane. I have no idea what the Dunstanane is, but I imagine that Owain would have given his life to defend it from all comers.
Owain, the Boy and I returned via the long path that cut literally through a large oak of indeterminate age (about 80-90 years give or take) that had fallen down and had been sawn through so large was the girth to allow the path to take horses once more. The Boy followed the sound of birds in the leaves as I told the tale of Owain returning to the Ring to share his prize and report to his spiritual mentors.
That was about a week ago as I write this but it seemed vivid enough to write here.
Owain, king of the Dusntanane, was wise and swift and strong;
those he met knew long his reign would be
and he kept company with all of those considered righteous
strong and true, keepers of the forest all and drinkers of ale.
Wandering he had come to the women of sight
beyond sight, and they had told him of the badge of office
he would reclaim from the pools and the land of shades.
So it was that he travelled to the edge of the Dimwald,
over fallen bough and through fearsome tranquil glade,
til came he to the river and the bridge. Beyond a world of green
and flat, of light tempered by the darkness of men's hearts as they strove
to shackle the very earth and nature around them to a pattern they controlled.
Not for Owain the land of the tiller or the herdsman.
The Dimwald called, home bade him be.
Ten days ride brought Owain to the pools of the shades,
Dark of a different sort blankets the trees, sound is quelled
and animals quiver 'neath the blackness. Only the sound of
water, gay and free, breaks the still with its throaty yell.
Birds of black eye his approach but say nothing, what can they reveal?
Owain stood proud, the forest barred him with a fallen girth,
and Owain must pass to pass the test set for him.
Apart from the stories that I was telling him there wasn't a lot to talk about. We stopped and watched the trains, we've been out with his sister and played around in puddles and near a bridge with no railings, but I still haven't mastered the art of conversation with my spawn.
The forest rose, brandishing its weapons before it and offering challenge,
the water shrieked bloodlust and now rooks cawed disapproval.
Owain knew well the power of the woodland and knew well its weakness,
taking his spear he planted the haft as though planting a full grown oak,
lifting himself from the soil, striking out into the battlefield of grim thorn and
fallen warriors. Flesh and sinew strained, as the wind did its bitter work
but Owain was undeterred, leaving his blood to mingle with the moss.