Before dawn on Monday, we emerged on to a Bamburgh beach cloaked in darkness. Despite the lengthening days, and an encroaching dawn, it might as well have been midnight that morning; the night had been so overcast. Only a little sliver of the moon was initially visible. Almost immediately, though, a great glowing red disc burnt through and presented itself. The wondrous blood moon – the supermoon; the harvest moon; the wolf moon – call it what you like. Standing proud at last, in contrast with the cloud cover, the moon intruded and illuminated all at once. Without hesitation, we spoke aloud Nick Bottom’s innocent words, ‘Sweet moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams. / I thank thee, Moon, for shining now so bright.’ Though we didn’t see the eclipse up our way, we were delighted to witness the enlarged and unexpected presence of our earth’s special friend, the secret life of which does so much to make our trundles possible at all, lighting those darkest moments before the dawn.
The Elizabethans thought of the moon as a planet in its own right and, though they were misled about that, the fact is that our moon has a profound effect on the life of both the earth and us upon it. The moon is the ruling influence and measure of all things in Shakespeare’s magical masterpiece, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and just as the Mechanicals employed it as a torch by which to rehearse in secret, we boys rely upon it to negotiate the icy rocks, check out distant strangers – canine or human, steer clear of pools left by the moon’s own tides and find our way to safety up the dunes when the waves are pressed by tidal surges. Whether blood-red, cold or watery, whether we enjoy revels beneath its gaze, whether moonshine blesses our endeavours or casts us into despair or madness, the moon’s transformative power is always affecting us. We both listen to it, and thank it for what Bottom calls its ‘gracious, golden, glittering gleams’.
By the time we reached Seahouses, the clouds had cleared completely and the most beautiful dawn had completely chased that sunniest of moons into oblivion. This hand in hand the instruments of illumination work upon us, bringing us hope and life, and making a ‘good grace’ of what might otherwise seem an unknown fear – what the new day might bring.
Tiny achievements and homely happiness have done their best to counterbalance the awful uncertainty from which this country as a whole has suffered over the past several weeks. When we learnt that young Frederick had won his class at the Border Union Championship Dog Show (beating his own breeder’s splendid young dachshund to boot); that the very next day at the same show our dear Dalmatian friend, Hannah (Buffrey Hanky Panky by Dalleaf) had won her class, having only recently won the reserve Dalmatian Bitch CC and Best Puppy at the Scottish Kennel Club Championship Show; that our blue tits have, as we suspected from the silence surrounding their now-abandoned box, successfully fledged – a deep feathery mattress being all they’ve left behind; that Kemo Sabe has decorated the circumference of our pond with fossil-encrusted swirls, and paved under the garden bench and made the composter more approachable as a result; that we are, as of now, all well and free from medication (a daily benison – good health – and we thank God for it); when we catch sight of the soaring martins chasing dreams across the whitewashed walls, gobbits of mud in their beaks, charged by the sun’s intense rays to build something and build it now, now that their tummies are full and the time is ripe; when we welcome friends and laugh with them, and choose new tiling and consider floors; close the new shutters against the beating afternoon sunshine, and cut the fragrant roses, pale and creamy, for beside the bed; feed Hammy spindly pea shoots and fresh basil, which he dips into day long. All these things and many, many more. Well then the strife, the discord, the amazement of recent events begin to diminish in intensity, becoming merely part of what there is, the ‘remote continents of pain’, as someone famous once said. So, you that way, we this way. Remember: I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee.
Today we celebrate the tiny yellow flowers which have sprung up here and there upon the heathland where we walk come afternoon. To some, ordinary and unremarkable because so commonplace in our literature; to others, precious because so rarely seen. John Clare, that poet of nature, referred to them in this sonnet:
The dancing Cowslips come in pleasant hours; Though seldom sung, they’re everybody’s flowers: They hurry from the world, and leave the cold; And all the meadows turn from green to gold: The shepherd finds them where he went to play, And wears a nosegay in his mouth all day: The maiden finds them in the pleasant grove, And puts them in her bosom with her love; She loves the ladysmocks: and just beyond The water blobs close to the meadow-pond. I’ve often gone — about where blackthorns stood — And got the Bedlam-Cowslips in the wood; Then found the blackbird’s nest, and noisy jay And up and threw the Cowslips all away!
How few today can take these gorgeous blooms for granted, treating them so wantonly. The faery has more respect, knowing the worth of every living thing. We of the upper world – humans and dogs alike – gamble and gawp, tumbling over tussocks as our concentration falters (yes, Puck is still out there, playing tricks!). We look for pearls in everything we see but, as yet, have found none in those little florets. Here are one Fairy’s words, taken from that most jewel-like of plays: