When you spend time in nature, no matter how fleeting or irregular, chances are you’ll see some of the wild and free creatures that live there.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet and often capture a photo or two of all kinds of wild ones who reside with us on this treasured earth.
No matter what my mood, my spirits soar to see a hare, fox or deer cross my path or an owl fly past me or to marvel at a cute toad or the iridescent blue of a damselfly or to be amidst the soft yellow fluttering dance of brimstone butterflies in May.
Although I love being in nature (it is, after all, our very essence and inspires my writing), I’m not ‘out there’ all hours like, for example, those patient wildlife photographers or those who work on the land to garden, farm or conserve. It seems, then, most surprising that I’ve had so many curious and magical encounters in the wild.
These encounters include sharing a precious few moments of silent communion with a female kestrel that had flown onto my bare arm; a wily hare, as big as a hound, lolloping ahead of Fen and me up a farm track as if to say, ‘It’s this way!’; and the frequent presence of barn owls either flying or perched on fence posts that I seem to sense before they appear. I’ve been eye-to-eye with a fox-like wild cat in the Lake District. I’ve seen a leveret, just a few weeks old, confidently boxing a crow. On one occasion, Fen and I watched a lone roe deer almost fly across the barren winter earth, gliding over a ditch to stand in front of us for time-stopping moments before continuing on its way.
Only recently, I saw a herd of sheep in a tentative stand-off against a black cat that simply materialised on that gentle pasture. For some 30 minutes, I watched the sheep stamp the ground, nudge slowly forward, to eventually see off this curious feline.
The birds speak constantly, and hold me in their gift of presence. There is the little owl who loves to sunbathe in the morning while posing for a photo.
There’s the heron who seems to have been stood in the ploughed field for so long that its feet have disappeared beneath the loam.
Magical starling murmurations; pied wagtail; a one-legged mistlethrush; long-tail tit; and loch-side robin: these, and many others, fly in and out of my life and always with a song to lift my mood.
I’ve not always had my camera at hand to record these special encounters and, on some occasions, the camera would have intruded on the moment. If Fen hadn’t witnessed some of these ‘spots of time’, as William Wordsworth called them in The Prelude, it would be easy to question whether they’d happened at all. Did we really see a white pheasant in the woods or a bevy of pet rabbits on a bleak moor or those owls that surrounded our car while looking for meteors one star-strewn night?
It’s also easy to fuel the notion that these encounters bring a personal message, a deeper meaning, something symbolic, and if one looks for the meaning, one will most definitely find something. For me, these magical encounters remind me of our profound connection with the natural world, the beautiful transcendence of the wild, and the symphony that is life. The wild has its dramas, which often play out in front of us and, sometimes, something uncanny happens that makes us question everything.
As I write this on the eve of the summer solstice, having just returned from a well-spent hour listening to a skylark performing its soaring song over ripening wheat fields, I’m filled with gratitude for all these encounters, whether considered ordinary or extraordinary, that brighten my life. I am, without doubt, richer for them.
Here’s a little bit of magic… My friend, Mr Peacock, enjoying the sunset with sun-lit midges that look like fairies…
There is a place I love, which I’ve been visiting for over 40 years: a place where two rivers meet.
I come here to be still when the mainstream world is far too busy, too crazy, and too much for a gentle soul.
I’m not sure why this place, in particular, sings to me, and keeps calling me back. Unlike many other places, this scene has barely changed in my life. Of course, the colours in the landscape alter from one season to the next. The hedgerows are taller and more dense, and some trees have grown where others have fallen. The bridge has been rebuilt a few times. Otherwise, much is the same.
Sitting quietly by the bridge, I see my 13 year young self riding a bike to this spot at 5am on a summer’s day. I brought my son and daughter here, when they were children, to play on this ghost-road in the blazing sun.
Here is where curious circles appeared in the wheat and where three owls met Fen and me one star-lit night while looking for meteors.
Here is where I stopped just a few nights ago until dusk fell and a barn owl flew by with his head tilted towards me.
I have clocked-up many earth years here since my first visit, alone and with loved ones, and yet every time I return, it’s as if no time has passed at all, and I understand why. When I’m here, I’m in the moment, and this always returns me to the free-spirited, ageless soul that I am.
Is there a place that calls you back again and again?
Several weeks have passed since I moved to my new writer’s nest in this spirited place of lakes and meres.
I’ve slowed down since my arrival and yet seem to have enough time to be and do. I feel embraced by nature and there is a strong sense of having stepped back in (or out of) time. Halcyon days spring to mind. Old fairytale England. A sanctuary for one’s soul.
These enlivened feelings have blossomed by the fact we arrived mid-spring as the swallows returned and have had a surprising run of fine, warm-to-hot sunny days. Could this be the sweetest and sunniest May I’ve ever known? Certainly, in my part of the shire, summer is an early and most welcomed guest. We haven’t experienced a mini heatwave in these parts for many years and the memories of that long grey winter have faded in the heat.
From dawn until dusk and that mysterious place inbetween, nature is resplendent in its procession of colour and the air is vibrant with bird song.
Even more remarkable, my normally pale moon skin is tanning honey gold, and this is something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time.
The weather will change soon enough. It always does. Yet I feel that I’ll still be caught in the spell of this enchanted place, and this makes me happy.
I intend to spend as much time as possible enjoying the glimmering hues of sunshine, immersed in nature’s song, gathering sensory research for my next book and to simply enjoy these long light-filled days. Come the autumn and those darker evenings, I’ll continue the writing process and, all being well, the story will find its way on to the page.
My immediate surroundings, as beautiful and idyllic as they are, do not contain me. I am a wandering star with a curious heart that finds joy and adventure in exploring.
Not too far away from my current abode, there is a gently nurtured wildlife path on the edge of Martin Mere. Fen and I have been aiming to walk this path for quite a while so, with much joy, on a fine May day, we found ourselves there.
Through the gate, we immediately entered the domain of butterflies and damselflies busily drifting and darting from one flower and leaf to another. For a short stretch, a fine assortment of hedgerows and trees lined the path, giving various degrees of sunshine and shade that was ideal for the winged beings that lived here. Bright yellow brimstone butterflies, too flighty to pose for a photo, fluttered teasingly around us while a dazzling blue damselfly paused, more obligingly, in the sunshine.
We soon reached a clearing and then, through another gate, we were by the side of a lake. In glorious full sunshine, we walked further along. On the right of us, tall, thick reeds covered the vast mere, giving sanctuary to the wildfowl and mysterious creatures that reside here. Only the occasional flash of wings, the sudden shake of reeds, the gulping sound of something in the water, and the unfamiliar calls of secret birds captivated our senses, making us acutely aware of this unseen world at our side.
On this fair day, we were amazed that no one else (not human, in any case) happened to be here, and we walked quite a way, lured further on by the temptation of what might be around the next corner.
There were several bird hides on this path, giving views through the reeds to small clearings, ponds, and waterways. A grey heron took flight, just a few feet away, and settled somewhere out of sight.
Further still, a series of small ponds, almost dried-up, lay in a hedge-lined meadow. Fen spotted a cute toad in the grass while black winged damselfly skimmed around the hawthorn.
There was something mysterious, almost disturbing, about this meadow, which played on my senses as I walked through it. Hemmed in on all sides by thickets and dwarf-like trees, I quickened my pace, and that inexplicable feeling soon passed with the strengthening sun.
We’ve since walked this route again. There’s always something different to experience especially as the season gathers pace. I wondered about the curious one-legged mistle thrush; a pre-occupied stoat; peacock butterflies sunbathing; a young hare testing its speed; and a reed bunting surveying the mere from the top of a slender tree.
Out there, upon the mysterious mere, amidst acres of reed beds, are untold tales. As I walked quietly by, and listened closely, those stories began whispering their secrets.
Lured by an enticing path just a short stroll away and a secret passage through a thicket, I find myself in a kind of Narnia.
From a bridge over the river, I see that way leads to way.
There are private roads flanked by large acres of farmland. Tractors occasionally travel along here kicking up clouds of dust. This expanse of land beneath the blue reminds me of the American mid-west. Soon this landscape will change as various crops emerge from the sun-stirred earth.
Stepping into the light, I’m on the dandelion-gold riverbank. No one else appears to walk here and although the path is richly green and seldom traversed, it’s a good, clean path.
There are herons and swans, and a pair of geese with their young currently sailing on the water.
The walk along the riverbank takes me to 7 acres of private woodlands. I have freedom to roam here to gather inspiration for my writing and, for this, I am filled with gratitude. It’s a magical place. I have yet to see the deer that live here although I’m certain they have already seen me.
At the end of this part of the riverbank, where the sluice meets the river, trees mark the boundary and offer shelter and shade. I can sit here for hours – days, perhaps – and not see a human soul.
I love it here. Having spent my childhood by the gentle curves of another river and exploring the once green pastures of land by my family’s blacksmith’s cottage, being here in the lands of my new writer’s nest immediately takes me back to that time and place before everything changed. This flash of recollection is significant. I feel I am again in a richly-natured place that enriches my soul. I have travelled the years and grown but I am the same essence and, more than ever, I am keenly aware of my soul’s light. Once more, I’m reminded that nature has a way of bringing us to our truth.
Life here answers to the elements, the rise and full of the sun, the moon’s cycles, and it all plays out in a glorious symphony.
I walk gently along this riverbank, listening to nature’s song, and gathering tales for future stories. Here, the world is very much awake.
April came and went in a flash. For most of the month, Fen and I were pre-occupied with preparations for our house move. Despite moving several times in the past few years and despite having little in the way of household paraphernalia to take with us, it was still an all-consuming mission. New roads awaited us though and soon we were on our way…
We moved into the little terrace barn conversion that is my new writer’s nest on the same day that the swallows arrived. We took this as a good omen and a kind of home-coming for them and us.
Here in rural West Lancashire, we are surrounded by fertile lands of meadows and meres, busy hedgerows and secret woods, and a rich store of inspiration that is already tantalising my senses.
Birds twitter and flutter at my window, the resident peacock preens himself under blossoming pear trees, and ghost owls watch over me in my moon-lit loft.
Less than thirty short strides away from my door, one of two fishing lakes glistens enticingly. There are stories here that run deep into the earth and all the trees, of which there are many species I’ve yet to become acquainted with, are already whispering their tales. In my heart, I know this: I will write my next novel here.
Also in my heart is the sense of being at home, at least for now, which I haven’t felt in a long, long time. We are renting from a truly lovely family – good-hearted folk whose roots to the land run through many generations. It feels like a privilege to be here, although I’m always where I’m meant to be.
Being in rural England (despite just a short crow’s flight away from town and coast) means that the mobile signal is poor and, as I write, the Openreach magicians have yet to find a way of providing a fixed internet connection. It could take another few weeks before this is resolved – or maybe never. Anyone would think I’ve moved to another dimension. Maybe I have. It certainly feels like a magical, timeless place.
As my chosen word for April was ‘surrender’, I have found I’ve been doing plenty of that – in this instance, surrendering to the fact that communication channels are currently a challenge here, which means I have to carefully schedule online time for my projects and commissions. Even this is proving to be a gift. I now have long spells of quiet time to contemplate, imagine, and write without the distraction of constantly being ‘plugged in’ online. It’s only when surrendering to ‘what is’ that these gifts are revealed, and I’m adapting gracefully to new ways of being and doing.
From my writer’s nest, I see swallows flying and swooping on their stealth-like wings and sparrows enjoying a dust bath in the yard. The apple trees are wearing their crowns of blossom. Whatever the weather, this will be a good season of my life.
~ * ~
I have a new focus word for May, which I’m sharing with the Magical Kinship through my newsletter along with book club choices and magical moments. Perhaps you’ll find something there for you…
A cheerful warmth greets me on this mid-April day: a warmth that dares me to walk bare-armed, bare-legged in eagerness to feel those life-giving rays. White skin, silver hair might blind any onlooker so I quicken my pace to retreat to the lonely lanes and long forgotten paths where birdsong is orchestral.
Woodland floors, sluice banks and hedges are quickly greening now, punctuated with swathes of gold – ageing daffodils and bright new dandelions and celandine.
The first of the bluebells are teased out by the strengthening sun and tree branches are filled with ripening buds.
Already, the dance of butterflies begins – peacocks, red admirals, gatekeepers, speckled wood – and hoverflies and bumblebees grow merry on the sweetness of this advancing spring, seeking out sunny glades.
Courting and nesting birds are too busy to notice my passing. There are goldfinch, greenfinch, and chaffinch all in the same stretch of hawthorn hedge. I follow a flock of long-tail tits who rest a wee while on tender branches and then take to the air again as soon as I catch them up.
A buzzard flies across a recently tilled field and seems to hover, kestrel-like, for just three flaps of its mottled wings. There was something magical about that.
There is still coolness in the stern coastal breeze but in the sheltered spots of greenery, the sun crawls upon my pale skin and brings much needed warmth after a long winter. I dared to ‘cast a clout’ and I’m now dreaming of summer.
I always feel ‘at home’ when I’m travelling. Despite the contradiction, my soul settles when I’m on the move. It’s when I feel the most present and alive and inspired.
I know why I prefer to travel than arrive. I know why this makes me the happiest. Travelling, whether by foot, car, train, bicycle or spaceship (why not?) equates to freedom and excitement. There is always the potential of something magical at every turn, and this is fine fuel for the imagination.
This need to be moving – travelling through the landscape (near or far) – is deeply innate. It probably goes some way to explaining my frequent house moves in recent years and this sense of never being totally settled in one place. I am content when I’m on my way, whether I happen to be on my way to somewhere or nowhere in particular.
I am a wandering star with a Romany heart. Haven’t I always known this? The roaming soul that I am is my natural state of being. Before I arrived on this planet, I have no doubt that I was wandering the cosmos with the freedom of a ghost bird.
As a child, I wandered for hours by the river and in the meadows close to the former blacksmith’s cottage that is my family’s home. Only the sound of my mother’s voice calling me in for dinner brought me back. Even then it was a reluctant return, despite the happy home and loving family that awaited me. My need to be on the move – exploring, dreaming, being – felt necessary for my well-being.
Even now, after prolonged, grounding stints of writing and project time, I become restless. Some aspect of my soul is always travelling. My imagination will take me beyond any wall; I can bi-locate quite freely… something we creative folks can do with relative ease. It’s not always enough though, and the irresistible art of travelling requires full and complete expression through body, mind and soul.
Looking way back, the prospect of a car journey with my dad was always a treat. This was an adventure on winter evenings when the world became a live picture book of moon-lit frosted land, running hares, narrow winding lanes, moth clouds, spooky trees, spookier owls… I was entranced by those small journeys, full of imagery and story, that took us wanderers from one village to another.
It is only in the past decade or so that I’ve realised how important travelling is to my creativity. While writing Light Weaver, for example, my ‘research trips’ were absolutely essential. The time I spent journeying and exploring the Lake District and the Cumbria / Lancashire borders offered sensory insights that found their way into the writing of that story, and I’m sure that is why I have such wonderful comments about the book. Perhaps, in some way, this novel re-connected my readers with their own free travelling soul.
In recent times, I’ve been experimenting with my camera while travelling (as a passenger I hasten to add).
The scenery and light is ever-changing and the resulting imagery is often semi-abstract, neither here or there, revealing glimpses of time-travel and the transience of the moment.
This creative experimentation is enriching my travels in unexpected ways. I find it endlessly fascinating and, at the heart of it all, I see it for what it is: a journey without end.
Fen and I travelled to Ulverston (again), South Cumbria in the last week of February, just a few days before the arrival of snow. Lunch at Gillam’s tearoom on Market Street was followed by a visit to Sutton’s Book Shop (a few doors up) to buy several nature-inspired books. What a treat!
The rest of the afternoon was without a plan and, sometimes, that is how we like it. By allowing space to explore, we often find unexpected treasure.
Way leads to way, as only way does, and we found ourselves at Conishead Priory on the Furness peninsula, which is home to the Manjushri Buddhist Centre. We’ve passed this place on many occasions, and yet this was our first visit. Neither of us subscribe to any religion or belief system, but we love the energy of good-hearts, honest creation, and guardians of nature, and this was abundantly evident at Conishead.
(Picture source: http://manjushri.org)
Though it was Friday afternoon, the priory was surprisingly busy. Great care has been invested into restoring this Gothic building, which was once a spa and convalescent home with a history said to date back to 1160.
Impressive as the building is, Fen and I were here for the 70 acres of beautiful gardens, arboretum, the pond and streams, and woods skirting the pebbled shore that overlooks Chapel Island and Morecambe Bay.
The path into the woods lured us in, greeting us with a gathering of snowdrops. Within moments, I fell under the spell of a mighty presence… is it a Cedar of Lebanon, a Deodar, Coastal Redwood, a Douglas Fir…? I’m not entirely sure, but I spent precious moments under the tree’s lofty boughs and evergreen-needled canopy.
The undulating ground, littered with cones, felt fertile and I was aware of the ever-reaching roots hidden deep beneath my feet. This tree, like all trees, has uncountable stories with the passing of time marked within its girth.
The day was dry and, surprisingly, so was the path. Sunlight appeared now and then, filling the woodland in a pale lemon glow, although the sky was mostly muffled in a swathe of cloud.
We took the much-trodden path to the shore, which was guarded by crows.
A curious robin flew along with us for a while although he was too flighty to pause for a photo.
As we approached the entrance to the shore, the temperature dropped considerably.
A bitter wind played on the waves, and the iced air tinted our pale exposed skin.
William Wordsworth, describing the view of Chapel island across from Conishead, said, ‘As I advanced, all that I saw and felt was gentleness and peace’.
I imagined the gentleness… on a calm, summer’s day, but the oncoming of a Siberian storm was already bringing an uncomfortable rawness to the air. Winter is not yet over despite the murmur of spring.
We explored the pebbled beach but only for a short time before we retreated to the shelter of the woods.
Here, the marcescence of gold-brown leaves clung to their branches, shivering in the breeze.
After a quick visit to the priory shop for organic treats, we found our way to the lake, which held a mirror to the sky.
Here, we entered the garden where pools and streams enlivened the senses.
It felt warmer here in the late afternoon sun and we paused for a while to reflect upon the moment.
Souls replenished and hearts filled with gratitude, we left Conishead Priory, imagining how these gardens and woodland will bloom in the weeks to come. ‘Let’s return in the summer’, we both smiled, shivering like those last clinging leaves as we planted our wish.