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