Cormorants in the Cauldron

The cauldron formed by Municipal Pier in San Francisco
Aquatic Park, San Francisco

I work in a poisoned Cauldron, filled with plastic and wicked currents that take you far from where you thought you were going if you’re not careful. It was made from government money and the visions of the artists of the 1930s, who walked off the job when they found out their work was going to be used for private gain rather than be open to the general public.

Morfran Afgaddu might have felt the same when he found out that a young boy named Gwion had been conscripted to do the work that was to create the Awen his mother Cerridwen was brewing for him. Did she ask him if he wanted such power? Did he have a choice, did he participate in any way in the task of creating that brew? If he did, the Tale does not record this. Was he ready to receive what had been brewed for him when the Cauldron gave up its power? Did Gwion push Morfran aside to steal the Awen, or was it an accident? It was meant for the one who stirred the Cauldron, regardless. You can put a lot of learning into a year of stirring, after all.

Would you like to go on a boat ride with me, the oars stirring the Cauldron as we see where the current takes us? I am a sailor, after all, I have spent long hours with time and tide in this lagoon. Morfran lives here in the cormorants who dive deeply when they feel your eyes upon them, in the yearly round of tern and grebe and the starlings who are briefly here. Would you like to float in the Coracle and see what wisdom comes to us?

I’m here, of my own free will, trapped upon a spear planted in the mud of the lagoon. Held here by the love I bear for the Ladies in this Sanctuary. I am a link in the chain, keeping the ships alive by the work that I do and my eyes that see what ails them and does what is needful. I’m here because my parents took it in their minds and hearts to come here. My tenancy is less than a generation deep, but I am here where I belong, where I was meant to be. Was I Called, and did not know it? Were they?

This land, Cascadia, was meant to be made of Salmon, the fish of knowledge, who swims in the Well of Segais, who snaps the nut from the hazel, discarding the husk and keeping the kernel. Cascadia is kin to Albion and Ireland, connected by Salmon, by the Land, so similar, yet so different. I have stood on the shore in both lands, looking westward out to Sea. The Celts went ever Westward, and so my ancestors, Northern Europeans of many countries, came westward until we fetched up here, on the Shores of the Western Sea, where Land, Sky, and Sea meet, where it is said that poetry is born.  The Salmon run is a shadow of itself now, the fishermen lying idle, their boats growing old as they lie in harbor, waiting for a season that is cancelled, the quota too small to put diesel in their tanks. Stan Rogers sang it, he heard an old song down on Fishermans Wharf. The last schooner lies done in the harbor sun, with her picture on a dime. Gewgaws and gimcracks replace the fish, the crab, the sailors. You can get a shot glass with a picture of Alcatraz, but the crab come from Washington State, if you’re lucky.

Afgaddu is still here, though. The cormorants dive in the harbor. Gorse is the wood of the cormorant, Onn, sole of the foot, the Wheel. The journey is there to be taken. The speckled wood of the ogham fid is in the waves that brush the shore and Afgaddu became a warrior, his ugliness no barrier to the warriors who followed him. His Awen was inside himself no matter what his mother thought. He knew himself and dove deep till the drama was done, and then became himself, a fearsome force. The black bird floating upon the wave, taking his prey. I have stirred Cerridwen’s Cauldron for a year. I have stirred the Cauldron of my work for more than nine. I work in a poisoned Cauldron, but I know I am part of the healing.

Tam Lin

Ballads were the movies, newspapers, and classrooms of their time. Easy to remember and self contained, they could be taken anywhere and brought to life with nothing more than a single voice. They passed from singer to singer, carried on the breath, and some of them have endured to the present time, long after they ceased to be a central carrier of knowledge. We haveFrancis James Child to thank for the fact that so many of them, in so many different forms, have made it to us. This version of Tam Lin was assembled from his collection.

Deeply magical and Pagan to the core, this ballad is one of my favorites. Janet is definitely a blood red rose. She isn’t afraid to go wander the forest alone, and she isn’t afraid of what she finds there. She went looking for Tam Lin, wanting to see for herself what the fuss was about. The story is a fantasy, couched in the language of myth, where Beauty rescues the Prince, for once. She chooses her own path throughout, and at the end of the tale, we still don’t know what shape her life will take when we leave her with Tam Lin in her arms, newly taken from the Queen of Faerie herself. That is another Tale, after all.

You never know what you’ll find wandering in a wild place. Very few of us have an adventure as dramatic as Janet did, no matter what the news would have us believe, but wandering does change us. It doesn’t have to be done in a forest, or even in a physical location of any kind. A gathering where we know no one, a library’s shelves, or our own imaginations will take us to the unexpected.

Even wandering in our own neighborhood can be rewarding. If nothing else, we’ll have a deeper knowledge of the place we live in and a stronger connection to it. Something as simple as knowing where the blackberries grow and not being afraid to taste their sweetness is an adventure available to all of us. Even here in the heart of Oakland I can find them. How many of us know where the city parks are, and go to them?

Where do you wander? What adventures do you have?

Next Stop: Robert Burns

Blood Red Roses

Amazing just how tiring standing in front of a mic laying down tracks can be. No, it’s not an album yet, but it will be soon. Blood Red Roses is the title track, and it kind of encapsulates the album. You know who your mother was, and your grandmother, but how about your great-grandmother? How about female ancestors from farther back? Why is this? Why does the line of blood go through the father alone? These are things we don’t often think about, let alone talk about, and when we do, the conversations usually generate more heat and noise than light.

This song takes the long view. It goes all the way from the Paleolithic to the present. It just struck me one day that the earliest sculptures of humans yet found are of women–and they are faceless. When we finally saw our planet–the organism we are all part of, it, too, is of course faceless. We will never truly know what those first artists were thinking, but for me, living at the time when we first saw our planet as a whole, those two images are linked. Were the carvers thinking of deity? Of all women? Or something else entirely? Those images are all found in Eurasia, another fact the significance of which we don’t know and may never know. The mystery is a gift in and of itself. We are not all-knowing, and right now, I think we can use a reminder of that fact. It might make us think before we act, and see what we can learn in the process. That’s what humans do, after all, when we’re at our best.

This song started life as a sea chantey, also called Blood Red Roses.

The next track on the album is also a pan-European story, that comes to us by way of Wales. It’s the tale of Blodeuedd, and I posted it here.

Next time: Moving forward in time our next stop is the ballad of Tam Lin.

Flower Face and the Owl

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Transformation can be tough.

The way Blodeuedd was treated in myth has always bothered me. Created specifically to be a wife to a boy who was also in a sense created without consent, I saw her as more slave than woman. I hated the magician Gwydion for his lack of awareness and for using his power to create playthings for the amusement of himself and his cronies without a thought for their desires and their basic rights.

This song came out of he time I spent meditating on Blodeuedd and asking her what her side of the story was. I wrote it years ago, but was unable to finish it until I went to my first Druid Camp, Anderida Gorsedd, which revolved around the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. There I met Kristoffer Hughes, who was not only kind enough to teach me how to say the names in the story as close to properly as an American can manage, he deepened my understanding of the story to the point where I understood what Blodeuedd had been telling me. And why Gwydion couldn’t be anyone but who he was.

Only part of one verse had to be changed, in the end. The story I was told had been very simple, only Blodeuedd’s creation and her return to where she had come from. It was complete in itself, as she is. When I had asked for the story of her life with Lleu several times, as I considered it the meat of the story, she sang me her answer:

You silly little mortal,
I decide the tale I tell,
I decide the shape of it,
This time it’s mine!

I had to leave it at that, and I did, until last Fall.

One of the things I didn’t understand about the Fourth Branch was that it is all about impulsive action. No one in the story is blameless. Everyone does something dumb, and while everyone ultimately pays for it, they are also transformed into more than they would have been otherwise. Did they learn their lessons? As well as any of us do, I suppose. The story leaves that question to the individuals involved, where it truly belongs.

We Each Have Two Small Hands

It rained yesterday. Chance of rain again next week. The salmon wait, the trees are not growing green tips this year. The land lies dry beneath the winter sun. I walked to the bus yesterday morning and a neighbor was washing down the sidewalk in front of his house. Drawing from the dry well.

We did this. We can undo it. Park the car, sweep the sidewalk, walk to the store. Plant a lettuce box, look up at the stars. Let the song of creation sing through you. Your every action changes the world. Is it part of the problem, or part of the solution? Your every action matters, especially now.

Yesterday I walked home from the bus and smelled a freshly manured front yard, a newly planted cypress next to the fence. As I passed the corner of East 22nd St., I thanked the sleeping gingko for its gift of fallen leaves. Some fell on the waiting earth, on their journey to become new soil.

We go out in the hills and do magic, then we go back to the trailhead and get into our solitary cars. We rejoice that we “called the rain” if it rains, and then get on with our lives. Magic alone won’t do it. “Wish in one hand and piss in the other,” as my mother used to say, “and see which one gets fuller faster.”

There are, however, plenty of things that can be done, and are in fact being done. I’ll start close to my home in the United States and work out. Your circle will be different, it is important that you find its shape, know your place in the world.

The Arbor Day Foundation has an excellent volunteer page. I used it to find an opportunity near me, as a matter of fact. I had some pretty specific requirements, which they managed to meet. I work supervising volunteers myself, which means that Saturday workdays are out. I also don’t own a car any more, so the opportunity has to be bikeable. They delivered. The ride will be two miles uphill, but the ride down at the end of the day should be magnificent. It will also introduce me to another wild area that’s bikeable from my house. Working in tune with the planet can be both fun and useful. My bicycle has given me great legs, after all. What are your requirements? This site might just be able to meet them.

In Wales, the Anglesey Druid Order is restoring Cae Braint. This former nature attraction is becoming a true nature reserve that will benefit wildlife, the local community, and provide a sacred home for the Order.

In India, one of the most ambitious planting programs of all is happening. Project Green Hands aims to reforest Tamil Nadu. To date, 1.5 million volunteers have planted, and are caring for, over 17 million saplings. MILLIONS. That is the true power of our two small hands.

You can volunteer for these programs and many others. You can donate money to them. And that is only the beginning. We, collectively, have grown to be the power in this world. We are responsible for the state the world is in. Such a blessing that is! Unlike the Ice Ages, and the mass extinctions of the past, we have the power to change what is going on. If we change ourselves, we literally change the world. Our problems are largely problems of awareness.

We each have two small hands, what will you do with yours today?

NEXT:
We are the awareness shining out of Gaia’s eyes.

Scathach’s Hall

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Only ruins stand today before our modern eyes
Green the grass within the wall
No more the music in her hall
Long ago the warrior’s fall
Or does our vision and our vaunted knowledge tell us lies?

Where’s the warrior to be found who ran her fabled school
Only those with ears to hear
Within her hall the music clear
Her name that struck the world with fear
Has left behind this castle for the wind and wave to rule

We children of the modern age are sure we know it all
For those who see the shape of things
Within her hall the fili sings
And warriors laugh and harpstring rings
And time is no true barrier to stand in Scathach’s hall

The Great God Sam Hain

Silliness ahead, Use Only As Directed. No resemblance to most Realities Intended:

I have a yearly visit from the Lord of the Dead, the Great God Sam Hain. His first visitation came one year when I was surfing the web on Samhain with some fellow Pagans. Once again, the twisted tale of the Scary (nonexistent) Celtic God Samhain, Lord of the Dead, was being presented by the equally twisted and fanatical followers of a minor desert deity. All the little kids were being initiated unwittingly into his Evil Cult by participating in the costumery and by trick or treating. Funny how they seize on that. For me, that door to door procession is the heart of the ritual.

The beginning of the dark half of the year *is* a scary time. Peering through the thinning veil is not a task to be undertaken without courage. Many things walk the night then, and this is why the Celts kept to their houses that night. The kids who trick or treat don’t realize that they are unwitting messengers of the Gods. You never know what you might open your door to on Samhain, so be kind.

That year, while we were indulging in our yearly dose of gallows humor, I felt myself filled with a Presence.

The Great God Sam Hain spoke through me, and to me. He Revealed His True Nature. He does indeed wait, up in the sky, snaring unwary Evangelical Christians, Enslaving them to his Wicked Will. He brings them to his throne by a very simple means.

Breakfast sausage.

Yes, you heard me correctly.

After all, what will kill you quicker than a regular diet of greasy, cholesterol laden food? And what meal is the greasiest of all? Those of you who throng to the Bob Evanses of the world, who feast on Farmer John’s bounty of a Sunday morning, you Know Who You Are!

The Sausage Avatars sit at a great poker table in the sky with Sam Hain. They game for souls, using the Sacred Grease-Proof Cards and Sausage Patty Chips. Their names are many:

Bob Evans
Jimmy Dean
Farmer John
John Morrell

Those who follow the Way of Grease, who pack the Denny’s and the Carrows of the world, who serve great and heaping plates of eggs and bacon, who eat sausage gravy at every meal, yea, and Chicken Fried Steak are Pleasing in Lord Sam Hain’s eyes. When they come to him, to become spirits who walk the world when the Veil is thin, then will come their test. Will they continue to see things in limited terms of good and evil, or will they see themselves at last as part of the Dance?

Time will tell, for we all must Dance eventually, from Beggars to Kings.

Five Thousand Years in Fifteen Minutes

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There wasn’t enough time. There was no real choice either. Fifteen minutes with twenty-plus people, or nothing at all. That is the only way you can see Newgrange. It was still amazing. All 5,000 years of history were right on top of me as I stood in that chamber. After it was over, I realized I’d missed the most famous spiral, so quickly had we been herded down the passage. It made me appreciate my experience at Calanais all the more.

I took a cab from Drogheda to Newgrange Lodge, I had just missed the last bus. I got a mercenary of a cab driver, but he was great other than the naked avarice. He was on two different cell phones and two radios the whole ride, and he gave me a business card and told me to call him when I wanted to go. I smiled and said thanks, I would, but had no intention of doing so. I knew there was a perfectly good bus to be had every afternoon.

Newgrange Lodge was beautiful. It was a converted stone house and looked nice enough to be a hotel, which I thought it was. I had booked a camping pitch, but when I found out it was really a hostel I decided to give myself a present. It was threatening rain, and for ten Euros more I could have a bed. I ended up with a private ten bedroom dorm with an en suite bathroom for 18 Euros. No laundry, ehh wi fi, and the equivalent of a polite Basil Fawlty for an innkeeper, but quite nice all the same.

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I went down the road to check out the visitor center at 7 AM, just to find out what to expect. Basil Fawlty was no help, he had never been there, believe it or not. The place was of course locked and silent, but the signboards told me everything I needed to know. A tiny little trail leading off the main path in gave me my first view of the tomb.

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I never did find out if the stage management at that place is deliberate, but I have to say I was impressed. Both Navan Fort and Newgrange have planted a little forest of birch, alder, holly and hazel around their visitor centers and run paths through them. It’s very beautiful and very effective. Ogham trees all, though that probably has little or nothing to do with it. At Newgrange the effect is, if you miss the tiny little trail and the outlook at the end, there’s no way to see the tomb from the visitor center. Unless you go see the 7 minute movie, that is. It explains the whole Solstice alignment and goes into a lot of frankly fabricated ideas of how Neolithic peoples thought that if they didn’t see the shortest day of the year they thought the cold and dark would go on forever. They marked it, surely. But what they thought about it we will never know. After the movie, you exit through a pretty nicely done mockup of the central passage that goes uphill to a viewing platform at the top of the visitor center. That is the only place you can see the tomb from. The effect is, when you do see the tomb it is like the entrance of the diva. It’s really effective and I can’t believe it wasn’t planned.

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It was raining when we got to Knowth. I was very glad once again of my tincloth. The guide did the whole tour from inside a small chamber built next to one side of the passage inside the mound. Knowth is even more interesting than Newgrange. I heartily regret not buying the book on it. Knowth was built last and is more sophisticated, but it is also more heavily damaged and you can’t go inside. The mound was converted to a ringfort after Christianity arrived and was ditched and had souterrains (passages for storing food and hiding in) built in it during that period, as well as houses built on top of it. We wandered around a little bit after the tour, but it was raining pretty hard.

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Newgrange was just as wet, but I was in the first group to get inside as I’d arrived so early.

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The tourguides are really good, they know their material very well. Correctly, once again, like at Calanais, they told us that the people who built the tombs were not Celts or Druids, they were Neolithic peoples. They didn’t tell us why these people built the place, just that they had. It is a mystery for now, and by acknowledging that, we leave room for the answer to come someday. All I know, or need to, is that the span of time is great indeed. We have as humans lived long enough to have forgotten some things totally. And those peoples were wise indeed. 5,000 years and a drystone corbeled roof is still in place and *doesn’t leak!* I can’t keep a twenty year old deck from leaking without constant maintenance! My roof is good for thirty years. These people built a passage that is still sound, covered over with tons of earth and is still stable and focusing a narrow beam of sunlight once a year after five millennia. There are no words.

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The rain stopped just before we left the tomb.

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Crows and ravens were everywhere. They were magnificent, but just birds again. I think Scathach was messing with my mind, seeing what shadows she could cast.

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The afternoon bus didn’t show up. I had to call Paddy, the Mercenary Cabbie. I was in Dublin by early evening.

More photos at my website

Stones In The Mist

ImageIt was raining when the ferry reached Stornoway. It’s Scotland, I didn’t expect any different. Grace was swathed in tincloth, I was likewise. I didn’t have a hostel reservation, because I’d planned on going straight to the stones, and then to Tarbert to catch the morning ferry to Uig.

I expected the hostel in Tarbert to be a bit of an adventure. It was also a fairly important link in the trip. There are two ferries per day to Uig. One at 7 AM, the other in the late afternoon. The problem is, getting hold of the proprietors of the place is a real challenge. Every email address I was able to locate bounced, and the review I found online had a very entertaining story, the upshot of which was, call them a day or two in advance and if all else fails, knock on the door. You may or may not get in. I’d gotten hold of the owners the night before in Inverness and they’d informed me that the place was closed.

When the ferry docked, I headed straight to the Heb Hostel, the only one listed for Stornoway. It was full, but the person who answered the door was friendly and told me that there was another hostel in town, as well as the location of the tourist information center. I couldn’t find the hostel from the directions, so that was the next stop.

Every tourist information center I visited in Scotland was beyond helpful.They knew where almost everything was, and what they didn’t know they were pretty efficient at locating. They sold great maps, along with souvenirs ranging from truly tacky to downright beautiful. The woman behind the counter was helping another traveler in the same predicament I was in, and by the time she was done I’d seen everything in the shop several times over. Good service takes a bit of time and I was on vacation after all. I was soon on my way with a map marked with the spot. The hostel was not marked, the door was locked and the phone number on the door wasn’t being answered, but eventually one of us got in, and the few of us with patience followed. The proprietress had had no cell service in the Tesco’s.

The hostel still has no name, at least not one I know, but it was almost the best place I stayed on the entire trip. It was brand new, and run by a couple. I only saw him for a minute or two, but she was the spirit of hospitality. She started by giving us all free run of the kitchen. There was a fridge stocked with food, proper pots and pans, and best of all, tea and sugar. The wi fi only worked in the kitchen as it turned out, but the kitchen was the heart of the hostel. Later in the evening, I came back to find her in her PJs doing the family dishes. It was their main kitchen as well. She found out I hadn’t eaten yet in the course of our conversation, by then we’d both come out of the broom closet, so to speak and she offered to cook me dinner, which I would not allow. She was on her way to bed, the kitchen was full of food, and I was feeling better cared for than I had since Anderida camp. If I ever go back to Stornoway, that place will be my first stop if it still exists. Stornoway, by the way, is a really nice town, big enough to be interesting, small enough to be friendly.

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But you were expecting to hear about Calanais, right? You’re about to, but you can’t separate the place from the people and the people of Lewis were wondrous indeed. I’d missed the last bus to the stones finding a place to sleep, so I got on the first bus in the morning with a fellow traveler from the hostel. The ride was misty and wonderful. The visitor center was still closed so we went straight to the stones. The mist got thicker the longer we stayed, and quite soon I had the place to myself in a light rain that only made the weight of ages close in further.

The quiet was immense. It was more than just the usual quiet misty rain brings. The gray of the sky set off the gray of the stones, and the green of the grass, just as it does in my home on the shores of the Western Sea. It was so similar, yet so different. There were no trees, but the green of the moss and of the grass more than made up for it.

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I could see the shape of the land to where it disappeared into mist, and the bare bones of the rocks where they broke through on the hilltops. The rain ran off my duster and my sou’wester, its soft dripping the only sound there was, or could be.  

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I walked slowly around the perimeter of the stones, and set my back against the farthest one, where I was sheltered from the wind and could look up the long avenue of irregular rocks. No, the stones didn’t speak to me, not as such, but the quiet slowly seeped into me and I came to know that we humans didn’t know any more what these stones had meant to the people who raised them, and we didn’t need to. The keys to this place have been lost, at least for now. It really doesn’t matter because it served its purpose for the people who built it, and it is impressive enough to us to make us act to preserve it. Like any great work of art, its existence is enough.

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Eventually I walked up the avenue and into the stones. I felt as if I had all the time in the world, and for that moment, I did. I sang the song I had brought to the stones. Giant, by Stan Rogers. I did it without the drum, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell it would have been playable in that weather. It didn’t matter, all that was necessary was that I did it.

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By then, the rain had stopped and people were beginning to filter back up to the stones. When a large tour group showed up, I went down to the visitor center and learned enough to make me very curious about what was going on in Britain and Ireland 5,000 years ago. These people were not Celts, though their blood of course runs in our veins still. They seem to have done things in a much more egalitarian way, as perhaps the people of Stonehenge did too, in the same period. There’s a very interesting Nova episode that can be watched online about the alignment of Stonehenge with the solstices, and another nearby site called Durrington Walls. Calanais may have had a lunar alignment.

This strand properly should lead through Newgrange as well, the same immensity of time draws those places together for me, but I will give that tale its own space.

 

The Shadow of Dun Scaith

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The closer I got to Skye, the more I realized how much I was dreading this part of the trip. Sure, it was a long walk to what would probably turn out to be nothing, but surely a pile of rocks and a rainstorm weren’t that scary.

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I saw my first hooded crow as I got off the ferry in Stornoway. I didn’t know what the creature was. It hopped like a crow, it was shaped like one,  but a gray-bodied crow? Crows and ravens had been scaring the pants off my partner and I since before I left for the trip, and sure enough, once again there were three hooded crows, not two, or five. We found out a day or so before I left that both of us had been keeping our mouths shut about this fact, so as not to scare the other. Once again, I told the Morrigan that if she wanted me, she would have me, but I hoped to make it home.

Two mornings after I was walking around Portree on Skye at a ridiculous hour of the morning. I had tea at the only place open, where the people who actually made the town run got theirs, and pulled Grace around town checking out what would be open when and when the buses ran. When the tourist center opened I went in and asked about Dun Scaith. The woman behind the desk didn’t have a clue about where I was talking about, but she knew the island and was more than willing to look things up. Every tourist info center in Scotland was like this, by the way. I am turning over a new leaf and hope to be as helpful when I get back to work in San Francisco. The upshot was, she thought I was a little nuts, but hid it well and wished me luck. She told me to tell the bus driver to let me off at the road to Ord, and the walk would be a little shorter. Drivers on the islands will let you off and pick you up almost anywhere they pass by, which was a blessing indeed.

I ended up standing on the road to Ord at about 10:30, thinking that this was another fine mess I’d gotten myself into. I went through my pack for some trail mix and came across a camping meal I’d been given back at Anderida camp. Beanies and weenies. I ate it all, even though I didn’t particularly want it, knowing I needed the fuel and blessing the wondrous soul who’d given it to me. I repacked Grace and pulled out my little flashing light to attach to the trailer. The mist was closing in and the road to Ord was one lane wide. I kept my ears open and was ready to leap to the side at any minute. I remember telling Scathach I was coming to see her, knowing that was a little nuts, but also knowing on some level that it was only manners. I also gave myself permission to take a ride if it was offered. I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was willing…

The first car that passed me stopped, backed up, and offered me a ride. They were holidaymakers, just like me, and I climbed in back with their baby girl, who got over her fear of the stranger in about two seconds. We proceeded to have a lovely drive up the road to Ord. They drove me literally to Dun Scaith. They didn’t know where it was, and didn’t mean to do so, but on one of our numerous stops to see the gorgeous scenery there it was. They didn’t want to come across the field of sheep with me, which was probably wise, and a blessing on them and their house for being my magic bus.

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I manhandled Grace across the sheep field. There were a couple of signs pointing the way to “the castle,” but they were just signs the landowner had put up. When I couldn’t drag her any farther I left Grace beside the path, her rain cover firmly in place. Good thing. The mist got heavier and heavier. I got to the castle, and even took a few pics before the rain started, and with it the wind. OK, I thought, the rain has been off and on since I got here and it has always cleared in about twenty minutes. The bridge had been the first thing I investigated, and, how appropriate, the bottom had fallen out of it. A salmon leap was needed. I tucked myself into a corner of the bridge, out of the rain and almost dry, and waited. And waited.

After a bit, I put myself in a meditative state. Seemed the thing to do. After a bit, I started to hear music, tunes I had never heard before. I admit that for a moment I was crazy with the knowledge that it was too wet to pull out my iPad and try to sing them into the device, but I got over it and just listened. Maybe I was nuts, maybe I wasn’t, but Scathach asked me my business, and asked me for the songs I’d written that would go next to hers. I gave her a song, then another. She invited me in. I tried, but I couldn’t find a way up the hillside that would’t result in a broken leg or worse in that storm, and I had miles to walk to get to Armadale. She kept inviting me in, and wouldn’t take any excuses. She asked me of the tales I knew of her. To my great embarrassment, I couldn’t tell her. I knew they involved Cuchullain, and she only figured in them in relation to him, but I started to tell her–and couldn’t finish. I’d read the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi repeatedly, but hadn’t even thought to reread how Scathach trained Cuchullain.

She laughed at me. She did a lot of that and who could blame her? I was sent back to bardic preschool. Learn the tales known of her, and make her a song based on them. Come back, sing it, and come inside, and then we’ll see about other stories.

In the end I had to leave. I needed to get to Armadale while I could, and the rain wasn’t letting up, nor the wind. The waterproofing on my boots failed on the way back through the field. I was sloshing by the time I got to the road, but the rest of me was fairly dry and I was warm from the walking and confident I would remain so. Sleat was beautiful, almost Otherworldly. Birches, hazels and rowans lined the side of the one lane road, the beach and the wild ocean on the other. I stopped often to take pictures, and as the road wound up and down the hills I clipped the flashing light to the back of my sou’wester and pushed the earflaps off my ears. If there was a car coming I wanted to know it!

I was a couple of miles down the road when I came across the road crew. I was wet and swearing by now. The rain and the walk I could deal with cheerfully, but the wind was too much. I could stay warm, but my skirt was soaked to the thighs and my boots were wet inside as well because the duster only snapped to the knees. Walking in the wind of course made it ride up considerably. I couldn’t see the mirror of the first truck, and so I knew he couldn’t see me. He was cleaning out the turnouts with a streetcleaning brush off the side of the truck. I maneuvered myself to where he could see me and waved my arms till he stopped and let me by, quite sweetly, actually. I asked him how far it was to Armadale and his jaw dropped. The second truck drove up to me. I’ll bet there was a radio involved. A beefy black-haired guy cranked down the window, smiled at me and asked me if I had a screw loose. I gave him a big smile back and said yes, I did! And how far was it to Armadale?

He told me to go up to the bend in the road, he’d turn around and give me a ride! It was a *lot* farther to Armadale than I thought. Along the way I learned a lot about the bus system, which only runs as far as it does during the season. It’s there for visitors, not locals. I also learned about the road work on the island, and a thumbnail view of the daily life of the area, things I never would have learned anything about otherwise. Not once was the word “tourist” used, and all of his information was just that, his point of view, delivered with wit and a complete lack of malice. I wanted to buy him the regulation pint, I would have loved to have sat in a pub and continued the conversation, but his crew was shorthanded and it was the middle of the afternoon. He had apologized for the state of te lorry–it wasn’t his and he’d had a time getting the side of it down when he’d picked me up. We shared a smile as he reached over the side and pulled out the same rock he’d persuaded the latch with back on the road.

I know I smelled of sheep shit on the ferry, and people looked at me as if I were from Mars, but I didn’t care. Yes, I failed to make the salmon leap, but I felt as if I hadn’t come off half bad. I’d had quite an adventure, and Scathach had invited me back, after all.

Crows and ravens went back to being their old selves from then on. I don’t know why, neither do I need to.