Yes, I was awake very early this morning, and having coffee in the garden looking toward some of the wonderful distant mountains that comprise north Wales. This is ancient land – the land of ancient Celtic Christians and Druids, and a myriad of others whose wisdom and presence still, wonderfully, permeates the land and air.
For this time of the year – the day time temperatures have dropped over the last few days – the air temperature this morning was ‘fresh’…but the coffee was piping hot. Bliss.
As I looked into the distance the green-grey colour – mountains mainly of slate and usually grass-covered – became lighter, more diffuse and paler as the early morning mist played on them. Clouds hung low in the sky. The air was still, somewhat ‘heavy’ as though a storm was approaching, birdsong was quiet except for the odd screech. Indeed, distant thunder rumbled. Or, it could have been the wind ‘rumbling’ around mountain valleys. It’s difficult to tell when the sound is some way off, muted and intermittent.
This morning, however, more than ever, I could palpably feel the rawness, wildness and ‘dangerousness’ of nature pressing in, in all its beauty. It was quiet. And yet there was a seeming expectation that there was more. A foreboding.
‘So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and…all the people who were in the camp trembled.’ (Exodus 19:16 part, The Book)
Sound became muffled, except for that raucous and occasional ‘unearthly’ squawk. Was it, infact, a bird? I had heard that sound before, but had never identified what made it – but that was when out on some evening or night-time walk, and always low as in the undergrowth and not high up in a tree.
Was it a bird? A wounded animal moving about in nearby undergrowth? It was now closer to me than ever before. All was quiet apart from that noise. ‘Clumps’ of mist moved across the garden – quite thick, but moving quite quickly – and as I gazed at the mist, my mind and imagination wandered. A bird, a wounded animal, or could it be the Gwrach y Rhibyn?
My grandmother used to tell me stories about the Gwrach y Rhibyn (pronounced ‘goo-rach ee ribb-in’. But the ‘ch’ in that second syllable is sounded like the ‘ch’ in loch, that is, a back-of-the-throat phlegm-clearing sound). Those words translate as ‘the witch of Rhibyn’. I had a wonderfully imaginative childhood! (And, it still goes on).
My grandmother always concluded those stories by saying that when you encounter the Gwrach y Rhibyn or the like, never fear or show fear, always be respectful and always learn with your ‘eyes wide open’. Such happenings she would say, always have a positive learning ‘message’ to impart to us.
The spirit-world around this world of sense
floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
a vital breath of more ethereal air.
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
The Gwrach y Rhibyn was always depicted as an old hag, an ugly witch, sometimes with thick leathery wings, but always, so the story goes, the portent of misery and death. Rather like the wailing of the Irish bansidhe (pronounced ‘ban-shee’), or even the Cailleach from Scottish and Irish mythology.
She certainly got about – her name changes depending on the culture, but her reputation always remained the same. She was someone to avoid. Embraced in early-morning (or was it storm) mist my grandmother’s description of the Gwrach y Rhibyn as the hag of the mist made me shiver (or was the air temperature dropping even more?).
I sat there, now with limited visibility, the ‘thing’ that was squawking or screeching was even closer, but shrouded in mist. I was calm because I didn’t believe I was in any danger, but wary at the same time. Nature, the unknown, this mystery or was it the Mystery, was palpable, powerful, big, raw and wild, and so close, but (I believed) benevolent.
‘Live free, child of the mist – and with respect to knowledge we are all children of the mist.’ (Henry David Thoreau)
I sat there, transfixed (almost), in heightened awareness (and yes, everything did seem brighter) for some twenty minutes. Watching. Waiting. Listening. Observing. The periodic squawking or screeching seemed to be moving away into the distance now, further into the mist. Soon, the mist began to clear. I could see some distance now, and then, just then, out the corner of my eye I spied a dark shape some three hundred meters away, but only for a second or two! As I looked again, all I could see were the usual trees and boundary hedges. ‘Nothing untoward’, as my grandmother would say.
Was that’ shape’ the Gwrach y Rhibyn come to harass? Just a trick of the light? My imagination? Was the screeching of ‘something’ in the mist, a bird? I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. What I can say is that as I sat there embraced by that early morning mist (and I do believe it applies to us all), I experienced the unknown and the wildness of nature that was palpable, and I experienced it as an inclusive and yet powerful force, but also as an humbling experience.
‘A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born’ ( Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
There are some things we just don’t know. And there are some things we will never know. And there are some things we are not meant to know. That ‘event’, this morning, whatever is was, was one such event. And, you know what? I’m content with that ‘visitation’. I learned something vital about myself. I believe we all do in those infrequent but amazing ‘encounter-awakening’ situations.