Frost crystal flowers grew on my bedroom window during childhood winters. Before central heating and double glazing, you could only see the first snow by scraping frost from exhaled dreams. When it snowed though, our village was abandoned like a ship on an open sea for a couple of days. Schools closed and cream froze in glass bottles preventing the birds pecking through the silver cap. It was severe, but we were kids and did not notice these things slip away.
Once from my window I watched a grey Hen Harrier hunt where now double-glazing vacantly stares. The Ash tree is the only constant after the Elms died. Even then, it was the 1970s superimposed on the countryside; keepers begun to loosen their grip on the woods where now Buzzards fly. Here seeds were sown for the Countryside Alliance to speak for country folk as a thin disguise for keeping poor people in their place; Toffs hunted foxes, others baited badgers. At election time landowners hammered, ‘Vote Tory’ posters into roadside oaks, whilst removing jobs from the land. The language of the countryside disappeared into Standard English.
In ‘Pattern Under the Plough’ George Ewart Evans felt that people born between 1885 and 1895 were the last to live in the old society with folklore in abundance. They did not see it as anything different to themselves; not just believing it, but living it too. People born later became the first generation of the new age. They distanced themselves from lore and diminished our engagement with the natural world. We don’t gather around a central hearth, the stories we relay are being shouted at us from screens we view alone. The ‘other’ that lurked in old stories has been replaced by a fear of ‘other’ that is more like us. Everything else becomes nostalgia.
Elizabeth Atwell Laurence gathered together stories of our relationship with Wren as an explanation of the relationship between man and nature. ‘Hunting the Wren’ is more than just a description of a country tradition involving Wrens. For St Stephen’s Day I intended to relay the story as we watch for the lengthening of the days. However, the more I read, to find the true story, the more I could see the revival of a tradition of poverty, of oppression by the Catholic Church and in these post-Weinstein days, of sexual violence. So using the 66 names Laurence found for Wren here is an opportunity to hunt the Wren in her many guises on St Stephen’s Day.
The names to look for are:
WEE BROWN BUTTON
OUR LADYS HEN
LADY OF HEAVENS HEN
CHICKEN OF THE LORD
Photo Cristen Bruggeman