Shed Stories #3 ‘A Bustle in your Hedgerow’

It is early January and it feels as if we have been submitted to nothing but rain and greyness for weeks on end now. But this morning, whilst walking the dog, the sun made a weak and watery appearance. It was as welcome and beatific, as the smile from a beautiful and much loved old grandmother, and like a glimmer of reassurance that good things will surely come.

This sensation of change is echoed by the twitterings and tweeting of the birds in the hedgerows, in the excited gathering of the crows over the woods and the calling of the woodpecker from the orchards. Despite this being, for many of us, the most miserable time of the year, there are indeed stirrings of hope and a sense of anticipation of spring. I know that the hardest weather of the winter may yet be to come but the days are already drawing out and the creatures of the fields and woods seem to have awoken from slumber.

The dark rose and the light overcame it.

On the winter solstice we celebrated the end of the darkness and the coming of the light with a few friends in our garden (pared down mainly to those who could come on foot because all parking spaces along the lanes were reduced to mud). We drank mulled wine, ate sweet meats and enjoyed some raucous carol singing but the highlight was, as ever, a visit from the Mari Lwyd herself. This one is stabled with very good friends of ours, John and Sue Exton, over the border into Wales and goes, appropriately, by the name of Sol. They do have the most beautiful Mari in the land!
Sol’s ostler begged us to let in her in to our ‘stable’ and our troop, led by folklorist Pamela Thom Rowe, initially refused but thankfully thought better of it and in she came! Hurrah! We welcome the light, we give respite to the footsore and weary, we make offerings of food and drink.

I absolutely love the combination of folklore, traditions, paganism and Christianity that are all at their height at this time of year. I know a lot of people get upset about the mash-up one way or another but I just think it’s a perfect coming together of the beautiful and the wild, the spiritual and the earthy, and there is something so wonderful about singing together around a fire. It was especially significant this year as it was the first time in four years we were able to gather on the solstice after three winters of covid issues.

The Christmas miracle this year was the fact that none of our family members had covid or were ill, so no social engagements had to be cancelled and we were able to see all family and friends as planned.

Naturally, this time of year is one where we stand at a moment of both looking back over the last twelve months and of looking forward to what is to come and assessing our hopes and dreams for the future.

My first reaction on looking back is to thank all of you for your new or continued support. So many of you seem to enjoy my posts on social media and make so many wonderful and positive comments that it is always affirming to read them. I think people particularly enjoyed the ‘advent calendar’ daily posts that I posted on Instagram and Facebook in the run up to the solstice.

I also cannot believe how popular the calendars have been but also how many of you have bought prints to adorn your homes with my work. It is the ultimate accolade and has also been a lifeline in a year when I have been busy working on the book, Wild Folk, and less able to produce stained glass for sale.

It is a year since we launched the crowd funder for Wild Folk. The date we chose was auspicious for many reasons; it was January 6th, which is associated with the festival of Epiphany, the ribaldry of twelfth night, and often chosen as a night for wassailing and making offerings to the Old Gods. But last year it was doubly special in that it was the night of a super moon, and the first full moon of the year, the Wolf Moon, the Ice Moon, or the Old Moon.

We had little with which to launch. I had made three pieces of stained glass destined for the book and Jackie had written a couple of completed stories and had outlines for several more. Seven Fables had also created an enchanting film of us both in my workshop and garden (with soundscape by my son, Dougal). See link to refresh your memory.

We had a framework, friendship and faith; a conviction that we could make something very special together born out of trust, excitement and a little madness. Luckily John Mitchinson of Unbound, was an integral part of this, having been midwife to the idea a couple of months earlier on the flanks of Exmoor; the birth was heralded by owls and stags, ravens and rainbows.

Luckily for us there were enough of you out there who were able to appreciate and commit to our vision and, incredibly, we achieved 100% funding within five days of launching. I happened to be at Jackie’s house when this was happening and we were wild with excitement as we watched the numbers of subscribers rise. It was a wonderful start to the year.

Since then the words have been rolling in beautiful strings from Jackie’s pen like dark pearls, each string a sentence with which I bedeck my mind with images. Some appear instantly in new born glory, others are rolled over and polished with time and walking, allowing the ghosts of ideas to gradually appear.

There is a great distance between what happens in my mind and what eventually appears on and in the glass especially when it comes to shape shifters. They will not be captured with ease in their moment of alteration but dance and tease and I fear there will be several that I wish to return to over and over. And although the processes of working on glass may sometimes feel slow the material itself lends itself to ideas of enchantment and second glimpses, of things transformed. It really has been a joy and the perfect challenge working on this and I feel it has complimented the work that I have made for galleries over the same period.

In October Jackie, John and I were once again perched on the edge of Exmoor with the wonderful Seven Fables and, incredibly, were together when Wild Folk reached 200% funding. The synchronicity and serendipity associated with this book is quite astonishing.

However, with regard to Wild Folk it is now a year on from our launch and I need to cast all other commitments aside and spend the next few months immersing myself in the Wild Folk world and completing the illustrations for the book. Jackie has completed five of the stories and the other two exist as first drafts. I have inhabited six of the seven worlds to some extent but, oh my, the seventh may draw me in so far that I may never return!

Hopefully, I shall update you in my next newsletter which should coincide with the early spring festival of Imbolc.

Fare well through this month and may you have a kind year ahead.
Thank you,