Song & Story
By: John Bailey
The rain has stopped. That's what it is. The rain has stopped, the sky has cleared, and a brilliant full moon fills the cottage with light. And I'm full awake while the clan sleeps peacefully on.
This is too good to miss. Slide off the bed, quiet now, gentle does it. Slippers. Robe. Through the hallway, pulling and latching the door. A couple of steps across the moonlight lake in the hallway, across the living room, senior cat curled tight asleep by the wood burner, down the steps and left into the kitchen. I can do this in the pitchy dark but there's no need for care tonight. The whole cottage is aglow.
Meg, good dog, snuffs a veteran huff and goes back to sleep. Not too long ago she'd have been standing, shaking sleep away, bright and ready for any nocturnal adventure. Now she has her own dreams to follow. "Good girl. Stay there. Stay there."
Three or four feline eyes open at random in the heap of cat tangled by the range. And close again. These languorous beasts won't shift.
Pull kettle forward, lift the hob cover and set water to boil. Coffee. Instant. Not a moment to waste. Tray. Mug. Coffee pot. Pipe. Tobacco. Yard boots and coat, lift the latch, step over the sill and into full, splendid moonlight, laying, white gold, across the path.
Oh, the sweet, silent soul quickening joy of it!
From my chair I look down on the horse pasture some thirty feet below. Eighteen acres of the most beautiful river meadow in Wales. Beyond, the river chatters in its dark stony cutting, high and loud with rain water and hidden by the tree cover that clads the far side of my secret valley.
The moon sails over my left shoulder, outlining tall elm tree shadows across the meadow - a filigree that could be a silversmith's life work. And between each long tree shape the grass gleams, jewel-wet still with the rain. I've been told the human eye can't see colour by moonlight. Whoever invented that myth should come and sit here with me for a while. A slate blue sky lids the valley and if that field isn't green it's a damn fine actor.
Down below, half-in, half-out of the shadows, three brood mares stand dozing over their foals. Blossom, the leader, lifts her head, stares at me as I move, snorts quietly and resumes whatever it is that horses do when they sleep. She knows me. She thinks I'm mad, but she knows me and knows I'm no threat. Too many crunchy carrots have passed between us for her to fear me.
And here I am. Alone. Sipping coffee, plugging my pipe, gazing over this small closed landscape and sinking into my moon reverie.
The first time I did this was enough to addict me for life.
It was a night like this except it was bitter, stilly cold and there was a thick blanket of snow. The moon cast the same shadows across the meadow though the trees were leafless, and the white field bounced the light, prismatic, into the air. I'd ventured out because the view from the window was totally compelling.
A snow mist, hugging the tops, rolled down into the valley and, at the crest of the hill, riding the mist, the strangest thing I ever saw or heard.
Dancing in the mist there was a line of small, part-formed rainbows. Rainbows by moonlight! Shivers of almost coloured light riding the waves. And I swear they were singing. Subliminal crystal voices, on the edge of hearing, but the song fell across the valley to meet the moon. Almost words. In a tongue neither English nor Welsh, though closer to the latter. A line of Celtic angels resplendent on the hills.
I don't know how long I sat there that first time. My pipe went cold and my coffee steamed undrunk. I seemed to be captive, witness, uniquely chained and privileged, to a wild, primitive rift in reality.
If a cloud had not drifted over the face of the moon, plunging the entire valley back into unformed darkness, I think I might easily have drifted away to join the dance. These are savage and unfeeling spirits. But the instinct of survival came to help me before the cold settled too far into my bones.
Oh well, pipe's finished, coffee's drunk, the night wears on, and I'd better creep back before anyone stirs and misses me. Back into the range-snug kitchen and tippety-toe back to bed to lay for a while before sleep, listening to the secret voices of the night.
John Bailey started writing in the fifties, responding to Thoreau: "I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only." He says he's been stealing wild apples ever since. Apart from a brief foray into the London pub poetry scene in the sixties, he's kept all his work in a box labelled: "Emily." He has recently discovered a newer kind of farm - the Internet - and now prowls its web, enjoying and appropriating its most valuable parts.
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