On Giants and Wise Women

prompt: https://scvincent.com/2019/08/15/thursday-photo-prompt-journey-writephoto/

When I was a child my father said his mother had told him that the family was related to the Cornish Giant. I was an impressionable child and this story filled me with awe. Being related to a giant seemed kind of freaky – not quite right. I mean wouldn’t ‘nice’ people be related to pleasant beings like the fairies at the bottom of the garden or sweet little pixies. Having a giant as an ancestor kind of fitted with my family though. My dad was over 6′ tall and his sisters were tall unmarried women with mannish haircuts. My dad also had a foul temper and was prone to throwing his weight around. All in all, I was inclined to believe there might be some truth in the story.

As an adult I learned that there are many legends about giants in Cornwall so I can’t be altogether sure just which one I’m supposedly related to. One of the best known was Cormoran, a giant who lived on St Micheal’s Mount. He was a fearsome character who terrified the local villagers so much they offered a reward to anyone brave enough to kill him. A young boy called Jack claimed the reward when, against all odds, he disposed of the giant.

He did this by digging a pit half way up the Mount when the giant was asleep. He then roused Cormoran by blowing on his horn. Cormoran ran down the hillside in a rage and fell into the pit. Jack then quickly filled in the pit and buried him. Legend has it he then collected the giant’s treasure.

In this legend you would definitely want to be related to Jack rather than Cormoran.

In more recent times there was a Cornish man who some called a giant:-

” Anthony Payne was born in Stratton, Bude in Cornwall in 1612 and was a sporty lad who grew to be 7’4″ tall (223.5cm) and 32 stone.  A great bear of a man he was also quick-witted and gentle.

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  Anthony became the bodyguard of a local notable, Sir Bevill Grenville, and fought along side him during the Civil War.”

  https://cornishbirdblog.com/2016/05/03/anthony-payne-a-real-cornish-giant/

One of my daughters is currently investigating our family tree. At my suggestion she searched for Anthony Payne but hasn’t been able to trace dad’s maternal line back to the 1600s. The earliest ancestor she’s been able to find on that line is a woman called Sarah Wiseheart.

What a wonderful name. Apparently Wiseheart isn’t all that uncommon as a surname but I hadn’t heard it before. I imagine Sarah Wiseheart as a kindly village elder skilled in herbal lore – an embodiment of the crone archetype back in the days before such women were given a bad rap by Christian priests and burnt at the stake.

Facts, fictions and imagined stories blend together in my mind to form an impression of magical times when giants roamed and wise women were honoured. In my mind I visualize these characters living in on mist shrouded craggy mountains beside the sea. Down in the valleys lie little villages where wood fire smoke curls and spirals into the golden light of evening. Women gather herbs in the fading light while brave boys strut around proudly.

Another time and place only half real but somehow leaving traces in my DNA…

In the Green World

We are in the middle of a ‘polar blast’ here in southern Australia. Earlier this morning I checked the temperature online. 4c but feels like 1.5c was the reading. I couldn’t argue with the feels like.

The weather site predicted snow down to 600 metres. I live closer to sea level so we don’t get snow. Instead we get rain – lots and lots of it! The grass is certainly enjoying it – the green is almost luminescent. During the one sunny break we’ve had in days I took some photos of the Ash tree in my yard.

It’s been a while since I took a really close look at this tree and I was surprised to see signs of new leaf growth. Spring must be on it’s way, despite the cold.

I’ve lived with this tree a year now. My lease was up this week and for a wild moment I thought a year would be extent of the time I spent living beside the Ash’s graceful presence. The tree is beautiful but the surrounding area has its problems. It’s very busy and the roads are congested. I am surrounded by building sites. The possums leaping and bounding across the flat tin roof every night have heart attack potential. I installed some motion sensor lights but that only makes the critters run faster. They make even more noise when they do that. The very bad drummer over the back fence continues to bang out the same Green Day tune on Saturday afternoons. And so it goes…

I’ve been looking for a place to rent in a quieter area but can’t find anything. I live on a fixed income and rentals in my price range are hard to find. I’d given up when last weekend I saw a little house in a town closer to my family and one I’d love to live in. Online the place looked ideal. I applied to inspect it and drove across the peninsula to the north side on Wednesday afternoon.

Port Phillip Bay shimmered in clear white light as I drove along the cliff road. Off in the distance I could see the city of Melbourne hovering on the horizon like a dream city. I drove down past the magical beach where I’d seen signs of old aboriginal habitation during the summer then turned up a side street to the house.

At the aboriginal site last summer

Pulling up outside the houss I saw a number of other people were also there for the inspection. Rather than getting out and mingling everyone sat in their cars ignoring each other till the girl from the Real Estate arrived. We then all shuffled through the house barely registering each other’s presence. There was a competitive edge to the whole proceedure.

The house was quite nice. Some of the rooms were very cramped and the place had an odd floor plan. It was situated on a very large block of land with carefully manicured gardens and vast lawns. Mowing it would be a chore but I thought maybe I could employ someone to do that. With the other people hot my heels I handed in my application. The man right behind me was very pushy. He and the Real Estate girl were having an animated chat as I moved away.

The sea was even more magical as I drove out. I tried to imagine living in the house but could mostly only imagine going for walks along the beach. The house and its surroundings felt kind of unreal. Still I kept my hopes up. Maybe it could work – maybe I’d get it.

I didn’t. On Friday lunch time I got an email telling me my application had been unsuccessful. I don’t often get knocked back on rentals so I was a bit disappointed but, deep down, I didn’t mind all that much. There was something not quite right about the place despite the proximity to the magical beach.

So here I am – still living beside the Ash tree. Spring is apparently around the corner. The traffic on the main road still moans and groans. The weekend footy players in the park are hollering at each other and blowing whistles maniacally despite the weather. The town with the magical views of the sea is still a 1/2 hour drive away and the rental situation is still in limbo. Life goes on…

Within and Without

https://scvincent.com/2019/08/08/thursday-photo-prompt-within-writephoto/

The Holy Man sat within the protection of the cave looking out. The first of the spring rains drumming on the stones beyond the entrance had drawn his consciousness up out of deep meditation and into physical reality. As he slowly came back into his body the resolve he had formulated in the last days of autumn still burned within him. This spring he would leave the cave and return to the world.

Since time immemorial the cave had been regarded as a place of spiritual retreat for in that culture the last third of life was seen as time of renunciation, retreat and meditation for those seeking spiritual salvation.

At first life in the cave was difficult for the man. The winters were harsh and his meagre supply of food meant he was often cold and hungry. A travelling sage passed by one summer and taught him how to regulate his breathing and enter more fully into meditation. Things became easier after that but the man was still troubled by desires – desires for comfort, for a woman, for a good hot meal, for companionship – the list went on and on. “I must negate all desire,” he told himself. “Only then will I find lasting peace and salvation.”

For years he wrestled with this. Despite his inner turmoil the local villagers decided he was a holy man and thus worthy of their veneration. During the warmer months they took to visiting him. They bought with them offerings of food they had grown and blankets they had woven. In return they expected him to heal the ills that beset them, answer the problems that troubled them and, sometimes even absolve them of their wrong doings. “Why do we suffer so?” they wept and wailed. “Why is life so hard?” Gratefully the man took the food and blankets. Humbly he offered them what he had – a smile, a place to stop the world awhile and recharge. People said just being in his presence bought them peace.

When the winter snows fell on the higher slopes above the cave the Holy Man retreated deep inside himself. Within his mind he would gather up the troubles the people had bought to him and carry them higher and higher until they dissolved into the pure light of spirit.

Over the years the Holy Man’s fame grew. In the summer months people from distant lands began to visit him seeking wisdom. At first these travellers were young and mostly male. Their matted hair and ragged clothing reminded him of his own younger self. The girls with them were as unworldly as temple handmaidens. “Our society is utterly bereft of the spiritual,” they all said. “People are so motivated by desire they are exploiting both the planet and those less fortunate than themselves.”

When the winter snows fell and the tracks to the cave became impassable the Holy Man picked up his drum and let its rhythms carry him deep into trance. Now his meditation took him within the Earth. Deeper and deeper he went feeling the pain of humanity, the pain of the exploited Earth. A deep, dark howl of despair bought him back to the surface of his mind. “We must all negate desire,” he thought. “Only then will all find salvation. Only then will the Earth heal.”

Years passed. More and more people made the pilgrimage to see the Holy Man. The travellers from distant lands were richer and more worldly now. Many came with entourages – film crews, study groups of holistic practitioners, groups of followers and spiritual seekers. Speaking with them the Holy Man came to understand that their affluence was a product of fulfilled desires. Unlike the villagers who desired health and prosperity many of these new seekers already had these things. The questions they asked were different. “How can we save the Earth,” they asked. “How can we help the sick and the poor?”

Meditating alone the Holy Man came to see that it was not desire that caused humanity’s problems. Without desire nothing would happen – no babies would be born, no crops grown, no buildings constructed, no businesses started. Indeed, he realised, desire was the engine that created all activity.

His winter meditations changed. Now he no longer wrestled with desire. Instead he sought to understand it. Up to the light he went then on out to the stars. Spinning across galaxies and dancing on light beams he lost sight of himself and of the Earth below until suddenly the currents swept him through crystalline caves and along the vast underground rivers that flow beneath the Earth’s surface. Journeying deeper still he left the physical realms behind and plunged into the ancestral and collective timelines of humanity. The universe became holographic and he lost of awareness of himself as a man. Indeed it seemed to him that he had lived many lifetimes – sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, sometimes rich, sometimes poor.

The following summer the Holy Man sat in the lotus position as folk from across the globe toiled up the mountain slope to be with him. Many were deeply troubled by the political situation in their home countries and by the growing spectre of climate change. “I need to return to the world,” thought the Holy Man. “I will spend one more winter here then I will leave.”

That winter the Holy Man did not journey to the stars and he did not plunge into the deepest recesses of human consciousness. Instead he sat in silence.

When the spring rains fell on the rocks outside the cave the man emerged into full awareness of his surroundings. A deep sense of inner calm flowed through his being. “I am no more holy than those rocks,” he thought. “All life is sacred. I will leave this cave now and return to the world. I have not negated all desire. Instead I have simply shifted my desires. Now I do not seek my own salvation or even the salvation of others. What I seek is to live in harmony with nature and with humanity.”

Destination Unknown

Earlier this week I was sorting through my archives of haiku and haiga. When I saw Sue’s photo prompt for this week I was reminded of this one:-

I created this haiga after a particularly difficult day with my autistic grandson, Herbie. At the time he was around nine years old.

As well as being on the autism spectrum Herbie has severe learning difficulties and developmental delays. Although he is now thirteen his development is more like that of a four or five year old. It isn’t consistent though. Now that he is thirteen he doesn’t enjoy watching children’s TV as much as he used to. He prefers to listen to pop music.

Today I was talking about this with my daughter. She explained that Herbie has what is called a ‘Spiky Profile’. That means his development in some areas is consistent with his age while in other areas it is more that of a much younger child. One area that is very, very low is that of verbal communication. His ability to understand what we are talking about is severely reduced and while he can speak, he often has to be coaxed to do so.

Just what kind of destination Herbie is heading for remains a complete unknown. One thing we have observed with him is that if you give him a task that has a direct outcome that he can see. he does the task diligently. For example, if asked to take soil from the compost heap, put it in a wheelbarrow and dump it on the vegie garden he will throw himself into the task with great enthusiasm and carry it out in record time.

Other tasks are completely beyond him. He really cannot think in a conceptual way. Often the only way he can understand what is required of him is if he is given a detailed series of diagrams that depict the various stages of a task. He can then follow the instructions even though he has no real understanding of why we are asking him to do these things. After years of performing tasks like washing his body in the shower or putting his clothes on he can do perform these tasks without the aid of visual instructions. This afternoon he is going shopping with a Care Worker and buying the ingredients for a simple family meal. They will then cook the meal together and serve it for the family.

Who knows – maybe one day Herbie will be able to cook such a meal by himself. In the past few years he has learnt to do things we thought he would never to be able to master. He can put bread in the toaster then spread it with butter and jam. He can ride a bike. He goes to school and comes home on the bus without freaking out. He can attend extended family gatherings. Wearing his noise cancelling headphone (many autistic people are ultra-sensitive to noise) and with a colouring book and a new set of felt tipped pens he is able to stay at these gatherings for several hours without getting stressed or overwhelmed. All of these things were beyond him when he was nine.

We used to worry about what would happen to Herbie when he reached puberty. So far, touch wood, it seems to be working out. While it’s difficult to quantify what he thinks when he can’t communicate much it does seem like Herbie comprehends life a little better than he used to. His destination is still completely unknown but we are learning not assume anything. Who knows what he is capable of…