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  • Writer's picturecherylmurfin

A cave and a feather

The walk was a short one, comparatively, back to the 7 miles that started this journey from Scotland to England to the island. We rolled out of Wooler, a 13th-century market town, and made our way up and over Weetwood Moor, past the villages of West Horton and East Horton. They were so tiny—a few buildings each–that I wondered what constitutes a village. Here in the US, you're a town if you have a post office.

But a village in the UK? I bowed Sir Google and the UK National Archives, which defines the vagueness of village thus:

 Village: a population center with an area of less than 2.5 square kilometers (1 square mile). A village will always have a church, whereas a hamlet is usually defined as a small, isolated group of houses without a church.

From there, we rolled on down narrow paved roads, through well-placed tree groves and mini-forests, and across a burbling tributary (river or brook, I know not). The shamrocks were showing themselves proudly all along the path, and the tiny yellow pansies winked from the embankments.

About mid-way through the walk, we came to St. Cuthbert's Cave, a sandstone overhang that is, for many pilgrims, the next best thing to walking onto Holy Island and the end of this Way.

Known as "Cuddy's Cave" by locals, it is a place of spiritual refuge for those who follow the saint. The story goes that the ancient monks of Lindisfarne (where St. Cuthbert lived and died) laid the saint's body to rest in the cave in 875 AD. 

Cuthbert was famous in life and in death and was said to possess the power of spiritual healing, thus making the cave a hot spot for spiritual seekers. By the mid-19th century, the entrance was closed off by a stone wall, and local farmers used it as a lambing shed and later as a family burial spot for the landowners.

I was glad to see the cave, filled with etched dates and vibrant streams of color, returned to its proper reverence. It sat ominous and alluring just off the path, and we stopped a while to write on a simple prompt provided by Dorothy. For some reason, feathers had been calling to Dorothy from her first steps in Scotland, and she'd collected quite a quiverful by this sixth day of walking. She handed each of the walkers a feather, and that was the prompt: Feather.

I loved this. Feather is a perfect prompt, as is anything you see in your home, pick up on a walk, or find in a dictionary. Just one word. A nudge of experience or memory or metaphor. What does the feather bring to mind? A story? A connection? An emotion? These things are the well of any writer. Perhaps today, you could sit down and write for just a little while. Feather. Where does it fly you to?

The word we carried for the whole day of walking was "journey." 

Where did we start? Where have we gone? Where are we going? As I moved along the path, I considered the new and much wider journey I am on: that of being a mother whose mother is gone, that of being a child whose first love has disappeared. There is much to do in both capacities: Move forward. Grow. Recognize the ever-present presence of the one who is lost to me in my own bones and heart. On this journey, there is only one step to take: Continue. 

Still, I couldn't let a saint's burial place (well, part-time burial place since Cuthbert was later relocated to the Norman Cathedral in Durham, UK) pass my mother by. 

Imagine your bones melding into the place where a healing saint once lay. My vial and I found a small corner next to a throne-shaped rock. We sat there for a time. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard my mother's laugh, and I, too, laughed—out loud. And with that sound, I released a little more of my mother there.

What a journey she is on!




My feathery friend

By Cheryl Murfin

I found a perfect feather 

in the field where I lay 

and I wondered who lost it

flying by that day

Then I heard a bird singing

“That was lost from my wing

and without my feather

my flight is at end."

In her voice I heard a sadness

deep as a well,

so I picked up her feather 

and I offered my help

She sat there for a moment

with a tilt of her head

pondering my offer

and the direction it led

She said, "Will you journey further

with me me your pack

until my new feather

has finally grown back?"

I said I’d be honored

by her presence and song

nnd we walked in the countryside

for a whole season long

She told me her story

and listened to mine

and a friendship so bright and rare

bloomed in that time

Her mother was lost she said

I said "Mine as well."

We stopped to remember them

and we let our tears fall

Then we packed up our memories

and we moved down the road

and we laughed and we chirped

at the stories we held

When we reached the destination

she held up her wing

and there was her feather

healed and ready to spring

When she readied to take-off

she looked deep in my eyes

“For birds there are no farwells

there is only taking flight

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