Once, very far from here, very far from anywhere in particular, a long gravel track wove its way deep into the heart of the countryside right to the edge of the wild. And where it ended, there stood a little house called Sunrise Cottage, framed by the biggest blue skies you ever did see all around. Its walls were made with flint and red brick framed the small windows. A neat little garden adorned its exterior with pretty little roses rambling over the walls. Amidst the ever changing and evolving landscape beyond, the cottage had stood unyielding and unaltered for many a long year.
Sunrise cottage was home to a family of three. A young girl lived there with her Mother and Father. Every day Rae would wake in her neat little room to the sound of life buzzing about the marshes beyond her house. Rolling over, she would reach down to fuss the dog that lay upon the rug beside her bed and listen; life was busy out there. Not like the life that dwelt within her home. For all its idyllic appearances, there was little mirth within the walls of the cottage and love was but a whisper buried deep within the cold stone and faded interior.
Rae rose early with the sun as it spread its warmth over every creek and every flower that adorned the tidal land beyond the grazing marshes next to her house. Swift reeled overhead, screaming to one another and the Swallows were busy chatting close by of journeys and great distances travelled to raise their young. Sedge Warblers chittered in the reed lined dykes and dragonflies danced over the water of the streams that fed into the river as it flowed down to meet the sea. And in the bleak of winters cold, the plaintive cry of seals singing far out on the sand drifted on the wind to haunt her.
And so summer arrived. Rising from bed Rae went to the window and drew aside the pale curtains to perform the same ritual she had undertaken everyday for as long as she could remember. Come rain or shine, she would lean out and greet the world that lay before her.What she was met with was freedom and endless possibility. Who knew what one may meet on a days exploring amongst the myriad of winding creeks, endless salt marsh and old grey dunes that opened onto blissful sandy beaches kissed by shimmering seas.
Softly she dressed and, followed by the faithful old terrier she went downstairs. Her mother lay asleep on the worn sofa. A blanket had slipped to the floor and an empty wine glass stood beside a tall bottle that had held her mothers escape from the indifference that consumed her.
Quickly, before her father came in, Rae went to the kitchen and filled a bag with some food, her jacket, just in case and a notebook and pencil. Hurridly, she raced out of the door, out to where the air was clear and she could feel free from the stifling atmosphere of the house.
Through the gate that hung off its hinges and away from dreariness and loneliness into the warm embrace of life, joy and exploration. There lay beyond the house a little path worn from many years of a child’s feet running along it. A friendly way which meandered through the grazing meadow. The little terrier followed after her, limping slightly on worn hind legs weary with age and the rigours of arthritis, but beyond the gate and no further could he make it. So instead he lay down in the early sun to watch the girl run on beyond to where he could not travel.
A sudden explosion of sound, filled not without its fair share of indignation, met Rae’s ears as she passed a ditch lined with small, twisted Willows and reeds swaying to the hum of a merry breeze . A Cettis Warbler didn’t hold back in letting her know that her early morning call was not well received, and neither were the cheery pings of the reed pheasants as they flocked through the wispy stems of reed.
The sun was beginning to climb higher, his light warming the damp earth beneath. Far off, a harnser flew languidly up from the edge of a mornings hunting along a creek while flashy Little Egrets, dazzling in their pure white cloaks on indigo silts and yellow feet gently played with the water in the creeks and pools, dabbling for food left behind by the receding water of the tide as it let the saltmarsh breath in the air once more.
Passing through the confined land reclaimed by man where cattle dwelt, Rae rambled out into the wild saltmarshes where will o’ the wisps roamed and legends shrouded in mist of fey folk and creatures unnamed beckoned. She stopped a while to gaze up at the unimaginable beauty of turquoise skies patterned with wisps of mackerel clouds which filled the senses. Skies larger than the land could fill. Skies which caused the beating heart to lose itself in the intoxicating vastness incomprehensible where horizons melted into nothing and all things were one.
All of this was home to Rae. Out here. The meandering creeks where the mud was dotted with the endless to-ing and fro-ing of Redshank and Curlew. Where life was untamed, uncivilised and free to follow the calling of its want. Here Rae, didn’t live in fear. Here there was only the heart of the earth and the sea to listen to. There was a loneliness, different to that of home but which was not consuming. It gave room for her to breath, to feel and to know life.
And so the summer passed on. The sun rose higher, the land became smaller and somehow less significant as the great orb laid claim to all beneath it, reaching its zenith one day that lasted an eternity. That day Rae stayed away from Sunrise Cottage all through the night and long past dawn. Out on the denes where she sang with the Seals basking in the perpetual light until the tide rose once more to lay claim to the territory beyond its borders.
When finally she returned home, her presence went unmarked and unnoticed. Her father sat pensively staring into the pages of a newspaper in the kitchen while her mother lay upon the bed, not present in the house, her mind drifting somewhere far off.
A bloom of purple in a haze of high summer filled the senses as Sea Lavender came and passed. Summer storms where the sky grew ferocious and the winds picked up the sand far out along the shore raged and died.
Autumn came and passed and so the deep dark of Winter came once more to freeze what little warmth there was within the hearts of lonely men.
Another morning and Rae awoke, reaching down to fuss the little terrier that lay by her bed. But this day was different. As she reached down, there was only space filled with air, not the wiry fur or warm body of the little dog usually there to greet her. He had always been in her life, a stalwart companion who passed the days with her. But old age had come to claim him and left Rae to wake alone in the silence of the house.
And so she rose and walked to the window. Slowly she drew back the curtains upon a dark morning where the stars still lingered in the cold blue sky above. As she looked out, a Crow cawed in greeting. A harsh and unyielding sound that greeted her ears. Rae shivered and hastily shut the window. Heaviness befell her of an intensity not previously known.
Like each day that dawned, Rae hurried out of the house to the land beyond. No Terrier followed, no friend would be there to welcome her when she returned home. Further she travelled, miles covered, weary feet and collar turned up to shield her against the biting claws of a cold winters breath. Even the land shivered.
The day wore on and in its brief alight, Rae began to turn for home.
From far off a sound long forgotten drifted toward her. An ancient song, and imbedded deep within the hearts of the dwellers by the lonely places between the sea and the land. As she looked up she could see thousands upon thousands of birds, silhouetted against the stark skies. Guiding one another, flying side by side. No loneliness dwelt within their ranks. The sky turned dark with the vast numbers of birds as they began their descent out upon the marshes, whiffling as they came into land. Banking sharply from side to side.
Rae stood and watched. The scene before her called out. The early evening skies turning indigo. She longed to move closer. Longed to be with the Geese. Day after day she escaped from the grief that haunted her home. Day after day she returned to find little cheer, often forgotten, she found little welcome.
The Geese looked out, flocked together and stood fast side by side. Some resting, some grazing, some watching what lay beyond.
Slowly her feet drew her closer to the incessant yet soft clatter of their conversation. Somehow it all seemed so familiar. In the fading light, to the Geese a shadow drew near to them. A whisper of something. In their alarm they took flight. Thousands of Geese heard the call and alighted once more. To the air, to safety they fled away from the spectre that haunted their slumber.
Grief took hold of Rae while the sad lament of the Grey Seals out on the Denes echoed in her ears. She followed after the Geese. Slowly they settled once more and just as suddenly they alighted again as they rose hurriedly away from this unknown presence that came ever after them.
And so, as the days wore on, Rae’s heart grew heavy with the burden of despair. Desperate, she tracked the geese and watched them from afar. An outsider, an outcast, she remained alone. The winter wore on and the Geese began to leave, returning to their Summerlands.
The Crow watched her as she began to fade, ever-knowing and ever patient he remained.
When at last the Geese had departed, Rae sat down upon the still earth and in her lament cried out to the sky above. Overcome, she let tears pour forth. In that moment, a Goose, alone and hurrying along his way, heard the cry. Something called deep within. The lamentation of a lost soul.
The Goose wheeled around and landed before Raes feet. Here was the shadow that had haunted them. Here was a small girl overcome with sadness. Words formed in Rae’s mind, from where she could not tell but they were real, internal and yet from somewhere external to herself.
Why do you cry little one?
Because I am so lonely.
Why are you lonely child? The goose stood before her, watching, then tucked his head to one side to preen the feathers of his wing. Raes head lifted from her lap, eyes red with tears. Before her was a goose erect on pale pink legs and covered with rosy brown feathers. So long had she followed them that to see one standing calmly and serenely before her now was something of a shock.
Because I have no one here to love me.
The creature appeared unconcerned by her presence and yet deeply aware of her. Their eyes met and she lost herself in the liquid dark watchfulness that penetrated her soul.
I have travelled many miles and many journeys and now I too am alone. Will you fly with me?
How? I am tied to the earth, she will not part with me.
The girl sighed and the Goose stretched his wings.
“Please don’t leave me” she whispered, fearing this being would depart. “Please don’t leave me to the darkness!”
Then fly with me to where the light never dies.
The sun was fading and the cold hand of night was wrapping itself about her. Mists began to unfurl from the hidden paths unseen to man. Rae began to shiver. But her heart grew light. Slowly she stood and followed after the Goose who had turned away. With beating wings the goose took to flight once more. Rae ran.
She cried out “Take me with you!” With arms outstretched her clothes melted away and feathers began to embrace her skin. Wings unfurled where once had been arms and the rush of air held her up as she followed after the goose. Higher and higher she rose, leaving the land of her birth behind.
From far below, a crow sat in the branches of a twisted, age-old hawthorn, gnarled and stunted from the spray of salt air and relentless winds. His gaze followed after the geese as they flew north. A harsh craac uttered from his beak and he watched the pair as they flew beyond the world to where time bears no meaning and despair is not known. He watched as his ward flew off to where comfort and friendship would heal the sadness that had long pursued her.
Silently he rose from the tree and left the tide to covert the marsh once more.