ONCE , LONG BEFORE MOST FOLK CAN REMEMBER, I was keeper of the fire. The people depended on me; they knew I understood the secrets of turning last night’s grey ashes back to burning flame…..but even I had to sleep for a little while at least.
Yet even in sleep I dreamed. I dreamed the dreams the auld ones told me. They held the secrets of fire, passed from the oldest Grandsire of my lineage, down and down through years beyond counting, they held the secret close. So simple to the initiated; all fire wanted was company, the slow burning flame of passion. Passion for fire. So so simple for the ones who knew.

And all these senses were a living knowing thing, a skill as easy as breathing. For me, and the young ones growing who came to sit and stare all the long cold nights and days, intoxicated by the flames, hypnotised, seeking visions. I taught the oldest, who taught the next in line, right on through to the small babies, their eyes alight with flames. Each had a task to fulfil in their training.
Each had to know how an unwatched fire left lonely, could turn against the people, become a raging, roaring fury….a monster. A fire untended became surly and uncooperative, difficult to relight…..or, forgotten by laziness, a greedy, ravening thing, eating up the plains we hunted on, boiling the rivers to dead dry sand, destroying the forests, burning all the trees, the wood we needed, the wood we depended on for fire.

Ignorant, untaught, many people laughed at my warnings “She’s crazy,” I heard them say, laughing quietly behind their hands as they sneaked away under the cover of early morning business, to run and play. But fire is hungry, needs company….and while I live, I will give it what it wants….for I have the secret of fire deep within me….I am the kindling that feeds the flame.

MargaretArlen ©️ Winter 2019

Thanks to Gracie Rose for Fire Photo


I realised when I headed off into the Forest, it was always the Hunter that was foremost in me, old ways reignited, to wander with intent, eyes trained to seek and find….to notice the smallest detail. Once found the thrill had gone, I had what I wanted, but in the finding of it, I lost something else.

Where were my people….the auld ones I’d hunted with daily.
The auld man who taught me how to make snares to trap animals; for food and clothing.
My grandmother, so long gone, but dearly remembered….she always knew the best places to find berries, she knew all the ways of cooking and preserving them, and then using the last of the juices for dyeing.
I remember even the ones I can’t recall.
I hear their voices telling me the way of it, I hear them calling from their graves, passing on the knowledge….the way they were in the world long before we turned away.

Now shopping has replaced hunting, we still hunger to hunt and forage….to tread softly over dead leaves instead of concrete and bitumen. To walk searching, using our bodies, retraining muscles that are wasting away, shedding loose skin and excess fat, to find the long hard way home…home to the ways of our Ancestors.

All our activity centred around the fire…, warmth, conversation, and before that, the gathering of wood, a constant, never ending search for it; and all along the way if we were lucky, because back then water was plentiful….there was always enough rain, so that bending down to gather broken branches, newly emerged mushrooms would be found and collected, yet always leaving some behind for next season…..further along the way were wild lettuce and sorrel….. chicory. Laden down with nature’s bounty and many helping hands, we would arrive back to camp, with firewood and food….our bodies exhausted, but now others could unload, could cook, as we lay down around the blazing fire to take our rest; to sleep curled beside each other….the logs crackling cheerfully, the cooking pots bubbling, sparks rising up blazing against a night sky.

Racks nearby drying skins and food.
Life was harder then, but so were we. Our bodies flexible as bow strings, our minds sharp as the tip of an arrow.

And now the world is burning, the animals we lived alongside, they’re dying….as are we, from stress, addiction, depression, obesity…..

And me….so tired I could lay right down on the hard dry ground that aches for rain, but gets none…..lie down, curl into myself like a dying leaf, and just let go….

All is lost…..all is lost, and I am too tired to do a single thing about it…..

MA ©️ Spring 2019
Photo by Author….Waldheim Forest, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania.

A Cuckoo in the Nest

The little Thrush worked tirelessly…..a Falcon had killed her mate and so she left the nest making swift forays to feed herself, never going too far away….. returning to her three speckled eggs. Then one day as she flew in and perched on the rim, the nest had changed… very large egg had been placed right in the centre.
Her mothering instincts accepted the new egg, and she adjusted her body to fit the new shape….the largest egg a protruding lump, beneath her.
Days turned to weeks….her life was difficult with no mate to feed her, but her only conscious thought was the protection of her eggs…..all of them.
They cheeped to her as she sat, her soft belly feathers a constant protective warmth around them….she spoke back, bending her neck, turning the eggs with her delicate beak, mothering.

One by one they hatched, three perfect replicas of herself and her mate, and one huge exception. Now finding food on her own took her all day.
The largest chick was insatiable, greedily pushing in, taking from the others.
The little mother was barely eating herself, her body just soft brown feathers and fragile bones. Each return to the nest, there was one less Thrush baby, but driven by instinct she kept feeding the remaining chicks….feeding the interloper.

The days passed, Spring turned to Summer….exhausted from the constant search for food, she landed, crop filled to feed her nestlings as dusk descended on the day.
One chick remained, the Cuckoo …..beak opened, its voracious appetite demanding, as she disgorged her feed into its gaping beak.

The Cuckoo outgrew the mother, pushing her aside in the nest with vicious little pecks, yet still she flew back and forth, feeding it.
It grew flight feathers, sat on the rim of the nest flapping its wings, hopping back and forth with tiny practise flights, constantly pecking the small mother, as it grew bigger, stronger.

And then one sunny summers day, it flew….bold and strong, straight out through the protective cover of branches into the flight path of the same Falcon, who seized it with strong talons and carried it away to feed its hungry nestlings.

The little thrush sat quietly on the rim of the nest, preening her feathers.
Nearby, she heard the soft siren call of a male. He flew back and forth, courting her and in the fullness of time, she left the nest behind….flew with him to a secret glade far, far away, to begin again.

MargaretArlen ©️
Spring 2020

The Wolf Pack and the Old Woman

…..a work in progress

Everything had been left in an orderly, organised way. Boxes packed with labels attached, leaving just the right thing, for each member of her family.
Much more given away….her precious books she knew no one close to her would value.
A mass of paperwork now ashes, cooling in the fireplace.
She was simply too tired to go on, yet her heart still beat strongly.
She yearned for release, but death by her own hand wasn’t an option.
She had no idea why, she just couldn’t do it…..not out of cowardice, or the difficulty of making a choice (there were so many); it was more a revulsion of leaving that legacy behind, for her children and grandchildren “life, after all, was intolerable.”
Yet is was….all the long lonely years, waiting for her mate.
She was bent down to the ground with it.
With her heartsickness.

She built one last fire for the night, and would sleep by it….after all, fire had been her comfort, her closest companion through many other nights like this….she knew there would be frost by morning….she could feel it.

When day dawned, she heaved her small bag over her shoulders, doused the fire, walked out the door and didn’t look back.

There was no clear plan, only to keep walking until she had to stop….light a fire, then lie down on the ground beside it, sleep, then walk again. She wore her clothes layered, with light warm weather garments against her skin, covered by thick cold weather clothing, topped by her long coat she’d worn for years (the one her son had worn before her, then given to her so long back she’d forgotten how many years it had served her), with its simple tie belt and deep pockets which now held several pairs of her favourite fingerless gloves, two extra pairs of socks, a warm woollen hat, and her glasses… her pack was one book she’d read time and time again and would read until the end, or when the spine broke and the pages fell around her feet. Perhaps then, she would know the story well enough to see it in her mind’s eye, and the precious story could be renewed as kindling for her fire. In her pack she carried an enamel plate and mug, sharp knife, fork and spoon, a small pack of tea, some hard cheese…a small loaf of bread, coffee, three apples, and 4 boxes of matches. And for blankets, three soft warm rugs, a gift from her daughter.
Light enough to wrap, layered round her hips, or a shawl on her shoulders.
At night she would lie down under a big dense tree and make a bed beneath of fallen leaves, wrap herself in her three soft blankets and watch the glow of her small fire until she fell asleep….and if she was attacked by animals, so much the better.
A quick bite to the throat with razor teeth, sharp pain, a fast bleed out, then blissful nothingness.
She hoped that wherever she went to after that, was a kinder…more hospitable place. She hoped she would meet her Grandmother.

In the morning when she woke, a crow was poking around the outskirts of the fire, looking for anything edible…saw her turn over and sit up and the crow turned too….silently observing each other. She knew the crow clan, felt a kinship with them, so she sat beneath the big old Tree contemplating crow, as he did, she.
Getting comfortable with each other.
Her body ached all over, but the sharp cold air woke her, regenerated her.
She was free now to stretch and groan, to ache and moan, to rise up off the ground slowly, reach into her bag for some bread and cheese and share it with her dark companion. They were in accord, there was no threat or fear.
Bread, cheese and one small apple….and breakfast was done, except for coffee.
The Crow, delighted with an offering of cheese, moved closer….nestled down in the leaf strewn ground beside the fire, and tilted its head, watching her with its wise dark eyes. She loosened up, the stiffness and aches from sleeping on the ground easing as she busied herself with brewing coffee, the intoxicating fragrance floating up and out on the cold morning air. Walking around the small fire, adding just enough sticks to heat her brew, the crow rose suddenly, preened it’s glossy black feathers for a bit, swivelled it’s head to gaze once more at her…and then it flew.
The old woman pushed a huge pile of fallen leaves into a good thick cushion, then sat down, her back against the tree, gaining strength from its huge trunk….listening to the sap stories as they made their way upward, all along the myriad branches and twigs….offering it silent thanks, for the thick shelter it had provided her with while she slept. Listening, looking upwards into its thick canopy and drinking strong coffee.
And then for a small while, she slept; and woke staring into the long grey muzzle, the golden eyes and sharp pricked ears of a grey wolf…so close by she could smell its carrion breath. Perched halfway along its spine was the crow.
And listening in the morning woodland silence, so filled with quiet noise….she heard it speak….into her mind.
Follow us, I have found your family….the meaning dripped like golden bells, the message ringing clearly….although she’d asked for nothing….the bird was offering her what? A family….what did that even mean?
The wolf panted softly, standing on her right, golden eyes observant, but friendly.
She listened to the inner dialogue….a soothing comfort, and gradually fell asleep once more, lying curled up tight against the morning cold upon the forest floor and woke, surrounded. A circle of seven wolves around the dying embers, and the crow nestled in against her body, seeking warmth.

Later she thought back to that new beginning….how completely normal it seemed.
Now, as the pack hunted, mostly led to meat by the crow family, she would stay behind, tending the fire and caring for the wolf cubs….a human grandmother.
The Alpha male always fed her, bringing the freshest meat to drop at her feet, then returning to the carcass and the pack, to gorge with the rest of them….then dragging left overs for the cubs, not quite weaned, but tearing at the kill with tiny razor teeth.
And she, free to forage when the pack returned, gathered edible fungus, wild onions, sorrel, lettuce, chicory…..everything cooked in her one small pot….the meat and onions with water from the nearby spring, then the mushrooms and greens when it was well cooked and almost ready. Afterwards she might have a handful of berries.
Then, replete with good fresh food, she would scour her pot with sand, fill it with water heated on the fire, and clean it again, and then, once more she would stretch to ease cramped muscles then lie back down upon the ground….the Cubs sleeping with her, covering her with the warmth of their small bodies… the Crow family roosted above her in the sheltering trees.

MargaretArlen ©️ 2021