Wings of love

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The red kites are teasing me again, circling low over the garden… until I grab the camera, disappearing in their typical fashion as soon as the lens is pointed skywards. They were at it all morning, yet all I managed was a blurry pic and a handful of distant dots in the sky as usual.

I love those birds and cherish an ambition to get a really good photograph of the great birds in flight, one of these days. I can get a clear picture when they have landed, but in flight it always seems that I click the shutter when they are head down, or in odd positions where it is difficult to see their majesty, or a blurred one eye to eye. The birds seem to smile at my naivety.

It reminds me of the incident with the feathers. When we first began following the kites all over Buckinghamshire, it seemed that everywhere we went there were feathers of every conceivable colour. I kept picking them up. Stuart shook his head every time I took anything out of my bag, as clouds of the things fell out, the interior of the car began to look as if someone had been pillow fighting and I had feathers of every variety… except kite.

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Then, on one exceptionally hot day, we climbed our first real hill and walked miles in the heat. It was right at the beginning of the adventures that led to the writing of The Initiate and we barely knew what we were getting into at that point. It was, looking back, the first real physical effort we had put into our quest too. We walked up through ancient earthworks, seeking the path with dowsing rods and really getting a feel for the landscape. I remember Stuart talking about the sacrifice of energy required to climb the hills as part of the ‘contract’ with the heart of the land…. and then a red kite flew out of the sun.

We walked on, awed, in the searing heat… waterless as usual… climbing ever higher and following the ancient path of the Ridgeway, until I caught sight of something. I bent to pick it up… a whole bunch of kite feathers, plucked, it seemed, from the breast and shimmering with unexpected iridescence. We felt then that we had been accepted for the quest. If that sounds odd, it must be remembered that we had learned to trust and follow the birds, heeding the lessons in their flight, so it felt ‘right’ in ways I probably can’t explain. That afternoon unfolded with magic as we began to understand where and how we were being led.

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I came home that night and proudly displayed the feathers on the table. And because I left them there, the dog ate them. So, I was gifted a lesson in non-attachment too… and a reminder that a gift once given must be cherished and cared for; take it for granted and all you have is a memory.

So, although I still try for that perfect picture, it still eludes me and it feels as if the denizens of the sky are laughing gently. The elusiveness of the kites holds another lesson too, for some things are simply too big to fit inside a camera or to frame within the terms of the physical world. They are gifts of the moment to be treasured. Sure, I might get a good picture… but the great birds are more than just beauty and aerial grace; to watch them fly is to watch the spirit of the air and the feeling that brings is one of awe; something I don’t think any photograph could capture. They evoke a feeling I can only call love and it seems I can watch to my heart’s content, accepting the gift and grace of their presence, as long as I do not attempt to pin down their grace and essence… which is exactly how love should be.

Yet there is an acknowledgement, a reciprocal amusement, it seems, where I still try and they indulgently tease; a daily reminder that both spirit and love exist in freedom and their gift is there to be known, accepted in all simplicity, for as soon as you try to hold them, they lose something and are changed. You can only accept the gift and the grace when it is given… and cherish it.

If I get that ‘perfect’ photo one day, it will not be when I try to take it, but when it is given. All I can do is be open to the gifts of the day…

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Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

A Living Lore Workshop.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

From weeds to wildflowers…

When my son’s old driveway was constructed, no-one thought to lay a weed membrane beneath it. Consequently, when a nice crop of weeds grew between the blocks I, as the designated gardener, had to tackle the things. I won’t use weedkiller,  so that meant pulling them up one by one…and as I don’t like killing plants just because they happen to be growing in the ‘wrong’ place, I felt I should do what I could to salvage them.

I had started learning about herbs and wildflowers in my teens, fascinated by the natural properties of plants, so I recognised them all. Luckily, they were the type of weeds that are being sold as fashionable wildflowers these days.

I don’t have a proper garden here… just a small green space that has been looking at me accusingly, waiting to be transformed. I planted the salvaged seedlings and waited to see what would happen. Not all of the plants survived the move, but by the next summer, I had majestic spires of primrose verbascum, starry white feverfew, the tiny snapdragon-like flowers of toadflax and a small clump of purple loosestrife dotted amongst my few roses. The plants grew, the flower bed was full and the tiny garden was buzzing with bees and attracting butterflies.

This summer has been such a busy one transforming my son’s garden that I did little more than cut the grass in mine. So, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I noticed quite how well the rescued seedlings were doing. They did not merely survive, they flourished and spread. They have planted their own seeds outside my windows where I can watch the bees frantically harvesting the last of the summer bounty from the loosestrife. There is a giant rosette of mullein by the door that will reach over five feet high next year and forget-me-nots tucked in every corner, just waiting for spring. I even have a baby cherry tree that the birds must have planted.

It may sound rather daft, but I was touched when I realised how well the garden was growing. I know the plants are just doing what plants do, but the way they have filled the available space seems almost as if they knew they could have been consigned to the compost bin had I not felt the need to do my best for them.

Without even trying, I seem to be acquiring a garden and it is spurring me on to do my part and start digging flower beds as soon as work, back and weather permits. It may take me a while to make a garden as I will need materials, but gardening is all about patience. And as for plants, I can fill the space with seeds and ‘weeds’ fast enough once the beds are prepared. I have never had a taste for orderly beds and controlled planting. I like cottage gardens that, once planted, are allowed to do their own thing.

I couldn’t help thinking, about the parallels with all the youngsters I have known and who have passed through my kitchen over the years, many of whom would have been considered the ‘weeds’ of society. There were a good many troubled teens within my sons’ circle of friends. All I ever did was feed them, trust them and give them a place where they could be themselves. Almost without exception, like wildflowers they grew and flourished, becoming young men of whom any mother would be proud.

An early lesson in parenting stayed with me, where a study had, over a period of weeks, spread all kinds of food before toddlers, notorious for preferring the ‘wrong’ foods, and let them eat as they pleased. The results were that, given a wide enough choice, the toddlers” diet was a balanced one. Without knowledge of dietary needs, instinct had fed them correctly and with a more varied diet than that provided by their parents. When I had read that study, it had made me think seriously about how I was raising my son…and not just in terms of food.

We have all sorts of unconscious ambitions and expectations for our children. There is a fine line between giving a child the tools they need in order to live at ease in society and shaping them to conform to our image of what they ‘should’ be. It is difficult for a parent who wants the best for their child to simply stand back and let them grow into who they are supposed to be.

It isn’t just children either… all sorts of relationships are subject to those unconscious expectations, from the most casual acquaintance to the closest affection. Even our relationship with ourselves. I have to wonder what gifts they would give if, like my ‘weeds’, we recognised them as wildflowers and let them grow in their own way.