Last Saturday, early in the afternoon, I stood before a cottage window, gazing across a wide valley.
Filtered through mist, great hills rose and fell, like whales caught in freeze frame, arcing from a hazy sea.
Below the window, mere strides away from the cottage – and barely visible in sodden long grass – was a milestone. A Roman milestone.
Behind the old, stone cottage, a single-track road crawled up the hill.
I imagined the feet of legionnaires, marching.
Beyond the road, bounded by dry stone walls, a field clad the hillside to its summit.
A home to hares, leaping.
And final resting place, somewhere towards the crest, of my mother’s ashes.
This I didn’t know, when we set out that morning.
We met our hosts in April 2013.
It was a forced introduction – destiny had us share a table at an event featuring a Liverpool poet and a celebrated Texas Jewboy.
Destiny. A sly word. Full of meaning – and yet nebulous.
The four of us went on for more drinks after the show.
And as I stood outside a packed pub in the unseasonable warmth of the night, an air conditioner dripping water on my head, I knew something odd had happened.
The woman of the couple, until that night a stranger, had been born in the nursing home where I was born. We met, random table-mates, in a city neither of us inhabited. It felt odd.
We exchanged contact details, the four of us. But didn’t meet again. Until last Saturday.
The first I knew of their proximity to my mother’s ashes was a sign we passed, to a local beauty spot.
We absorbed the strangeness, much as we had the coincidence of our birthplace – and headed out for lunch.
In a quirky, elegant glass house, we drank tea. Ate open sandwiches.
On the way out a young woman with eyes too deep to fathom took our debit card.
‘Is that a pentangle?’ asked my husband.
She fingered the silver ornament around her neck.
‘I don’t know, I wore it because my daughter asked me.’
She smiled, deep eyes opening wide, raven hair framing her face.
‘But I do live in Sabden, under Pendle. And I do have a black cat.’
A woman in witching country, living with a familiar.
Perhaps she’s a genuine Lancashire witch.
I‘ll write about them one day. Not now.
Driving home I felt calm. Full of wonder at the world in which we live.
I’d had a strange week. A week of meetings and confessions. Successes and new starts.
So when I woke at one in the morning, a head full of jostling ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, I wasn’t at all surprised.
Then I woke again at three.
As four came around I slipped out of bed and went upstairs to the kitchen.
I made a hot drink and took it into our den, a room at the front of the house whose window overhangs the front garden.
I drew back the curtains.
Beyond the fence, to the west, we’re fringed by pine trees and birches. The ‘rough’ of a golf course built on old sand dunes.
The fat moon, haloed by a rainbow, beamed behind the black silhouettes of the pines.
Two fierce bright stars shone from a night sky drained of its darkness by the light of that fat moon.
Slender white clouds, scalloped and frail, like fragments of lace from a dainty nightgown, dotted the heavens.
On the cosseted grass of the golf course, a grey mist lurked, like a watchman, waiting.
Mesmerised, I opened the window.
Cool, moist air poured into the room. As if it had been waiting, at the sill, to be let in.
A rush of scent. Musky, sharp, but also sweet.
The scent of the currants growing lush and wild behind our fence. Domestic escapees in the rough, feet chafed by brambles and tickled by rosebay willowherb.
I leaned out.
A sound which could have been the sea reached a crescendo and faded. Not waves, though, the night was too still. A distant car, journeying who knows where. But gone, soon enough.
Remembering my hot drink I shut out the world once more.
Glancing east, I realised the world inland was dark, lit only by the street lights. No hint of the luminous night in the west, out above the sea.
I drank my draught of malty, milky comfort. Padded back to the window to gaze again on the day-lit night.
But the world had changed.
The treacherous clouds, their innocent vanguard the lacy trims, had stolen up from the coast.
No stars twinkled. And sombre shades obscured the dazzling moon.
I’d been granted a vision which had vanished.
A world seldom seen.
No wonder it couldn’t last.
Still seeking some lingering hint of the magic, I opened the window.
But even the scent had gone. The cool night air was now just cool night air.
And then a lone bird sang out.
High pitched but husky. Not equal to its starring role.
I listened a while. In the darkness.
Then a single ‘coo’ escaped a wood pigeon. And the blackbird awoke.
The prima donna, centre stage.
Dawn was on its way, whether I saw it or not.
I pulled out the sofa bed, wrapped myself in a woollen blanket and dozed.
Chilly – and ready for my Sunday cup of Assam tea – I woke at seven o’clock.
But full of wonder.
The world turned.
And I saw it.