Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England
All Hallows' Eve
on bended knee
come like the dust of autumn
to your door . . .
once I, too, was young
and the earth was new
"Your Gran always did lay a good fire," said Granddad as he stirred the coals.
"She makes good cocoa, too," I took a sip, wriggling my toes in the flickering light. Our shadows were head to head on the wall, mine almost as tall as his now with me sitting on the hearth rug and him leaning forward in his easy chair.
"Do you think I’ll ever see a live one, Granddad? One that’s not been trapped, or hit by a car?"
"I’d like to think so," mused Granddad, settling back against the cushions, cradling his pipe as he tamped the cherry tobacco with the same tenderness he showed the spring bulbs when he did the autumn planting.
"Watch the flames, how they dance, like the sunset behind the trees. But don’t forget the darkness. What we can’t see with our own eyes is not worth our time, or so we think, but there are those who wake when we are cosying up for the night, who know the day by its smell and the hour by its taste."
Pipe smoke began to curl softly around the edges of his words. He loved to wax lyrical, quoting his favourite poems whenever an opportunity presented itself.
"I looked when others said there was nothing to see. I saw the paths that my friends passed by. I sought out the combe and scrambled over the sliding chalk by beech and yew and perishing juniper, down the half precipices of its sides, with roots and rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter, the moon of Summer, and all the singing birds, except the missel-thrush that loves juniper were quite shut out. And so was I. But I waited. And I watched."
In the thicket of the flames, I saw a banded face. Granddad smiled. He'd seen it too.
"Child, this life, like the combe, was ever dark, ancient and dark. Its mouth is stopped with bramble, thorn, and briar. In a world of larks, robins, blackbirds, wrens, be the missel-thrush . . ."
where badgers sleep
with their elders' bones
we make our altar . . .
footfalls of yellow leaves
Italicised text is taken from "The Combe," by Edward Thomas.
December 2016: As the Badger Cull in the UK is set to be extended to more counties, the people of Cheshire joined forces with the largest rolling wildlife protection protest movement ever witnessed on these shores. Since 2013, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets in towns and cities across England to oppose the inhumane destruction of badgers in what has been proved to be a scientifically ineffective method of tackling bovine TB in cattle.