Coming to the end of 2014 is a curious phenomenon, for it has been a year of change and upheaval. 2014 followed on from 2013, possibly the most difficult year of my life. In 2014 we finally left behind our croft on the beautiful Isle of Lewis and settled here by the river, in Donegal.
For me, this move back to Ireland is almost like coming full circle, for I began another big Journey here, over twenty years ago. At that time, just thirty years old, I knew I had to leave the city-bound corporate existence I had somehow managed to tie myself into over the previous six years, both for my sanity and my health. I was married then to a man twenty years older than I was, who no longer felt it necessary to work or contribute to our living costs; I was solely responsible for a large mortgage in a quiescent property market; and I had no concept of what I might do with the rest of my life.
In September of 1992, I spent two weeks in Ireland. This was a country I had longed to visit since I was the smallest of small children, my tiny, poverty-stricken world enriched and expanded by Irish music, poetry and stories. It was a country to which I had always felt I belonged – and yet somehow I had never managed to get myself there. A week into that holiday, I made a decision. I made it at sunset, standing on an edge. The Connemara coastline was rugged, rocky, and intensely beautiful. To get there, I had travelled through a country that, while hardly empty, was nevertheless still intensely pastoral, and free of the stench of industrialisation which characterised so much of the north-east and then the Midlands of England where I’d grown up. I stood there for a long time, staring out west to whatever islands might lie beyond the mist. For the first time in my life, I felt as if my feet were in the right place. My place, my culture, and the stories of my ancestors rising out of the hills and bogs of this land where they were living still.
I returned home, I handed in my notice, and a year later, in 1993, I packed up my worldly goods and my then-husband and took possession of a tiny tumbledown cottage in the Maamturk Mountains of north Connemara.
I imagined, at the grand age of thirty-two, that this move represented the end of my Journey: that this would be the place where I could dig deep and, like the Selkie wife whose skin was stolen from her in the greatest of all edge-dreamed shapeshifting myths, find that new skin which I so badly needed. As it turned out, it was only the beginning of that Journey, and by the time I moved to Lewis in 2010, a long and complicated tale had already unfolded. A husband had been shed along with several other sealskins; I was married again and thought I finally understood what I was doing with my life. I went to Lewis because I imagined it represented the end of that long Journey I had been on since I stood on that Connemara shore back in 1992 and vowed to take back control of my life. I imagined that there, I would dig in deep, and finally find a new skin which fit me in a way that the others I had tried on over the years never quite seemed to do. And as it turned out, that Journey did end – abruptly, in ways I could never had expected; brutally, as I found myself slammed up against yet another dead end. And so it was that I heard a new call, found myself hurled over a new edge, crossing a new threshold, embarking on a new Journey. Edges, it seems, breed edges; and Journeys, like edges, are fractal. There is never just one.
A new Journey began in 2014, and I am all the wiser for it, for I finally have understood that these Journeys never ‘end’. We circle around them and within them, Journeys within Journeys, spiralling all the while ever closer to the centre of the beautiful long dark.
2014 began with a necessary emptying, and ended with Old Crane Woman. She came out of this land, this river, this life, and lodged herself in my heart and in my dreams. Old Crane Woman has possessed me, and she will not easily let me go. It was always going to be the case that 14 days of spontaneous, unedited eruptions would be the least of her gifts. The greatest of her gifts may yet be to come, and yet this morning, on the last day of this very fine and deeply transformative year, I woke up after a long, long dream of herons and princes and goddess amulets, knowing what she might bring next.
Once upon a time I used to practice as a psychologist, specialising in story and myth and other creative practices. I lived to create positive change and transformation in other people; it was the greatest joy of my life. For a whole bunch of reasons individual therapy isn’t something I can do in my life right now, but I miss that very personal connection, that sense of effecting change in a very specific, known way. So, in the dark early hours, in the space between the moment of waking and the moment of getting out of bed, Old Crane Woman whispered to me of a wonderful idea: that there is something I could create to fill the space between my ‘Sisterhood of the Bones’ course, which is hand-crafted but not personalised, and the one-to-one therapy sessions that I used to do and thrived on, not so very long ago. By the time I had brewed my first early-morning pot of tea, I had decided that I would create a new offering out of the heart-work that gives meaning to my days: an individually crafted ‘Crane Bag’. This would be something which I would make as a one-off creation for each individual who wrote to me about an issue they were dealing with in their lives right now. I would create for them a hand-sewn crane bag, and I would walk one morning in the bog with their story in my pocket and their words in my heart, and I would meditate on their questions, and see what the land and its inhabitants had to offer them. I would pick some objects from the land and gather them together with others which I would create, and I would send it to them along with a story that I had picked especially for them.
I will offer the Crane Bag on this website, as a limited-edition gift from the heart, from the country of Old Crane Woman. Tonight, as the year is drawing to an end, I offer only blessings, and love, and the clarity of the long dark for the great adventure represented by the year ahead. May your Journey be necessary, and good.