Tuesday 3 May 2011

A May Day Weekend

These past three weeks have been idyllic for the children. The school holidays have passed in a hazy blur of sun-stretched days and lingering, smoke scented evenings.

We have spent hours traipsing through the gorse and heather with the ponies, or perched on sun baked rocks, dipping our toes in the icy river.

Evenings spent laughing beside an open fire, eating half charred sausages, washed down with red wine and the last of the elderflower champagne, or simply lying silently on the hill to watch the sun sink behind the ancient granite backbone of Dartmoor.
I envy the children their simplicity. I wish that I could remain with them inside this perfect bubble, shielded from the tangled emotions of grief and anger which I am struggling to lay to rest at the moment.
Instead I hover between these two worlds in the final days of spring, feeling as if I am in transition. It is hard to remember that the year is still young, the wheel is only just turning to summer.

Today dawns hot and still, and the sky feels heavy, as if it is pressing down on us.The wind - dried, sun bleached moors beneath our feet, are finally springing to life, as tightly curled bracken fronds erupt from the dry earth. The close cropped turf is soft, and muffles the ponies unshod hooves, and we leave no trace on this thirsty land. Thick clouds of black mayflies fill the air, slow and ponderous, legs dangling clumsily beneath them, drifting lazily in the shimmering air.
Even the children are silent, disinclined to find themselves with a mouthful of mayfly, and save for the rhythmic creak of old leather saddles and the chinking of bridles as ponies toss their heads, there is not a sound.
And yet, in this oppressive silence, senses feel heightened. Bees drone, and the air quivers around us. The owl daughter comments that the distant tors look as if they are hovering over a pan of boiling water, and she is right. I can see, and feel, and hear the air vibrating around us. It is as if we are caught in a bubble, disconnected from the world beyond, a little pocket of space and time, waiting for something to happen.

As we reach the crest of the hill, a pair of Ravens circle lazily overhead, and from the hollow beneath the rocks a fox breaks cover. It pauses to stare at us, and then trots urgently on across the hill. Not scared, but as if it has business to attend to. And there we stand, four riders on the beacon, as the first clap of thunder comes.

Instead of releasing the tension, it increases it - ponies and children are nervous and jittery , and we break from the hilltop and fly for home, down the steep and overgrown hillside, prancing and skittering on the stony sheep paths. The sky is dark and heavy, and the thunder rumbles around us, never quite overhead, promising rain, but not delivering it.
Home safe, we all still feel the pull of the storm, the excitement and fear, the portentousness of the day. It is a public holiday, a day of celebration, a prince's wedding day. In our small village we have a choice of two ways to spend the evening. In the village hall, an anarchic punk band and a joyful gypsy/Klezmer band are playing, an antidote to the solemnity of the day. This sounds tempting, but realistically, we have a handful of extra children, and at the tail end of the month my purse is empty, so we choose the other option. Astoundingly, the parish council has decided to light the beacon tonight, in honour of the Royal Wedding. Of course, in these modern times, village officials wouldn't dream of celebrating the pagan Beltaine, but in a strange echo of years past, a huge bonfire has been built on the ancient beacon above our village, that same beacon that we had ridden over earlier in the day. In the dusk people made their way up the steep hill in ones and twos, a small gathering of people from the village below and the surrounding farms, who had walked across the hills in the gloom. And the fire was lit, there on the beacon, as it must have been lit hundreds of times before. To celebrate in times of peace, and as a warning in times of trouble. There is something so very primal about fire, and this one, this great beacon glowing across the moors, was wild, and celebratory, and a fitting climax to an expectant day.


Valerianna said...

A beautiful post, Danielle. I was feeling scattered with much on my plate this week, but, truly, your writing has helped to ground me tonight, thanks. I could hear the leather and metal bridals creaking and the sound of hoofs on stony paths... Cool to hear that there was a bonfire, I wonder if the ancestors joined the revelry? Happy May!

A mermaid in the attic said...

Wonderful Danielle. I love the Bonfire, and the fact that it was lit in time for Beltaine. I wish we had such links to our ancestral past here, but I think when people cross oceans to new countries, they leave much more than friends and relatives behind. We have nothing that begins to compare with the May Day celebrations I've been reading about over the last few days, and it tugs deeply at me, as if it's a missing part I didn't even know was missing. I hope whatever is causing you pain resolves soon. And I just wanted to add that Mum and Dad did get to Chagford, briefly after all the worry of dad being sick. They couldn't stop long, but they had lunch in the courtyard cafe and Mum loved your animal paintings!

Virginia said...

I'm sorry you're coping with such deep and dark emotions - I hope there's resolution, or better still peace, for you soon. Glad the children have had a good holiday, and they all seems so confident on their ponies.

Best wishes


Bovey Belle said...

How magical. I didn't want your post to stop. I have been down to Dorset and Hampshire, so had my share of wonderful moorland, but Dartmoor still calls. The bonfire sounds like it gave a real echo of the past . . .

I hope your worries and tangled emotions are soon resolved.

Freyalyn said...

I have actually come out in goosebumps when you described how the beacon burned. (Robert Graves described it so well as the touch of the goddess). Have you had rain yet?

Kath said...

Such atmosphere in this post, at times it sent prickles up my spine. Happy belated Beltane.

Danielle Barlow said...

Valerianna - Thankyou :) I'm sure the ancestors were there - I am half convinced they were there on the hill earlier, waiting for the fire.

Christina - I'm glad your parents made it! Maybe the links are still lingering there - I have just finished reading Neil Gaimans 'American Gods', and I love the idea that every immigrant took their own gods with them when they crossed the ocean, carried in their ancestral conciousness, and these lost and abandoned Gods are still to be found there.

Thankyou Virginia - peace is slowly finding it's way back :)

Bovey Belle - Aaah, these moors, they have such a strong pull :)

Freyalyn and Kath - I'm glad it gave you goosebumps, and that I managed to capture that feeling - that is exactly how it made me feel. We have had only a teaser of rain so far - the springs are exceptionally low on the farm .

Windsongs and Wordhoards said...

Hi Danielle,
It looks like the children had a wonderful Easter holidays, glad you all made the most of it.
I too loved your decription of the gathering atmosphere of the thunder, I just love the elemental drama of nature.
The Beacon must have felt amazing to be near, a real link to the ancestral past to think of how many had stood there before in another age, in another heartbeat..
Wishing you peace and a swift passing of troubles...
Carrie :)

Gail H. Ragsdale said...

A lovely post Danielle. You are an artist with words as well as watercolors!

Wishing you peace as well as a very belated Beltane~

Blackfeatherfarm said...

A lovely haunting post... hope all is well with you...congratulations on your exhibition, Your works looked wonderful !!!

Jennifer said...

What a beautiful post! There certainly are some beautiful places to ride there. Loved the pictures, though it makes me miss having a horse of my own.


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