Grey Heron Nights 10: Old Crane Woman tells what she knows

Old Crane Woman is sitting on her nest, staring up at the full moon. Through the long ages of the world, Old Crane Woman and the moon have sat together like this. Old Crane Woman knows the long ages of the world: the shimmying shifts of tectonic plates, the bursting into flower of mountains. When I was a girl, Old Crane Woman says, the ocean was a forest, full of trees

Old Crane Woman is thinking; thinking about things she knows. She knows plenty, Old Crane Woman, but she isn’t always one for telling. Tonight, though, she’s in the mood for telling; she’s as ripe with words as that big old Mother Moon. So Old Crane Woman will tell you some of the things she knows. She’ll tell you the things that matter.

Old Crane Woman knows the path the fox takes across the river, the hollow under the fence where she squeezes through. Madadh rua, the little red dog. Old Crane Woman loves her best. She knows the place where the hare crosses the road, and the hedge she hides in to stay out of view. Giorria, Old Crane Woman whispers: go well. Old Crane Woman knows that it is broc, the big old badger boar, who steals away the egg laid daily by the fat black hen at the base of the alder, down by the river. She’s seen him there, dancing his delight under the stars. Old Crane Woman knows what snag breac, the magpie, whispers to the crow, and the insults the old feannog croaks in return. She’s learned a few choice phrases from that one. Old Crane Woman knows the words the Riverwitch sings as she dances down the waterfall, skips over the stepping stones, and drifts on out to sea. Old Crane Woman knows where the tastiest blackberries may be found, where yarrow may be gathered for the healing of wounds. She knows where the bodies lie buried in the bog. Old Crane Woman knows the patterns the spiders are weaving, can trace the path the whooper swans will take when they’re flying north. Old Crane Woman knows what the oak trees dream during the long winter dark, and she can tell you the stories the stepping-stones tell to the Seven Sisters in the Derryveigh mountains. She’s watched those old mountains lean in close. She’s watched them, when nobody else is watching. She’s seen them, when nobody else has seen.

Old Crane Woman knows her place. Old Crane Woman knows where she belongs. Listen a while, and Old Crane Woman will tell you what matters. Old Crane Woman will tell you the news.

The Coming of Winter

I have news for you: the stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone.
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course, the sea running high.
Deep red the bracken, its shape is lost; the wild goose has raised its accustomed cry.
Cold has seized the birds’ wings; season of ice, this is my news.

Irish; author unknown, 9th century

Frances Macdonald Nair



6 thoughts on “Grey Heron Nights 10: Old Crane Woman tells what she knows

    1. And in the same piece of writing: ‘… truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity. The pattern of the carpet is a surface. When we look closely, or when we become weavers, we learn of the tiny multiple threads unseen in the overall pattern, the knots on the underside of the carpet.’


  1. I am reading the Crane Heron Nights in the height of the Australian summer – so strange for me being here when I’m longing for the long dark! I can’t quite give into the light and the sun but I can give into my young grandson! Old Crane Woman’s wisdom is keeping me grounded. What a welcome return – such insights! How I love love her crankiness. How I love her womanlines! Thank you for bringing her to us again.


  2. Sharon, thank you so much for this amazing series of writings…such wisdom…such lovely graphics to accompany your stories…poems that I haven’t heard for years. It’s just what I’ve needed in this dark time, as that is what I’ve always felt close to this time of year, rather than the cultural holidays. Blessings and many heartfelt thanks!


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