For much of my life, when I found myself walking through a forest or the countryside on one of those little public footpaths that meander across the green Sussex Downs I spent much of my time looking down. Partly to see where I was walking and to make sure I didn’t trip over some indentation or molehill, and partly because that’s just how it was. It was how I’d walked to school as a child, it was how I walked to work, into town, everywhere. Eyes down, watching the immediate space into which I was walking.
Then something changed.
As my eyes and heart opened to the myths, magic, and stories of the land, of local and national folklore from hill, vale and furrow, I found my eyes turning upward, away from my pacing feet, and into hedgerows, across fields, into the space between trees, and the space between. I started to really see the changes in the seasons. That even in the depth of Winter life still shows as green through the bare trees as Holly and Yew. That Hazel catkins grow early, and the Robin is with us all year, yet in the greyness of Winter his red breast shines out so clearly for all to see, he appears as solely a Winter bird. Every walk became an adventure. A leaf of Lords and Ladies that was not there the previous week, the shadow of a Kestral hovering, the ghostly form of a Barn Owl soaring over the field that runs beside the river, where the fish jump in Spring, and I once saw the distinctive fin of a Tope, as it splashed its way upstream.
Turning my eyes away from the ground came as a direct result of my Pagan path. My eyes had always been open, they had just been pointing in the wrong direction. All of this life, these changes, this vibrant energy had always surrounded me, I just wasn’t looking at it, too absorbed by the constant plodding of walking boots. Once I looked upwards I began to take my mandolin on walks with me. It must have been odd for those dog walkers, to hear the sound of a mandolin in the woods, then to see me striding gently along the path, just strumming a nice chord sequence, entertaining the trees. Sometimes I would tell the trees stories. I would tell the tales of the Mabinogion in the Sussex woodlands. Earth that would have heard the words of Saxon, Norman, and various historical forms of English, would also have heard the voices of those distant Brythonic speaking ancestors, and maybe some of those Bards told the tales of Bran, Gwydion, Blodeuwedd. Maybe not. But those trees heard my voice speak in my own modern English tongue, and I think they enjoyed them. They never complained.
Sometimes as I walked those paths the chords I played turned into songs, and some of those songs I still play on stage, and around camps fires, to this day. On sunny spring days, when the woodlands were carpeted with bluebells I would take my harp to the woods, sit by a large old Oak, and play. Once more those dog walkers that came across me on those days, I hope, had their walks lifted by the sound of a Celtic harp echo through the trees. I truly believe that the Fae gave us the harp, it’s one of their instruments, and when we play the harp, they still listen.
Every now and then, when life gets so busy and complicated that it absorbs my thoughts, I become aware that my gaze has returned to my plodding feet. Sometimes it’s hard to draw them away. But then, when I do, and I once more see the life through which I’m walking, and I remember that I am a part of it all, that sense of relationship returns, and the feeling of belonging grows, and those feet continue to plod quite happily, without my constant attention.
It always feels better, when we hold our heads high, breathe, and see the world clearly.
Let’s go for a walk.