More things are learnt
in the woods than from books; trees and rocks will teach
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
The ribbon of road, Unwound like spilt tape Stretching back - And what we were driving towards ...
As you gestured over to the place of your birth, Invisible in the hot misty distance - And then, as the engine spluttered, slowing Rattling... as it steamed - and cracked, Rod-spun, bits clattering on to the tarmac
Moments, a mile later. And is it ever What you thought was happening? The journey is its own; and we journey it. Even, before we do? Or it thickens around us Weighing the balance, and waiting
For the next word, phrase, thing. Green doors. A pit-tanned droll smiling face, and a white van. A white van for the borderlands, and we're in it.
This is the land. This is the country...
The rolling, curved, veined sheep-dotted hill heights Heavy blue haulage - visible alchemy With its tank-wheels, and escort (coagulate, grinding uphill under the sky)
As the land builds. To the Increase. Remember. To the Lakes... and can you think like water? Fluid, swirling - soul - become as it Dissolving into grey by twilight water
Leaden-limbed, drawn down into it; lapping All the sheep-loud night before dawn...
And can all we are of heaven and earth Combine now? Told, this is the time, now 'And as I make love to you, I give you heaven And as you receive my love, you give me heaven'
Or, you say it: 'the strangeness of truth'. The strangeness of a tree within a tree.
Northwards, towards the border - And the truth is a rear-view mirror (patched on, drooping, in red tape) And the law is: everything signifies
And can you read the signs?
To see back, without being swamped - And can we hold this moment Without the past breaking in? Can we risk ourselves
Without hiding, or pretending?
As it flows towards us. Its edge. Ever-closening (outside us now, here now, at its mercy)
Its gateway: twin windowless turrets Of pale red stone - flanking the road: Pulled into her heart, and lifting him out
As the land opens. Flat. Wide open. Zone. Yellow gorse flowers, and sunned dry grass; Pylons, and distant pines strangely light
And still, it could be anything Still-lit... blanked words... Boreland
But it means, ahead is a great country And we are for the Great Water's crossing
We are for the earth - these mountains Slowly rising as if dreamt
Rugged, forested, green summits These mountains of the heart, by their names Ben Arthur
The forest in your heart I wanted to embrace, Cracked open, a little wider... and on the ground Shirt-blown, lying
Where we were two saplings, barely rooted, Like straw in the blast; and it held us And was father was a father, too
- I never knew the heart could be so big So limitlessly mountainous, and without pride Holding the smallest yellow flowers And with the sky at one, above it -
Lingering, spelt in your hand... as it suffused in, Quietly, overwhelming us beyond us With the strength of its gentleness green, grey
Sky darkening before rain, slate by the loch, (where the gulls were white, vivid, flung, flying against the sky they merged to)
In this far country of the eagle
Where Castle Stalker stands Alone on its island With its single slate-wet turret
And the bird, with its great shaggy wings Spreads against the pearl-blue heaven of cloud
Above the ribbon of road and the first drops of rain. 2
The brown sail of the tent Unfurled, spread - stretched and pegged Behind a thin wind-screen of trees - And a briny, effluent stream. Loch edge. (As close as we could get).
Before the rain set in. And the dark.
The water gleaming through the green-leaved beeches...
And the dark like no dark you could see, Only darker. Night. And the race Over the hissing black headlit road For fourteen miles, for food - for nothing.
For being here. (Heating up soup in a swarm of midges, In the back of the van) Is being stopped.
To earth. Survival earth. And after rain, mud. And the water carrier burst - Sampling the tea-coloured stream, And squatting on our heels, Like the first here.
Like Beaker People. Like Indians.
(And over to our right, Crow Island).
And the loch in the sun like the sea ... briefly
My mind of fire is dying, Someone put it in among some stones Before we came, in a charred tight circle In among the blackened remains of kindling -
When your fire has purged and bared you, It has done its work. Let it go, now.
It is not what is needed here. But a mind of earth... in the beginning.
And yours is water and feeling, Say our invisible parents: and it's fragile, To be slow, or as quick, to miss the point -
To force it into 'being good' To deny each other what we deny in ourselves
To be like strangers, and to ourselves - Given this chance, this place
To feel what wrongs the sunlight as it slips
And how easily the whole foundation shifts, As if kicked -
And bow to it: clouded over: broken As we gather the white quartz stones To make a circle, with a heart-stone - A hearth stone - at its centre
On a bared scrap of grass, where a fire was (Vanished now): stone by stone, laid, placed
'And that the white that the light brought to earth Become rock that holds, rock that heals'
- you walking... green, like an answer green everywhere green in the light
Bracken - ferns - bog iris stalks
now we walk this road with the loch beside us
green bathing our eyes - among spots of colour rose bay willow herb, pink sorrel, and foxgloves; hushed to a black butterfly, poised -
with its dark red fringe-of-wings spread, quivering; and white dotted encircled glyphs on either wing
a perfect square of lichen-covered rock
and in the rock, where it rises, sheer - in a cleft in the rock, narrower than a finger a sprig of beech fresh, with its leaves
a beech tree in miniature under the sky
dove-greying, like the water
As the light slants, shifts, slides towards rain
And our demons come and go; Wrestling them: to name them: Mistrust, Fear, Control
And to realize how our words Use us, thinking we use them And how to speak heart
Attuned to its silence, its space That silences you - To find yourself surprised,
To find yourself as if belittled, Small as you are, new, becoming Now - as its moment is - (and can You turn yourself around?) as fast As that old unwanted self reacts back to that edge Thread, of its again-finding, or loss - And how you said it when you said "When I go into my head, I lose God,'' every time -
And to find Him here In the sound of the stream, the wind in the leaves, That owl, hooting...
And you found Him Like you lose Him, Like you lose your heart -
'So may we be open here' (and I found you, in the dark) 3
Wet chrysalis. Wet womb chrysalis, Waking to it, and to this - Raw closeness, and of earth. Death, is it?
Or greyness, leading to green; Grey water, the loch glassy - The loch, a mirror.
Grey voice, thread silver: whisper The loch's inflowing, and the leaves' Behind these eyes, become a throat Stirring to speech.
And green is death, too Into the blackness, and out of it: Yew shadow, evergreen mystery of green
Of grey, edging, invisibly - Essence of invisibility merging visibly
- the sheep, standing, staring grazing among the trees nosing closer black-nosed, innocently nibbling at the branches
with the water behind them... behind their eyes staring into mine
with what never dies -
This place, alive with all its memory invisibly Ancient as its first comers, Its clawing glaciers - Its sacred overflowing spring cascading crystal, down
Ben Cruachan, now Its power station hidden Its rising twin peaks Creviced by a waterfall
High under its static smoke-fleece of cloud, High green, and the line of its waterfall Cloud-light, white trailing, moving as in a dream
And under the mountain (as the road bends road) On its faery islet - Kilchurn, in the sun
Belying its own history Its Campbell shell Imaged in false light
Beside St. Conan's, built late, Inside its corbel of owl-like sphinx-like Gargoyles - is light, feminine light (where the Bruce lie dreaming in waxwork stone)
The pulpit, with its encircled cross And where the altar would have been: A plain empty table: plain, unstained windows With the trees for green they reflect
Green tree-light, Cathar light A church for women, and the pew you sit in For the healing of time...
Carved towards the loch, on its parapet edge Of raised stone, one stone for each word Thy / Sun / Shall / Not / Go / Down
- even in the rain in the grey of Oban
Columba's green, beckoning and the green etheric
spread over the land like a single tartan
and what stands out in it, alive - soft brown Highland cattle and a pair of swans on Loch Etive (distant, specked... towards the farther shore, together)
and the cloudscape and mountainscape, blended and the tip of mountain and cloud drawn down towards each other -
Places so small they could be a hoax
And at Cladich, the river there Under the bridge: tanned coloured peat water Rushing, pouring: the surface slipping down, Rock-strewn, to a scur of white foam
- white foam, out of tan water two thick tongues of it the river, tawny the river, a wet lion -
Divining the future in swords And the way through a lightning struck tower The way the tunnel is yours, now And the tower
Bared to its bone, its foundation: We become like a falling landscape Of inner monoliths, crumbling In this exile of ourselves, alone, for real
Withering to the truth, and the taste of whisky Malt-soft, like fire - (instead of the wood, too wet to burn)
And the rain, the rain unceasing All night in the tent-spattered dark
And the byrne, with its drumming gurgle Where the water comes down over stones
And in the dark, voices Voices, but you could not hear them Voices, in the water - or in the air around
Shouting, singing, high-pitched as the Sidh As if before a catastrophe - Ghosting the downpour you shivered, awake in
(in the darkness of wet you drew me to come, calling out to the stream where its water reaches the loch's incoming
long, wide, wavelets...)
...gouged to the root Of our blackened-out bodies splayed like a black womb-flower. 4
The song, sung to the bone. And the song is feeling and flowing.
Stillness. Breathing. Seeding
(And how are we, moment to moment changing So the place is as we become it)
To see how the placing Of every stone and branch Makes the stream's song
Stone by stone, as they Angle and dip, brown-stained And the stub of a beech
A sapling sprouts from That the water swathes around, To where it splays into the loch
(And the tent's skin, in the breeze Imprinted with tree-shadows...
And in the van's side mirror Branches, and a patch of blue sky cloud As strong, or stronger, than my own face)
By grace. By transparency. By a light stronger and gentler than anything. And if you walk that way, you will be kind.
The sun, shining on the grass...
- and the dead skins of the kippers turning in the wave floating in the wave
are bronze treasures in gold light - The loch inside us, like them. And gone beyond words, we wonder. If this is the beginning or the ending or neither
- turning in the wave, turning in the deep
of the unseen peat-black water...
The passing fields, Their wound still-green mats of hay
The knife of rain-silver light, Thrilling the clouds and the mountain-rim Slowing along beside it
Slowing to stone at Kilmartin - Thirteenth, fourteenth century gravestones With their swords and tracery, armoured
Knights, faceless in vizored grey Ghost-grey - each, facing both ways - Armed at the front, with chain-mail and spears
And facing behind them, into the unknown:
Warrior, what will come out of the mist to you? Will your claymore and spear be of any use? Is it a spear you need now, or a staff? A vizor, or a cowl?
(Your soul, grey, armourless, waiting)
And the great cross inside the kirk With Christ, skinny, skeletal, crucified His arm fragmenting into metal stanchions - Crowned above with a distant angel
And on the other side of grey, grey He is Risen, risen through the centuries - Now comes the resurrection... the missing piece Unearthed, under a raised pick -
Become annunciation, where the fracture Cuts across His face and open eyes Shining, worn, almost invisible in the flash-light:
Master, born out of the ground Mother, Madonna, and the earth like a sun Earth, risen - earth, a sun - In her belly and in her rising come
Master of death, mother of death, come
- risen, like the necklace bead by bead out of the cist, under the elm tree
threaded, hole by hole, with tiny rootlets -
(around your neck and your warm bare breasts)
And the dead in their sleep of stone, Under a lip of stone, at Dunchraigaig - Bent, to their sideways gaze - Charred bones, gone into the labyrinth
Deeper and deeper into matter Down the years, down the centuries
Down this Via Dolorosa of tears
- to the depths of stone in our eyes blue clay blue clay sea-dreaming depth,
in the mystery of bone and sea-flesh that the farmer forgets, that the field forgets cordoning their standing...
and we remember stilled to this stone, blood-dark
breathing the breath of its grey breath
(two sparrowhawks hovering)
Awake in the Land of Pain The gouged furrows in the hillside As if combed with steel - (For peat, or planting)
The earth dry, bared in the green Lashmarks on the land's flogged back And in us, as the road wound Through the wound of it, acre after acre
And we sit here, we sit naked here There is no escape, only the silence And the pain, before the pain can shine The soul's way, out -
Love, in your eyes
(And the sun-stone they sharpened their blades on, Stands like a man in prayer)
- before the green echoes back open, towards the sea bracken, couch grass blending, unbroken light-shaded with outcrops of heather-mauve
like something already healed -
Coming down, through the forest Past an upturned stump with its roots bared To the sky: pines, pines, pines...
Pausing to find where we are, On the other shore - standing On a forestry bench, to look down
Bird-wise at our size, The way the sky might look at us More closely than we imagine...
Among the miles of forest and inlets; Down to the Ford... and back to drying blankets The tent glowing with two lit candles
The rain whispering down among the leaves, The loch in the grey-silver light, as it always was, And the flitting, curving, diving
- black blur of a bat hurtling fast aside and circling -
And the water, patient to its reflection Spelling: wait
And deeper than anything we can say now
the place is our language and our healing 5
To let it be now, Given as it is - Sinking like the rain Slowly to its depth.
When there is space between us - We can be essential, giving And given to, like the rain to the ground, And the sun to the grass, to the sheep.
We are figures in a landscape, if we know our place. And the letting be can breathe as it can smile, Thanks to a passing driver - Waving, to a fellow walker.
We are the key and the core And there is more in woods and stones Than in books - This is the book I am reading.
The loch, its spine. The ground, its pages.
And for you, it's all colour You confessed to despising - Black and white, all form and tone Transformed, come through, come alive To what matters: not the photograph,
Become its own transparency - The elements, its developer The night, its darkroom: the print Of it, unique to each pair of seeing eyes
- to find words for that.
'To see your birth in everything' (And you handed him an egg).
To be a priest of earth. Across the narrow causeway Of half-sunken stones - Where the temple stands, bruised by fire; The trees, abused - their hollows, burnt -
To dare to be your heart. And be it. To make this cross out of branches and stones. To speak the words. To be oak.
And what binds us is what frees us - The knot of the cross, the heart bound to earth Bound? to love.
Free, as the loch Free of the blood that bled Free of the hunters - Free of the jolly paddle-steamers
Freed from time, in time, through time
The castle where they imprisoned the child The Castle of the Red-Haired Girl, The ford where the warring brothers both died, (The pass with its staked line of heads)
The banner, snaking up into the air!
- falling plunging down among the trees up the slippery mud-path, holding the wire -
(the roar, returning pure, cleansing like thunder)
The herd, lowing, noses raised, along the road
Fincharn, fired, and buried in ivy (like a folly, across the bull-field now)
And if you come here, in the rain As we came off the map by the edge of the road To a wet tractor-track leading up out of sight, Slow walking, steep, rutted among stones - The old path, long unused, untrodden
If you come this way, in the pine-scented air In the quietening, gathering, waiting air You may feel something coming to meet you Stirring under your feet and clearing in your eyes Though there is nothing you can see
But pines and bracken; until you glimpse - walls, Fringing the green - low, bleached, lichen covered Walls, and a skirting wall where the gate once was: And we paused there, without knowing why -
Wading through the bracken, to it - To the left portal with its Devil's Handprint
To gaze at it, roofless, among fallen masonry -
Overgrown, now given back: given to bracken, to ragwort Flowering, thistle-heads, bees - and a butterfly Given in the arms of a dead tree, leaning By the far wall, with one branch of it alive -
Given to light, and intact - the font intact Aumbries and piscina, and our steps Unsure of what we were about to tread on;
Stone, or earth, or gravestones - carved, abandoned Asleep in the rain and the light, among the flowers By the sanctuary of the walls, where no one comes, And there is no more death and no more time - And what is dead, and alive, are one
And by this font, I want to be baptized: To be born here, married here, die here, feast here -
This is the place of the heart's wild baptism, The heart's own, its own way
Baptism, and faith in the broken - Faith, broken the heart's way to resurrection There is no service here, no solemn congregation - Baptism, among the bees and the trees for witness
Baptism, and you touch me on my forehead Baptism of touch, with all that matters most Baptism, and he bows and cannot speak
Baptism of fire and of blood - and it's all beauty, All of it, every fallen stone - none of it, wasted - None of it, ever
If you come here, come in your heart: only that
- in the rain, turning away to find you, now -
In the rain, out on the road to Dalmally Past the old green road where he drove his sheep
- a thin green line among the black dots... gone back to ground - back into the dream -
Rob Roy, and you, Landless MacGregor - Hounded by Grey Campbell and his Black Son
From Kilchurn to Glenstrae, into a ghost; and now? Where the site is unmarked, and the name a river By a farm gate and a cattle grid -
Where the road becomes sharp uneven fragments We come, as slowly, to it: there
Under the mountain with its head of cloud, Through staves of downward telephone wire, Its scattered stones, covered like a scree slope; The foundation, stretched into a mound You have to guess at -
But it stands in the air, where it was It stands where air is stronger than stone Grey, within grey, where the pass goes upwards Grey as the rain-sky echoes its aura Of in-seen, magnetic space
And this stone, smaller than a pebble With its bloodstain like a smear of quartz Is red, is fresh - for you remembering
The Arrow of Glenlyon, fallen - The house of love, beaten down
And Kilchurn, beside it, like a mere decoration Smiling, cracked - empty. Justice.
The way the earth does it.
And the heart is a single swallow Dipping and curving over the lake shore Through the dusk in its arc - its black-fork -tailed, sweeping flight (catching midges!)
He flies alone and untrammelled as if for us
He flies, unheeding faster than you can name him
Soft, to his word - and, one by one... seven come join him
And then those ducks, swimming along Come round from the island - With one trailing behind,
All at once, comically, dipping down; Under the water, for what seemed Far too long surfacing, together, fifty yards on
Under the one sky that is cloud and loch
Cloud-loch, loch-space: containing us, To see things, seeing them as they are At the speed they are and of one, walking
(And to see why - or how -
The lightness is everything). 6
Before you wake - Though the wind has blown all night, Before you wake I would bring you this peace.
Rest now. Be with your dreams. For the road is long, But I know the way.
I go alone now. I have come. To this place of the heart again:
And the peace is everywhere, you can hear it now The peace is the bees, the peace is the flowers, The peace is the flies, the peace is the stones, And the peace is the man, sitting there
With the stream flow, below, beneath the conifers And what was rain... become clear, become sun And the rain's whisper, a slow sea in the trees Breathing now, as a fly lands on the page
And rubs its antennae, as if trusting him The way the bee trusts the thistle it nestles in, And the tiny snail the wall it crawls across, And the toadstools the moss stump they grow on
And the far wall leans in the arms of the tree, The green world is given sanctuary As I would give it to you -
And the font is a well of soul, A deep black well of soul, Bubbling up from inside like a fountain To bathe your face in;
And as you kneel at last, and see it A voice like your own, but not your own Can tell you Be cleansed in your heart.
And how long you were there, you don't know. It seems you have been out of time.
It seems, it all seems, until you come to And your foot half-trips over a heart-shaped stone: I will carry it to you
Where you sit, Lying as you woke in your cocoon And you did not know who spoke to you, But words came, and you wrote them, all of them
And the whole thing flowed from end to end
She said: the way to the Goddess is steep And many have gone down without returning, But you shall
And the world is full of the prophesies of doom, It is time for the prophecy of joy Speak it -
And know that the wounds within you Are as nothing compared with your inheritance, Child
The way of the crucifixion is gone The time of joy and manifesting is at hand And the way of the earth is the way of God:
You will be heard in all places, by what you do; Let your soul carry you, Let the spirit empty into you
And she ran, she ran out of the castle - Holding a baby under her left arm And a knife in her hand, Stabbing at the invading men -
Black hair, and cloak - her eyes blazing And the stone cleft she went under then, Holding the child as she looked at her eyes So still and blue in their calm
And her man gone, only the cave remaining The cave in the hill of her conceiving
Annie MacGregor, your sister and friend
The great silent vista of loch water Shimmering behind you, and behind the tent -
- the silent stretches of conifers and even more silent the mountains, beyond -
As you sit on an upturned bowl, In your kerchief; hardly believing, Even, disbelieving
How it comes so out of time and place To find us so unexpectedly in place And what opens in us to meet it we have never seen
Praise be the fruit and the lion, Praise be in the days of fire to come Praise be the one who sings this song
It is not courage or valour, but tenderness It is not loud - it is not arrogance And it is stronger than steel: it is the rose
Marrow of wisdom, born from the rock
And if you want to hit the rock with the stone, Don't try to throw the stone at the rock But let the stone hit the rock
And he said, now I have come here at last, again
Think of all the ways the heart needs cleansing, For this new birth to take place - It is not enough that the mind is made light, The heart too must be made light
All mind-work now needs to be heart-work: And this is the new education of earth. For too long spirit has been understood in mind, And this is why He came to earth
To show you the way of the heart To show you that the way of heaven is earth's. When you understand this, your lives will be released In ways almost inconceivable to you now.
This wild place speaks it - Fallen stones and rising ground - And the font where heaven and earth meet, and in you. And this is the task of speech:
To be of the heart, to be of your whole body, That the heart alone can hold and contain Every level within you - become mind in heart, And heart in mind, though you have no word for it
No word for what the mind is to become. And this is the place of fire - To be brought into the heart and its cleansing, And the meaning of birth and the heart are the same:
The heart is incarnation. It never forgets. What it has lived, it always remembers... rose. The soul-mind comes closest.
So in this place of prayer and peace, Let your prayers be for the heart of the people, For the heart beyond all barriers and barricades, And the fear of the mind and its defences
Pray that the walls may fall as they are falling, Now the wind is blowing - and remember
That the heart's way is resurrection: To re-connect means the same.
Now go on your way and be glad, And know that to be a pilgrim is to walk in the heart - for the heart.
This place is your beginning.
This place is our beginning and our ending.
Kilneuair, let no harm come to you: Be sacred, be wild, be free.
Peace, and I would bring this to you: Even this fragment of stone
And now it's time to go.
Buffeted in the night - The tent flap shaken open, twice (the elastic guys worn and gone)
Crouching on the sodden groundsheet, And where the milk spilt - havoc. The borderland is no place to put roots down in.
The van packed, and the last of us An oval patch of grass and flattened mud Like a womb, or a mouth.
We leave no trace to the rain and the wind, And the loch is quiet, the loch is hidden.
The road opens like a wet black ribbon, On the edge of our unknown returning.
Loch Awe and London