Black Mud and Rising Waters

The heart formed around a broken branch in Borthwood Copse

The heart formed around a broken branch in Borthwood Copse

I sat at the base of the big oak in our little spot in the woods, listening to the rush of water in the valley below me, the Yar’s banks swollen and fast flowing after the rains. Our beautiful grove has oaks, birches, a giant holly and a crab apple – all feel like old friends now. The ground has sprung to life with bluebell shoots and foxglove leaves and the honeysuckle leaf buds have opened upon their dry tendrils. Beyond the crab apple is a badger set; Laurie and I have sat here in the dark listening to the satisfying sound of their sharp claws stripping bark and the amble of their stout bodies through the undergrowth in the steep gully below. Trish was actually visited by one at dusk during a solo meditation, wrapped silent and still in her blanket whilst the badger rooted around her. They feel like guardians of the grove and it’s comforting to think of their set stretching out deep beneath the woodland floor; their well trodden paths networking the valley. During ritual we have been visited by a massive dog fox, red squirrels and woodpeckers; in warmer months bats fly between the widely spaced pines. In the neighbouring field I have seen both barn owl and kestrel hunt; buzzards often fly low over the trees, the colouring of their beautiful chest and wing feathers clearly visible; mewling cries signalling their arrival.


Today the Canada geese fly in twos and small V shapes, ducks with stretched necks and rapid wing beats coming up from the swollen waters below. The sun is a deep orange globe sinking into the ridge behind me, the first quarter moon above. I feel the oak’s strength grounding and calming me, and I feel that familiar peace descend.


I am grateful for the feeling. All week I have felt more like the rising waters of the Yar, full to the brim with a strange uneasiness which I can’t quite fathom. Something is surfacing and in the peace I try to articulate it, seeking out its true shape. So much of us remains hidden to our conscious selves, that small ‘me’ that fools itself that it ‘sees’, ‘knows’ and ‘understands’. We are in a constant state of uncovering, a little more of our being surfacing into daylight, hopefully making itself known at a pace that our psyches can cope with. Sometimes we do our utmost to ignore what presents itself but denial can never be a good long-term strategy. My own psyche feels fidgety and anxious, perhaps more aware of the surging currents of the valley waters, the barely contained building of waxing energy that will explode into life over these coming weeks.


The allergic swelling returned last week. One night I awoke alarmed to feel the tightening spreading down my legs and up across my chest. I could feel irritation in my windpipe, a sudden panic that my throat might close. I calmed myself as best I could and in my half-waking, half sleeping state, focused on the swelling in my pelvis, reaching for an answer. I got the sudden, vivid image of a wolf, black with patches of red fur – a beautiful creature. I have often seen wolves at times of extreme stress; vivid, spontaneous moving images that have brought with them feelings of being powerfully protected. My black wolf started to howl, and I knew immediately that he was crying for his pack, a sound of such painful longing that I actually started to cry. He sung my hurt.


How strange is grief? Just when you think that those feelings have passed from your life, a little more surfaces, just enough for you to cope with and process; no set time, no set pattern. The image then changed…


Just recently we had visited Blackgang beach. The path down through the landslip was stable until we reached the bottom, where the loose, black soil had erupted with a new shift. In the heavy rains it had become waterlogged, although looked deceptively solid. In my urgency to reach the beach, I had sunk into the mud up to my knees. The more I struggled to free myself, the more the grip of the mud held me, sucking me down deeper. Now, in my inner vision, I was back at Blackgang, only this time I was utterly naked, covered in mud, stuck once again up to my knees. The wolf stretched out upon his belly next to me, and I knew with a startling clarity that I had only to fall backwards; stop fighting to free myself. I surrendered to the soft, wet soil. I was not sucked under but felt the warmth of the mud holding me. I felt such extraordinary relief that I was not required to fight, to struggle; all that was required of me was to be present in this place. We can try to defend ourselves against our own pain but it is a tiring and unproductive process. Sometimes we really do have to just sit and be with our own grief, not trying to fix it or change it, merely opening up enough to accept its presence within. Ultimately we come to understand this process as a healing force.


Sat against the steady trunk of the oak, my current uneasiness settles into quiet; I realise that I am still processing much; that black mud still present in the creases and pores of my skin, the stain of it still visible if I look closely enough. This thought brings to mind some lines from a poem by Vicki Feaver:


…and the nights

when I lay on the roof – my emptiness

like the emptiness of a temple

with the doors kicked in; and the mornings

when I rolled in the ash of the fire

just to be touched and dirtied

by something.


I know that I am far past that point of numbness that Vicki’s poem speaks of; life bursts in on me daily and in nature I feel it vividly. When we suffer loss, the act of loving and trusting again can feel painfully hard. It is not that love and connection are not desired, on the contrary; the emptiness that Vicki’s poem writes of echoes with both the yearning and the fear. If I am totally honest, intimacy scares me and draws me in equal measure. I think that I have found a closeness to nature far less threatening to achieve than closeness to other human beings, but as my wolf clearly understands, we all need our soul tribe; the mud and ash on our naked skin is also about allowing the world outside to touch us, to impact upon us – as dangerous as this might feel, without it the emptiness remains.





  1. trish said,

    March 10, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    your last paragraph is so pertinent to me too, I yearn intimacy yet am absolutely terrified by it and each time i put out a hand to reach it am burnt and terror reigns again. Nature is so much easier, not predictable but understandable. i don’t want to be empty. I misunderstand and read the signals all wrong, I still have so much learing to do, and so much letting go to do. I love these woods and feel so at home and alive in the woods. I have an a paragraph in a book i wnat to share with you which is so similar to what you have described, about the sinking into the mud…will i ever find my soul mate or is my destiny to be alone in the woods?

  2. luckyloom1 said,

    March 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    You are never alone in the woods my lovely one! Our relationships -and the lack of them! – teach us so much. I can’t help but feel that it is our relationship with our self that is key to being able to open to that sense of connection. Sometimes romantic relationships can be distractions from our own unresolved stuff; sometimes they can be the very teachers to help us deal with that ‘stuff’. I think the soul mate tag is a little misleading; it suggests that once we have found this mythical being, life is going to be sweet and untroubling. Not only that, we might actually find a relationship of true connection but if our heads aren’t in the right space, we can be blind to it. Yearning for the soul mate can trap us into gazing perpetually at some hoped for future event while our life ticks away. Why divide your life into ‘soul mate’ or ‘alone’? It sounds like a rather limited ultimatum. So many people love you and care for you sweet cheeks – time to love and care for yourself maybe? See you in the woods. XXX

  3. trish said,

    March 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you. I must have been in a low place last night because actually when i go to the woods i do never feel alone, thank you for reminding me and putting me back in touch with how I actually feel! I do get distracted from time to time an dforget to look out and indeed divide my time between soul mate and alone an dof course both ar emy life and i know that I would like to learn to enjoy alone, and appreciate it more, as valuable time. I am so lucky i dohave a lot of peole who love me, yoy are right, and i love them too, will make a lot of effort to love me too. Thanks. Goodluck again if you are still on line xxx

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