‘We think that we imagine the land, but perhaps the land imagines us, and in its imaginings it shapes us. The exterior landscape interacts with our interior landscape, and in the resulting entanglements, we become something more than we otherwise could ever hope to be.’
from The Enchanted Life, by Sharon Blackie
Places call to us; what a sadness that so few of us remember how to listen for that call. Sometimes, places want to claim us for their own. ‘This one is mine,’ they say – and who knows what it is in us that they recognise. They do whatever they can to make themselves heard through the chatter that’s always going on inside our heads, or to break through the barriers we so carefully construct which prevent us from believing that our bodies are part of this Earth at all. They scatter synchronicities like a trail of breadcrumbs, waiting for the veil to lift from our eyes. Places call to us; places are alive. Places thrive on relationship. They don’t care where you came from; they only care that you’re here.
In all the places where I’ve lived fully – conscious there of my relationship with the land – there’s been a particular part of it which has reached out to me. And because I’ve been listening, we’ve recognised each other. Here in Connemara, surrounded as I am by wild beauty, spoiled for choice with so many secret places in the mountains and woods and lochs, such a special place has found me.
I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s a hawthorn grove, tucked into a sheltered hollow on the shore of a loch to which no-one much ever finds their way. It’s not an easy place to get to, even when you know it’s there. The slopes above those trees constitute seriously wet bog, and the lochside itself seems impassable in places. More often that not, you’ll end up with a bootful of water somewhere along the journey. It’s the kind of place you only discover by living in it; by tracing the shifting edges of that loch from season to season and day to day – till one fine hour, the path finally reveals itself and shows you the way. Never the first time; you can’t just blunder in. You’re required to work for the privilege. You have to apprentice yourself to the land before it will show you the finest and brightest of its secrets.
But here I am, and it seems to be my place. Here it is last year, in all its end-of-May glory:
A hawthorn grove – of course! The archetypically Irish fairy tree. I will never, I promise you, take a stick out of this place. (An Ulster story tells of a woman who gathered fallen branches from under a fairy thorn to feed the fire. As soon as she threw the twigs onto the hearth, the farm’s finest red cow fell down as if dead. When she gathered them up and returned them to their place beneath the tree, the cow recovered.)
These are old hawthorns, rooted in rock, covered in a soft spring coat of lichen. Listen – can you hear the music sweeping out across the loch, late at night?
But there’s another fine magic here: magic of the human kind. An old stone dwelling, walls fallen now, but high enough to provide shelter still from all but a cold north wind:
The little house comes with its own portal to the Otherworld:
When I sit inside, here is my view:
I’ll take nothing with me from this place today, I said this morning, unless it’s a feather or a bone.
Synchronicities like a trail of breadcrumbs, but the veil has long been lifted from my eyes. A swan feather in the middle of my path. Shapeshifting, liminal bird – always, in this place, just passing through. When the whoopers come, I think of them flying north: north to Lewis, the island at the edge of the world where once I lived next to another loch which hosted them for a day or two en route. From loch to loch; from one place which claimed me decades ago, to the only other place that ever has – swan connecting the two.
So here I stand again, eyes wide open; this time in a grove of fairy trees. Another teaching place; another place in which to explore the land’s Dreaming. Dreaming of heron, and of swan; dreaming of otter and salmon and trout. Dreaming of stag on the moor above, and crow in the wood across the loch. Dreaming of fox who slips through the garden at night, and badger who meets us sometimes, unexpected, at the gate. Dreaming of hare in the stone-clad fields; dreaming of boulder and rock. Dreaming of the hills to the east and the great mother mountains to the north; dreaming of the sea to the south, and the blessed isles to the west. Dreaming on, and always dreaming deep.
‘So, here I am: not really a line but a meshwork of places. A unique web of placeworlds lives in me – informing, creating, teaching, as I’ve walked my own Dreaming onto the land.’
from The Enchanted Life, by Sharon Blackie