Hold your Head Up

Hold your Head Up

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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.

16 responses to “Hold your Head Up”

  1. Im lucky to work in the Malverns and live in a rural town. At lunch i can see miles, a few Robins potter around the fences and trees. Blackbirds, crows. Love it.

    • I wish I could still walk, but my back is stupid and it hurts. But I am blessed to live in the country, so I am in Nature every day. It is here I first noticed the beauty of winter and the grace of bare tree branches. And I am a lover of stars and if the sky, so I look UP, not down. It’s surprising I haven’t broken my fool neck! I speak to the sun, the moon, clouds, stars, pretty much everything. I am polite.

  2. That’s true for me
    I walk the woodland watching and sitting.
    So meny go by but haven’t seen the world.
    I find utter peace alone in a wood up up on a hill side. (south wales so plenty of hills)
    I see the small signs of life poking through the land the birds and even bees ( a hive I have been watching all year have only in the last few weeks gone to sleep)
    I all so take a lot of photos and find my self drawn to certain area of the land around me
    One place I call spooky wood just due to the nature of the way the trees have grown and the stones and boulders that are there love it.
    All the best to you and family keep up the blogs look forward to what you next write about.
    Greg

  3. I live in Sussex also and the woodland areas over here are stunning. The Green Man are is truly present and is communicating with us constantly.

  4. Interesting. I never really thought about it, but I have been experiencing the same. From walking staring down or just straight ahead, to absorbing energy by looking around me. It has enriched me on a level I never thought possible, just by seeing the Green Man, the Horned One, and elves. There’s so much out there that is being given to us for free, and it absorbs anything we are able to give. If only words, or songs or tunes.
    Thank you, Damh, for sharing this.

  5. I often carry your sounds with me on walks with the pups . . . technology allows so many pleasantries. I am certain you gave another light to a walk in the park to those who were so lucky to find you there. Blessings to you, and thank you so much for sharing your stories.

  6. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts Damh. I’m lucky to live in an area which has a Roman Road ‘green lane’ and two ancient Dykes. These are lovely walks and change with the seasons. In summer I undertake butterfly surveys as part of a local group and the concentration on the count often cuts out other thoughts and sights but the return trip at the end of the survey is a lovely time to walk, relax enjoy the amazing bird life, the occasional hare and fabulous wild flowers. The Green Man is ever present.

  7. beautiful! i am always looking at what is going on with nature. it is just something i have always done. i just love watching things fold up and rest or awaken and unfold to come back to life. 🙂

  8. I’ve been looking down a lot lately. Thank you for the reminder that in our Path, there is so much more to see in the In-between….

  9. Quite true. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in our lives and ourselves that it takes something far more dramatic to help us “see” more.
    Four years ago, after a slight mishap at work, I found myself in A and E. While waiting to be treated the doctor looked at me and asked if I was anemic, to which my response was an emphatic ‘no’. After a blood test she came back and told me she was admitting me as critical immediately. I only had 1/3 of my blood volume and needed a trans fusion NOW. A few consultations later I was told that if it were not for my mishap, I may have had only 3 months, six at best, until my heart would have stopped from a lack of blood. Sobering doesn’t even touch the way I felt.
    After treatments and loads of iron and B12, I am better and thriving. To the point, sometimes, sadly, it takes nearly dying to start noticing the world around us. I saw the leaves…all of them. The sun became an elixer. I smelled the earth on the wind. I heard EVERYTHING! And it was all new. I appreciate it all as if experiencing it for the first time. Nothing goes unnoticed. The old addage ‘stop and smell the roses’ rings true. Don’t EVER take anything in life for granted, because someday, it won’t be there anymore.
    And yes Damh, I would love to take a walk with you someday. I’ll bring my flute.

  10. Like Laura, I can no longer walk; but I do enjoy getting the mobility buggy out and going for a trundle on that. I can go slowly enough to appreciate the natural world around me; even though I don’t live in the “countryside” as such, there are beautiful green places nonetheless. Often I will have a dog or two with me, as I am lucky enough to work as a carer for a dog-boarding service, but if I am between canine guests, my husband will come with me, and we can enjoy the fresh air and the sights and sounds of nature, returning home to (at this time of year) a hot cup of tea, and feeling somehow renewed.

  11. Thank you for the reminder! I live in an area now where there are no green lands to walk…..but there are trees and flowers planted by the sidewalks, and I go out and say hello to them every chance I get!

  12. How good to read that you have not “Grown-up”! I really do believe we are encouraged to mature too quickly, that we leave behind the romance and innocence that our formative years had in abundance.
    Yes, Druidry has allowed me back to regain that love of nature, instead of playing music I use a sketchbook and a pair of binoculars, but the music is there – and here.

  13. Lovely & inspiring, Damh. Thank you. My favorite places to sing, dance, play my instruments, and just “Be,” are in the forests, at the lakes, or by the sea. /|\ Blessings of AWEN to All… 🙂

  14. So very true Damh. I spent my life looking down. I only recently found this path. And for the first time, because I was looking up verse down, I too saw the beautiful Robin in a leaf bare winter tree. Blessings to you. Thank you for your inspiration in word and song.

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