from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday 31 March 2015

'creativity is not an occupation'

I've been revisiting old writings of my own, and also once again the manifesto of the Dark Mountain movement, and thinking as so often about the way in which we live out stories, usually unconsciously, and how they can in the end live us. 'Must' live us, maybe, as long as they are unconscious. 

This is true for individuals, true for cultures, and true for epochs. So our story in the Western world in the C21st is that of 'progress', aka global capitalism predicated on unlimited growth via the limited abundance of the natural-world-seen-as-product-and-resource; but that's another story.

I've mentioned the importance of story here a number of times, and the significance of the quality and message of the stories we are fed, or feed ourselves. As I've also mentioned before, my first book was about this; and I was banging the same drum in both Creative Novel Writing, in the introductory essay, and in Writing the Bright Moment.

So I'm not going to repeat myself here. On the theme of storytelling and creativity, I'm going to post instead a few excerpts from the current issue of 'New Statesman' which edited and reproduced the inaugural Garner Lecture at satellite station Jodrell Bank on 25 March. In this, novelist Alan Garner speaks of creativity and story, along with a host of other erudite thoughts, ideas and facts.

Many of us grew up knowing and loving Garner's work, especially (for me, anyway) his adaptation of motifs from the Celtic Mabinogion in his The Owl Service, a book supposedly for children/young adults but, like many classics, appealing to adults too. I find him immensely inspiring; a master storyteller.

I've learned four new words from the essay: 'powsels' and 'thrums', which are the oddments of thread left over from weaving; 'fettle' as a verb, rather than the more common noun (meaning I think something like smoothing/sanding/tending/oiling of metal or ceramic - in this case a church bell); and the Russian word 'rodina', for 'home': 'Home does not simply mean the physical structure. In Russian, the word is rodina – the land, our life force.'

Here are some snippets: '... what we call "creativity" is the bringing together of pre-existent entities that have not been seen to connect before... creativity makes connections...'

'Our thought structures are based on logic, on cause and effect. Without them, all would be a shambles and we would not be intelligent. Intelligence, however, takes more than one form. There is the linear, which enables us to deal with the material world; and there is the intuitive, over which we have no conscious control. It is this latter intelligence that is the source of creativity.

'Creativity is visual, not informed thought. It barges in uninvited, unannounced – confusing, chaotic, demanding, deaf to reason or to commonsense – and leaves the intellect to clear up the mess. Above all else, creativity is risk; heedful risk, but risk entire. Without risk we have the ability only to keep things ticking over the way they are.'

'Creativity is not an occupation. It is service to something beyond the self. In this broad sense, it partakes of the religious.'



A celebration of Garner's work under the title of First Light is currently being crowdfunded:

Sunday 29 March 2015

170 words from here

The sparrows are back in the bush by the eaves after years of absence. Exultations of cheeps. Even under the marauding columns of rain coming up from the Atlantic reaches the gorse is a promissory vow. He loves me he loves me not.  Yesterday, in the discussion, we spoke of plant medicine, ingestions of plant hallucinogens, shifts in perspective. I admitted, too, to my own experiences of psylocybin, magic mushrooms, gathered from the moor and eaten. I said too how benevolent plant spirits can also create new paradigms in the participant, even without ingestion. I didn't mention those hours I spent gazing, as a student all those years ago in a tall mediaeval building, on the grass below whose roots, through the clear haze offered by pure lysergic acid, performed a never-ending stately pavane beneath the lawn, and how nothing for me could ever be the same again. In the orchard, apple tree roots are awakening, beginning their new age-old dance. No inside no outside say the teachings.

Friday 27 March 2015

Mr Mark(heart)RylanceCromwell

I've been rather tied up with wrestling into shape a big commission that has involved weeks of research, hence my absence from here. I'm not quite there yet, but it's now just a question of editing and especially getting out the word-scalpel. 

In between, it's been greenhouse-erection and seed-sowing time of year here in the tender climes of the South Hams; tending to geriatric and sick but improving dog; oh and doing masses of admin for a whole new swathe of courses this year - ahem, 10% discount applies till the end of April on my new ecosoul week retreat in France: And sorting out the new Brittany project.

Normal service will soon, etc. How I'm longing to go for a huge tramp, write a poem (if I can still remember how), turn my attention to the book of essays and the upcoming Islands of the Heart retreat on Iona.

Meantime, here are a few words from erstwhile flavour of the year, Mark Rylance. (I say 'erstwhile' as he seems to have been displaced in the English public's romantic imagination by whatsisname who plays whatsisname in Poldark). 

A confession (or maybe it's a boast) is that I have never had a TV until I moved in with The Man; and unaccustomed as I am (etc) it never occurs to me to watch it (though we do watch DVDs on it). Therefore I invariably miss the starts of series like 'Wolf Hall' (and 'Poldark'), and by the time I hear of them because everyone's raving about them it's too late to start. (Don't even mention attempting to watch them online – at the very best of times the price we pay for living out in the sticks is 0.5MB download speed. Yes, that's right. Add in rain, low cloud and the other 50 houses [or whatever] in the 8 miles of cable between us and the station all logging on at Popular Times, and there's no hope.)

Anyway, seems Mr Rylance was the wasp's knees as Thomas Cromwell in 'Wolf Hall'. 

Here's another small boast: Mark Rylance contacted me once, way back last century, when he was Artistic Director of the Globe. Turned out he'd read my book on myth, the psyche and the Grail quest, Riding the Dragon, and was currently exploring, a la Robert Bly (don't know where that 'a' accent is on my Mac keyboard – anyone?) notions of kingship in the archetypal sense, in the psyche. He wanted to bring women and queenship into it, and in my brief starburst moment it looked like I might have been The One to do that. 


It never happened.

But I have retained a huge fondness for the man, entirely reinforced by an article by Catherine Shoard in The Guardian's G2 on 16.03.2015, read on the long and lovely sea crossing back from Brittany (on which, you might remember, we watched dolphins leaping in the bow-wave. In between being entranced by them, and enticed by the very good onboard food, I was adolescently seduced all over again by said man.)

There's a passage from the article I want to quote. He was speaking of the prescience of some of the text of 'Wolf Hall'; in particular the beheadings and immolations of that epoch, echoed in our own. He makes the point, not original but maybe still relevant, that the barbarities of Tudor times happened 'in the 15th century of Christianity and my understanding is that we're in the 15th century of Islam.' 

At that time, he notes, Europe went through a long period of sectarianism, like Islam today. 'We, of course,' he adds, 'didn't have the Americans and the English bombing the hell out of us, and poisoning our children for [the next] 50,000 years with depleted uranium. I can't believe even in The Guardian people ask the questions "Where did Isis come from?" "How did this happen?" "Why do young Muslim women go off to join them?" Maybe because we've been degrading their people since 1917. Maybe their teenage years are a little bit more stressed than that of Christianity.'

Hear hear, Mr Rylance. Well said.

Now, about that queenship...

Saturday 21 March 2015

spring equinox ragbag blog

Here I am back; and spring is as astonishing and miraculous as it always is. The hillside across from us is burnished with the rich deep yellow of gorse flowers spread further than I've ever seen them; it's impossible to look and not feel your heart take flight, just a little. And speaking of taking flight, the bumble bees and butterflies are already out doing their thing.

Just in the four days we were away in Brittany the earth has burst open, and everywhere flowers are appearing.

This is a brook-angel from the enchanted Breton forest; or maybe a phoenix, which seems apt for this time: the new moon, the spring equinox and the lunar eclipse (that strange horned sun suddenly coming clear of hazy blue cloud) all speaking of fresh beginnings. (Below that, there's one of about 150 I took of the leat in the same forest a few years ago.)

And Brittany is offering new beginnings for me, too, of which more another time.

On the ferry on the way back we were accompanied at different times by schools of dolphin: one of those magical experiences of which it's hard to talk without being clichéd or sentimental, but which leaves a deep note lingering somewhere in the psyche.

I never see dolphins without recalling David Constantine's poem about travelling to Piraeus, 'Watching For Dolphins', which begins:

In the summer months on every crossing to Piraeus
One noticed that certain passengers soon rose
From seats in the packed saloon and with serious
Looks and no acknowledgement of a common purpose
Passed forward through the small door into the bows
To watch for dolphins. One saw them lose

Every other wish. Even the lovers
Turned their desires on the sea...

and which ends, after no sighting, with that kind of disappointment that has such depths that it has to remain private.

I read recently that if you bring the songs of cetaceans into the audible sphere, whale and dolphin song is almost identical to the literal note, song, of the earth (you can Google 'Earth's Song'). From the same book (on plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner), I discovered that if you generate a visual image from the sonic frequencies of whale and dolphin song, the images produced are exquisite symmetrical patterns akin to the shape of flowers.

Yesterday I was at Teignmouth Poetry Festival, by the sea. In only its second year, this has already become a significant event on the British poetry scene, small though it is. There's a packed agenda, and I was so tired by 10pm last night I had to leave, though the night had just begun.

After a long period, still in mourning for my dad, of not writing any significant poems, it was both wonderful to drink from the poetry-well, and hard, as still nothing new has emerged from my own currently-barren poetry larder.

I led a morning workshop; 'Leaf and Cosmos'. Bloody hell! I think up these great titles and then have to live up to them, to create a new workshop (whale song and dolphin song helped!). Still, it seemed to produce some strong work and some fizz in many of the participants. We were looking, as most of my workshops seem to, at how we might be awake to the extraordinary aspects of the 'ordinary', and convey something of the resonance of macrocosm and microcosm in our careful description of the sensory world.

Part of the agenda of yesterday at the festival was the spiritual and the therapeutic. Ronnie Aaronson and Jennie Osborne had a discussion about this, with poems helpful to the therapeutic processs (they slipped down all the better with tea and Ronnie's wonderful cakes – she co-organises the festival, offers events herself, and still finds time to make half a dozen cakes!). 

Later, we had readings from the work of Eastern mystic poets Hafiz, Kabir and Lala; and the highlight of the whole day was the evening performance by internationally-known Duncan Mackintosh's rich and heartful 'embodiment', as Ronnie described it, of the poetry of Rumi.

Before that, in the late afternoon, Duncan and I were supposed to be 'in conversation' on the stage about our relationship to poetry. Considering we didn't know each other and we're both shy and introverted, despite both of us in different ways being performers, this could have fallen flat. I think we saved the 40 minutes by a) liking each other and b) discovering resonance in our mutual championing of poetry to carry meaning, and something of the spiritual, in a world too often given over to materialist and consumerist values.

And now I'm off to collect the first wild garlic and stinging nettle to add to some of our leeks and potatoes in a thick soup.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

river suite section 2

Many years ago now I was commissioned to write a long Devon poem for Devon Arts In Schools Initiative (DAISI). At the time, I led a lot of outdoor writing days with rural schools, and my brief was to write a poem that celebrated Devon, was 'accessible' to primary school pupils without being boring for secondary school students, and that adults could relate to as well. Easy peasy.

The aim was that my poem would serve as inspiration for students' own writing, and that the pupils from nine schools, primary and secondary both, would compose music and lyrics based on my poem to perform at three locations in Devon. It was an exciting and moving experience for me.

Many years later, Dartmoor photographer Vikky Minette asked me to display the poem with her photographic exhibition at Dartmoor National Park's High Moorland Centre at Princetown. From that, was born our collaborative limited edition book of the poem, River Suite, with Vikky's very beautiful images of Dartmoor water.

In honour of spring's near-arrival, here's section 2 from the poem. (There are still some copies of the book left from the 300 we had printed; should you wish to, you can buy it in the right hand bar via Paypal.)


lower now where the dawn horses gather
pooled in blue morning
amongst the granite and gorse

you step over the threshold
through a doorway of light
you meet yourself coming back
the other way
and suddenly nothing's the same

and the hand of morning opens
throws these wild rivers to dance down the slopes

fox-red bracken new green and a blanket of bluebell
past the scribbles of stone rows and circles

and here the river curls gentle as a sleeping baby
ash and alder lean to comb the water
hazel and rowan and willow

and you take your shoes off
it's the spring you thought would never come
though the trees are still bearded with winter
and the turf damp and riddled with sheep and rabbit scat
roots of heather, twists of gorse

but the river pools in swirls of froth and brandy
soft black soil and frogs creaking like doors
and see here wild duck
sliding amongst marsh marigold and frogspawn

out of the mist, walking
towards the land of the living
though still the voices call

© Roselle Angwin


Tuesday 10 March 2015

animal archetypes, horse medicine & spirit of place workshops

It's happened. I can't tell you how excited I am to have finally moved forward, a little, with horse collaborations. And – on Exmoor. This is a continuation of my ecosoul : the ecological imagination programme. I'd love to know some of you might join me!

The intention behind all this work is to bring together felt experience of the natural world with our imagination and some psychological exploration to re-vision our relationships with self, other (including the other-than-human), and the wild – as well as to produce new and inspiring pieces of writing (no previous skills needed in any of this). Think of it as creative ecotherapy-plus - the 'plus' being shifting our centre-of-attention from the needs of humans to the needs of other species and the planet.

The Wild Ways on Exmoor


I’m excited to announce that my ecosoul programme continues with three new outdoor workshops. We’ll be using the wonderful high Exmoor land, with its glimpses of the sea, belonging to Cait Collins not far from Dunster in Somerset.

ANIMAL ARCHETYPES, Friday 26 June, 7pm-9pm

Writing workshop exploring our relationship with animals through their symbolic significance in our psyches.

HORSE MEDICINE, Saturday 27 June, 10am-5pm

Horses have shared my life always, as they have Cait’s. I know how profoundly uplifting, inspiring and healing it can be to spend time with them, and to learn their ways. Cait and I both feel that humans need urgently to re-vision our relationship to these animals who have accompanied us through so many millennia, and done so much for us.
Cait’s two very beautiful horses, Rowan and Brigit, are enlisted in her coaching and therapy work. We will have the privilege in the morning of some hands-on work one-to-one or more probably two-at-a-time with Cait herself, and one of the horses, and in the afternoon I’ll take our experience further through exploration and writing. (No previous experience needed.) You can read more of Cait’s work here:
and you can see my blog about my experience with Rowan, above, here.

SPIRIT OF PLACE, Sunday 28 June, 10am-4pm

Immediately adjacent to Cait’s land is an Iron Age camp. As in so many of these prehistoric places, there is a tranquility and atmosphere of containment that’s palpable, even though the Iron Age camps were generally defensive structures. And it’s in a beautiful spot. This writing workshop explores our relationship to place, the ways in which land touches us as we touch it, and how we may be changed by the experience.

Each of these workshops is self-contained, but attending all three will offer, we think, a deep rich memorable experience. If you decide to attend all three there are several good places to eat in nearby Dunster, and we can suggest local B&Bs.
Camping on site may be possible.

Friday evening alone: £18.
Saturday all day: £65. Sunday all day: £50. PRICE FOR ALL THREE: £115; £100 if booked before April 30.
Places are limited

What you’ll need
Outdoor clothing (close to the solstice the weather can be very unsettled, so lots of warm layers, waterproofs, sturdy boots or wellies, oh and just in case, some sunscreen/sunhat. There is a field shelter but we are working outside) Picnic lunch if attending the full days (we hope to have the means to offer hot/cold drinks) Drinking water A notebook and pen
Something dry to sit on
(even a carrier bag will do)

Directions will be given on booking.

See more here:

Oh and incidentally remember I'm happy to tailor-make courses if you have a location and a possible audience.

Sunday 8 March 2015

ten senses

Yesterday morning, early, searching for inspiration for the poetry group I lead every first Saturday, I opened at random Caitlin Matthews' The Celtic Spirit yearbook. The page I opened it on was 20 February: 'The Doors of Perception'.

Here's the opening paragraph: 'The doors of perception are the senses – not only the physical senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, but also the subtle senses of inner vision, resonance, instinct, discrimination, and empathy. Without the cooperation of these two sets of senses, we cannot perceive truly.' She suggests that these senses can be trained and further developed by clear attention.

If we live on the physical plane alone, our lives are the poorer for it. When we can also concentrate on the sense-behind-the-sense, as it were, there's a depth and a breadth and a richness we can bring to our lives as we make our way through the world. Perhaps there's also a subtlety we bring.

The brief passage on the senses did indirectly help me towards the material for the poetry day. But that's incidental. When I closed the book, a sheet of paper fell out with my handwriting on it – probably years old.

Matthews doesn't unpack the subtle senses, nor make explicit the symmetrical correlation between the physical senses and her list of subtle-level ones. I see that on the sheet of paper I have attempted that.
It was useful for me to revisit my list. In case it's of interest to anyone else, here it is:

INNER VISION: correlate of the physical sense of sight, inner vision is a way of seeing beyond the 'normal' constraints of space and time.

Inner vision incorporates these two great tools:

Intuition ~
the perception of underlying reality beyond appearances, and unmediated by rational mind.

Imagination ~ an awareness of past and future in terms of the potential for creation of thought-forms, as well as the perception of cause and consequence.

RESONANCE (hearing) of course brings with it the sense of 'chiming'. On the outer plane this is clearly connected with sound (as the etymology of the word suggests) as in 'hearing', but on an inner level the meaning may be a great deal more subtle, and suggests echoes and reflections. I interpret it as meaning 'finding sympathy with', recognition, a sense of likeness and interbeing (to use Thich Nhat Hanh's word), knowing what is a rightful place for us in the cosmos according to that with which we chime. This may be a precursor to empathy (see below).

INSTINCT (smell): we could describe this as an animal attunement to subtle movements of energy, and an ability to 'read' their meanings at a transrational level, and to take action as prompted by their meaning in relation to what's good and what might not be (not on a moral level so much as in terms of preservation and protection).

DISCRIMINATION (taste – think about it): an ability to accurately assess the quality of a thing, person, being or situation, and to make choices and decisions correspondingly.

EMPATHY (touch – we are 'touched' by someone or something, are we not?): this is a felt sense of what it means to be interconnected, and to act and live accordingly. It requires a development of imagination for its full potential to be fulfilled.

That's it for now.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

shades of yellow

Tis the beginning of the yellow season. The primroses have been out for a while, the celandines have just started starring the banks and verges, the dandelions are opening their little fists of faces, and now the wild daffs are in flower:

The banks of the Teign at Fingle Bridge with be thick as Devon clotted cream with them.

And the image for the new cover of the second edition, ten years on, of my first poetry collection, Looking For Icarus, has been chosen. (Thank you, Gay Anderson, participant on last year's 'Writing the Bright Moment' retreat week in France.) This will appear from Indigo Dreams in June.

I still think this collection, published by bluechrome in 2005, includes some of my best work. (It isn't always the case; quite often previously-published work can be cringe-making when you reread it, and I'm still tinkering with poems published in my 20s.)

This collection opens with a long sequence of short prose poems, 'West'. Here are the opening and the closing ones for you.

Cutting a blade of grass and shaking the universe: the implicate order. The whole tree being the forest. One child being all people. One breath breathing all the winds of the universe. Weeks of rain; I’m stumbling down the track, and somewhere – the other side of the world – my footstep sets a tumble of dust trickling. There you are, out there somewhere, and I don’t see you, can’t touch you, but turning might catch a sudden scent of you on the breeze, the tremor of you flickering through these thistles and dry grasses.

In another place which we’ve not visited there’s a coffee cup and saucer in sunflower yellow. The cup is upturned and our separate moments have temporarily fused. The tides of us flow together. We walk barefoot through the lemon grove, lick honey from each other’s fingers, celebrate the sunshine, the moment. All there is.


© Roselle Angwin 2005/2015


Tuesday 3 March 2015

a sense of wonder
Creative Commons

 Like joy, and play, those qualities so unadulterated in a childhood, wonder is something that it's easy to lose sight of as adults. In a cynical world it's easy to feel, or be accused of being, naïve, too, if one admits to a sense of wonder as being a driving force in one's life. 

But it's a quality that is, perhaps, vital to a life fully lived, and without it something of the soul dies of attrition.

I'm one of those fortunate people who experiences wonder on a daily basis, even when I'm despondent at other things. I have only to step out of my door into what we jokingly (or not) refer to as 'Roselle's social life' – interactions with the finches and tits that appear when I do (knowing of course that I fill the feeders daily); awareness of the music of the little cascade in the valley; the rooks and jackdaws playing with the wind above the oaks; the deer prints by the brook; spring walking steadily towards us at a speed of however many miles it is per week, etc. 

I'll stop there lest my Pollyanna-ishness irritates people – and there we go, evidencing what I said above.

Anyway, I'm speaking of this because I had an 'Osage orange' moment at the top of the path up from the courtyard into our field, except that it was a 'Devon holly' moment.

Let me explain.

One of the books that has most left its mark on me from my first reading over 30 years ago now is Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Like, I suspect, other devotees of this book, one moment in particular that Dillard writes of has stayed with me as an intense visual internalised experience, a moment of extreme luminosity, almost miraculously beautiful and awe-full. Here's the passage, which is actually about seeing:

'For a week last September migrating red-winged blackbirds were feeding heavily down by the creek at the back of the house. One day I went out to investigate the racket; I walked up to a tree, an Osage orange, and a hundred birds flew away. They simply materialized out of the tree. I saw a tree, then a whisk of color, then a tree again. I walked closer and another hundred blackbirds took flight. Not a branch, not a twig budged: the birds were apparently weightless as well as invisible. Or, it was as if the leaves of the Osage orange had been freed from a spell in the form of red-winged blackbirds; they flew from the tree, caught my eye in the sky, and vanished. When I looked again at the tree the leaves had reassembled as if nothing had happened. Finally I walked directly to the trunk of the tree and a final hundred, the real diehards, appeared, spread, and vanished. How could so many hide in the tree without my seeing them? The Osage orange, unruffled, looked just as it had looked from the house, when three hundred red-winged blackbirds cried from its crown. I looked downstream where they flew, and they were gone. Searching, I couldn't spot one.'

I remember this as a passage about the sudden appearance of an almost-transcendent experience of light; not so much literal, but more about the way the experience of an unexpected encounter with a moment can light the rest of a life with its inner glow. And it's an experience that has repeated itself in actuality with me maybe half a dozen times, the last a few days ago with migrating redwings in our holly tree. 

Strangely, Dillard's encounter is as vivid in my now-reinforced memory as my own.

The thing is, this is what we have: this necklace of moments, of small wonders, to light us through on our way; and suddenly we search the memory-cupboard and find that they're huge, and the store is inexhaustible.

Sunday 1 March 2015

the white hind in the thicket

That winter, the hunger gap on Dartmoor began early. Thomas knew that he had barely enough hay and feed for his few cattle, his handful of in-lamb sheep, to get through the next couple of weeks, let alone the rest of winter. The snow was so deep that the animals could barely forage at all, and though, mockingly, the gorse was in full bright blossom and the snowdrops by the garden path were bravely poking through, there was barely a blade of grass to be seen.

In the house, the situation was equally desperate. There was a single string of onions, half a sack of potatoes, and a couple of cabbages left from the frost-ravage in the vegetable garden. Thomas knew, though his young wife didn’t, nor his blind old mother, that there was almost no money left.

One afternoon, he picked up his shotgun and went out to see what he might bring back for the pot. No rabbits. No pheasants. No pigeons, even. After an hour of trekking along silently, feet sinking at each step into the blanket of snow in the shadow of the frosted hedges, Thomas was about to give up when he caught a glimmer out of the corner of his eye, just at the edge of the wood. At first, he thought it was a woman there, dressed all in white, rising up out of the snow. Then he realised it was a white deer. As swiftly and smoothly as possible, he raised his gun to his shoulder and sighted her.

But he couldn’t find it in him to pull the trigger. After all, we all know that white deer are magical creatures. The deer didn’t move, only stared at him with her head raised and ears pricked. Thomas took a step towards her, and another. She didn’t move. Again he raised the gun, and again he let it drop. He stepped towards her again, until he was close enough to see her quiver. Then she turned and, without haste, walked into the wood.

Thomas followed her for a long way, until they were really in the dark heart of the forest. She stopped, and turned. He knew this time that he wasn’t even going to try to shoot her; he simply stood, and waited. A voice like the wind through birches spoke. Thomas jumped so much he shook the snow from the tree behind and above him. He looked around. No one. 

The voice came again: ‘Thomas.’ It was the deer. ‘Thomas. If you spare my life, I’ll grant you a wish.’

Thomas was dumbstruck. When he regained his powers of speech, he replied: ‘What, just one wish? We all know wishes come in threes.’

‘Just one wish,’ said the deer. ‘Your choice. Come and tell me in the morning.’ With that, the deer disappeared from view. The trees seemed to shake themselves, and then were still.

The sky was dark by the time Thomas had made his way back out of the forest. As he struggled back through the snow lighting his way, he thought over and over what that one wish might be. Just one wish!

That evening, determined though he had been not to burden his wife and mother either with their dire situation (though of course his wife had an inkling) or with the one wish, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut as they were dining on their thin potato-and-cabbage soup (again).

As casually as he could, he asked them: ‘If you had just one wish, what would you ask for?’

‘Oh!’ said his mother. ‘Oh – I’d love my sight back. Then I could help you more.’

‘Me?’ said his wife. ‘Oh – just the one wish. My heart’s desire. I want more than anything for us to have a baby.’

Thomas sat in dismay over his soup. His mother’s sight – how could that be restored? And then his wife’s desire, and another mouth to feed. For himself, he knew how desperately, and speedily, they needed money. And just the one wish.

It was in a sombre mood that he took himself off to bed that night.

All night he lay awake, listening to the creaks and groans of the old cottage roof under the weight of its snow-burden, and to the little scrabblings of the mice in the attic. All night he worried about whether he’d done the right thing in not shooting the deer. What a fool he was – there’d have been meat enough to last them weeks, salted down. And the hide – he could sell the hide; a white hide too – more precious than anything he owned.

By lunchtime the next day he’d finished the chores around the little steading. Suspecting himself to be a fool, he headed off towards the forest fringing the open moorland, taking his gun along, just in case.

Once again, it took him a while to cross the snowy meadows. Once again, at the edge of the forest he caught a glimpse of a white-clad maiden, who became a deer as he looked. Once again, he found himself unable to raise the gun with the intention to shoot. As soon as he noticed her, the hind turned and led him, once again, deep into the forest. Finally, she stopped and turned.

‘And your wish?’ she said, in a voice like the wind through apple trees.

What I wish for,’ he said, ‘is for my mother to be able to see our new baby in its cradle all made out of gold.’

The deer stood still for a moment, nostrils flaring. Then she bowed her head, and turned. He didn’t see her vanish – she simply wasn’t there any more.

Thomas sighed. How could he have believed a deer could save them? Fairy stories. He spent too long alone out there with his animals, he supposed.

He trudged home. Dark was nearly upon him, but the snow lit the way.

As he approached the gate, he could see that the cottage door was open, and a deep glow came from within.

Then he realised that his mother was standing at the door, and waving to him.


This story is one woven on the bones of a story I heard from Dartmoor teller Mavis Hewitt the other night, and in honour of the three deer-encounters I’ve had, in various guises and realms, in the last few days. And in honour of Psyche, or the soul, who leads us into the dark forest to find the treasure we need.

Twice on Dartmoor I've encountered a white deer, though not recently.

Image: detail from The Mystic Woods by John William Waterhouse


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