Friday, 7 September 2012

Autumn Mist.............. A Seasonal Tale

Catherine loved this time of year, when the dawn brought mists and watery sun, or sometimes crisp coolness, the leaves began to fall and the berries began to grow plump and inviting on the hedgerows and amongst the trees. Now was the time she foraged far and wide, seeking out blackberries and elderberries, crab apples and all types of mushrooms, to make her special chutneys and preserves. It was the sale of these, along with the occasional drawing or watercolour, that enabled Catherine to stay in the quaint, thatched cottage bequeathed to her by her Grandmother. Catherine instinctively felt at her throat, for the heavy gold locket that had once belonged to her Grandma. It was Catherine's most treasured possession, a tangible memory of the dear old lady who had been her strength and comfort when her parents had died. Catherine, a little 5 year old, heartbroken and forlorn, had come to live with her only remaining relative. At first she had been stubborn and resentful, not understanding why she had to live with this old lady. She missed her parents dreadfully and cried herself to sleep each night. But Grandma, who was also grieving for the loss of her beloved daughter and son-in-law , was understanding and kind and gradually they helped each other through the dark days. That was now 15 years ago and this was the only home that Catherine could remember. She had had a blissful childhood, playing in the garden and running through the deep wood at the rear of the cottage. Her Grandma had taught her all about nature and the wonderous bounty it provided. Of berries and flowers, of nuts and mushrooms and about all the creatures and the beauty of nature. Together they had walked through the woods, with their wicker baskets, picking the abundant harvest, but never taking it all. Her Grandma had taught her to always leave some for the animals and "the wood". "Look after the wood and it will look after you !" she had said. Grandma used the berries and nuts to make delicious preserves and also some sort of mixtures and medicines, which the villagers bought to cure their coughs and colds, cuts and bruises. "Tonics" Grandma called them and Catherine could picture her now, stirring the huge preserving pan and smiling her kindly smile, while rows of gleaming jars and bottles stood on the kitchen table, waiting for their magical contents. Catherine opened the locket and saw the smiling face of her dear Grandmother gazing back at her. She stroked the lock of white hair that was nestling in the lid and could hardly believe that it was now almost a year since the old lady had passed away. At first Catherine had been inconsolable and would not leave the house, but gradually the villagers had coaxed her out. They encouraged her to go foraging once more and continued to call at the cottage for their chutneys and jams and bottles of "tonic". Her Grandma, it seemed, had been well loved and respected and considered to be a "kindly witch". Of course, Catherine had laughed at this notion, but agreed to continue her Grandmother's "work", although she thought the idea of witchcraft was totally ludicrous. She gently closed the locket and tucked it under her thick sweater, pulled on her woollen wrap and, grabbing her basket, she went out into the misty Autumn morning. Taking the path round the side of the house, she soon found herself in the wood. Today she was searching for mushrooms and went ever deeper into the trees. The mist seemed to close behind her and, stooping every now and then to gather the juicy fungi, she wandered on through the trees until she found herself in a small clearing. In the centre of the clearing was a standing stone, with a flat top and Catherine placed her basket on the stone and looked around. She thought that she knew every inch of the wood, but had never been here before. She slowly walked around the grassy circle on a well worn path, people had obviously been here many times, how could she have ever missed it ? Catherine heard a rustling sound coming from the trees to her left and there, in the mist, was the outline of a figure moving slowly towards her. She fled, leaving basket and mushrooms and all. She sensed the figure was following her, floating through the mist, chasing her and so she ran and ran, in blind panic, never daring to look around, stumbling through the undergrowth until she found herself in sunlight at the edge of the tree-line. Quickly turning, she peered into the trees, but there was nothing; nothing but the glint of sunlight and the sounds of birds. It was then that she thought of her basket, full of plump mushrooms and chided herself for being so silly. It had been the mist, hanging in the trees, playing tricks on her eyes and now a whole day was wasted. She put her hand to her chest to still her beating heart and, to her horror she noticed her precious locket was missing. She must have lost it somewhere in the wood during the fearful flight. Oh, she would never find it now, in all the tangled undergrowth and dead leaves, and now a storm was brewing. Catherine went indoors and tried to busy herself, while the rain lashed down and the sky grew dark.She went to bed late and spent a fitful night, full of weird dreams and woke early, determined to try to find her locket. She set off and carefully retraced her steps, searching on the ground as she went. She could clearly see the path she had taken, in her panic, as there were broken twigs and flattened ferns and threads torn from her wrap, hanging on branches and caught up in brambles. On she went, poking with a stick, among the detritus of the wood, but failing to see the precious glint of gold. Deeper and deeper into the wood she went until, suddenly, she was in the mysterious clearing once again. There was the standing stone and there was her basket, still perched on the top. She lifted it down and, to her amazement, she saw that all the mushrooms were gone, but nestling in the bottom of the basket was her gold locket and a small bottle of something labelled "Tonic". A mist clung to all the trees and bushes around the edge of the clearing, but slowly, through the mist, two old women appeared, black hooded capes drawn tightly around their bodies and willow branches woven into staffs in their hands. They stopped about 5 yards away from Catherine and smiled and nodded. Catherine felt no fear, she sensed that they meant her no harm. Then, the wrinkled old ladies lifted their gnarled hands towards the sky and there was a flash of blue and the clearing filled with light and there, floating above the standing stone was the figure of her Grandma, smiling and nodding.

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