O magnum mysterium

Jack's antlers O magnum mysterium,  et admirabile sacramentum,     ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,  jacentem in praesepio!             O great mystery,  and wonderful sacrament,  that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!

This sacred text, oft set to music in a magical and very reflective way, gets to the heart of the miracle of this, the darkest time of the year and the place of us small creatures at its very core. In our hedgerows and fens, on the marshland and in the shallows, we creatures reach out before dawn, and with unspeaking witness cherish the returning light, even as the wind thunders about us. Uncle Jonny, antlers akimbo, warms our cockles once again as we remember his Christmas worthiness. Where the humans cannot enter, there we shall be found: innocent, loving, curious, dependable, capable of joy.

220px-Geertgen_tot_Sint_Jans_002Some folk will never get it; some will never reach out to touch our warm, soft ears. But, like Chesterton’s donkey, and Eliot’s camels, we are sometimes given another’s voice to say the things we’ve understood and, at quiet times like this, keep faith with changing fortune while, in the most important way of all, we always keep our counsel.  Outside, where snowdrops are peeping up, and the darkling thrush is carolling, many folk are suffering again as the wintry weather devastates their days and pulverizes their plans. Simpler to wait, in the cold, dark, longest night of all, and feel the fur and feather keeping the secret close as we huddle and gaze. Whatever it is, it is here with us.

Our praises are our wages

IMG_1088 Yesterday there was a gathering, and words of praise and thanks were spoken for a life that had touched ours. The resting place is quiet, peaceful and troubled only by the wind and rain from above and the badgers and foxes from the neighbouring fields. The words of George Herbert were sung over a simple wicker coffin and we banished hobgoblins and foul fiends from our minds, as Bunyan bade us. A long life and a good one.

IMG_1090Today we wrestled with the wind, a bit further down the coast by way of an outing. We boys freed our minds and tested our jaws on a new seaweed crop, under the distant shadow of Dunstanburgh Castle. Bright sun, icy chills and penetrating rain alternated, wetting our fur and coating our faces with sticky sand: all in a day’s work for a native Northumbrian, of course.  Christmas, with its frills and furbelows seems a long way away, but I am hopeful, for the twinkling tree of blue by the front door, and the sparkling fence of white alongside it suggest some further fun ahead.

IMG_1084If, when you look into my eyes one day, you can say I did all well – in good heart – and only got it wrong because I didn’t understand or hadn’t been taught better, then I will have been the best I can – like Uncle Jonny, or Uncle Willie, or even the great Noggs himself. Heaven knows he made enough mistakes, and he a legend and a lesson to us all. He had been known to frown, and even growled quite threateningly when infirmity began to catch his sides with pain of which he couldn’t otherwise speak and no one could suspect.  Barnaby wants too much, of love and everyone’s attention; our Newman wants his own way, or he sulks. I am noisily impatient for life’s riches. We are all flawed. But we cling on and are let in under the table where the sandwiches are laid, and shelter found. Despite our faults, we find a place with Lazarus. As someone famous once said: for us there is only the trying; the rest is not our business.


IMG_0327Today’s date is so remarkable that there will not be another one like it in any of our lifetimes. And yesterday was an important day, too: on it Old Man Ten Blankets passed quietly into memory. When Kemo Sabe returned from her daily visitation, it was clear that things had changed, changed utterly. After nearly a hundred years, and of course that means all her considerable lifetime, he was no longer alive.

Jack at St BeesThe finality of death is striking and shocking; as those who read my ponderings regularly know, Uncle Jonny’s passing still plays upon my mind, and I am but a humble spaniel who knew him only briefly. What is also clear is that he lives here still, every day in our thoughts and words, our laughter and our recollections. Such is a life: springing up and falling, a fountain of possibilities. It is late but she is still here with me in the kitchen; I am the only one awake and listening to her heart. I will make sense of it for her, for all of us.

. . . and sausages for tea

IMG00290-20131016-0755First, another glorious Northumberland sunrise! Such a peaceful, windless morning – calmer waters and gentle air about our ears – deserves to be recorded after what we’ve been through lately. As a routine, the daybreak outing sets the tone for the rest of the day, hence I often feel moved to dwell on it as I gather my thoughts on other things. But both wind and rain have set in now – nothing too dramatic, just very English dreariness.  By contrast, though, our lives were brightened by a dinner time when gorgeous bits of sausage replaced the usual jellies in our bowls.  The smell is legendary and utterly scrumptious! Perhaps I should explain: jellies, I now understand, are pieces of beef heart.  Breakfast and dinner consist of them, on top of vegetables and wholemeal bisquit. Lovely!

IMG_0227Though this kind of dinner is a complete first in my little life, Uncle Jonny used to have sausages every day in his later years and I remember when I was a tiny boy smelling them browning gently in the oven –  so savoury, so tempting. One day I shall write about the legend of the sausage about which all dogs learn by instinct and which is now generally thought to explain why we joined forces with humanity thousands of years ago. Jonny’s digestive incidents were certainly legendary, but it was sausages which kept his tummy on a surprisingly even keel. Whether we will see any more of this ambrosia I cannot tell, though I noticed the jelly box had been washed out and is lying empty on the shelf. When we grow old, as Jonny did, we can eat what we like so long as it keeps us well. This lovely picture was taken after he had enjoyed a meal of two steak pies freshly made by the local butcher, washed down with a bowl of tea. That day, none of us had to worry what the consequences might be as, when he woke up on the comfy sofa, lovely Lucy was there to take the pain away for good. He saw her and was glad. Remember what he told us: ‘Do not worry. I am very happy. I will always still be here.’ And he is.