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Day 5 (or maybe 6): Finding Luck

Updated: Nov 16, 2023



We arrived at Kirk Yethom with unusual vigor after a 7 1/2-mile walk that was actually 7 1/2 miles. (If you ever visit the Scottish borderlands, note that our group voted Mill House B & B the favorite stop).


We were greeted by a jolly, helpful proprietor and two dogs, all three of whom were equally cheerful the following day at breakfast, where we plowed through more perfect oats and a load of toast and jam before waddling off to meet the 13-mile hike ahead of us. This stretch, we have read, is the "toughest day" of St. Cuthbert's Way.


Still, the day started with a nice breeze, and I watched intently as the light and clouds rolled and morphed over the space of the first hour. I'm sure this happens every day of my life in Seattle, this ever-changing sky art. I just don't pay attention. But what a brilliant painting process on that vast canvas.


Today, Liese asked us to find a talisman as we walked or to find one in our suitcases and bring it along the trail. Later on, we'll write about whatever that word inspires. A talisman: something carried to remind the carrier of their luck or bring them luck, depending on their view of magic.


The walk unfurled itself in shades of green, rust, yellow, and red. I thought about the many cultures where color itself is a talisman. Green in Ireland, red in Japan and China, yellow in Thailand. These rolling borderland hills have so many shades of green their number seems infinite. The land seemed to pulse as it undulates out in every direction. I think my lucky color is orange, but the wash of green called out to my Irish side today: "How lucky you are."


A steep climb took us up and over one hill before a raging wind blew in to push us across grassy, even slopes. Raging is no understatement. The wind blew so hard I was sure it would lift my 115-pound frame off the ground. We leaned forward further than is reasonable to balance, yet we did not fall over.


At the back end of our walking line, I and two others took a wrong turn — likely because the wind filled our eyes with tears obscuring waymarks. But, as I said in an earlier post, you can't get long on a pilgrimage. And so we walked on. And on. Ultimately, the three of us slow-walked 18 miles in the sweet country town of Wooler. Gloating rights!


In this midst of this walk we crossed the border fence, crossing a stile which, for a moment, had us with one foot in Scotland and the other in England.


Along those many miles, I collected sheep's wool that I found scratched off on fencing and tall grasses. I added to it the dried silk hairs of dying thistles. Rubbing the fibers together, I created fairy-shaped figures. Thistle represents resiliency and courage. Lambs are never violent, so far as I know. What more could you want in a talisman?



I handed one to each of my fellow walkers, knowing that on this path and in their lives, each has needed courage and has proven their resiliency. These walks bring out stories. Whether through written or whispered over the path or at the dinner table, I recognize the lived courage and resiliency in five people who were strangers a week ago. For those gifts, I am grateful.


And very, very lucky.




 

THE PROMPT


Spend 20 minutes or more coloring in these three images, which are commonly found in Scottish art and heritage. Let thoughts about each come and go, without clinging. Does one resonate more with you than another?

How do these images speak to you? What do they mean to you, not worrying what they actually symbolize. Can you look at each one differently form your first thought about them? What does the cross symbolize. Write about any one of these symbols or all of them in any way or genre you choose.

 

WRITING


The Talisman

By Cheryl Murfin


Annabelle didn't believe in ghosts. She didn't believe in spirits or saints, or, for that matter, Jesus, as her mother instructed was necessary to get into the heaven she didn't believe in.


She believed in luck—being in the right place at the right time and circumstances for magic to happen. Magic was different from religion, which dictates what you must think and feel and do. On the other hand, magic simply existed in the world around you to be noticed as the wind that pushed you in a slightly different direction.


She encountered magic many times in her life. The time the bees in the garden beehive set out on a rampage, chasing her brother down the hill to where she was standing and circling her like a tornado in which she was the eye. Not a single sting, which, beyond being miraculous, meant that she lived to see another day. Annabella was deathly allergic to bees.


And then there was the time when she saw a pony on the other side of a large pasture she was walking by. She Stopped and, with her mind, willed the horse over to her. She stood, offering not a sugar cube or grass but simply her hand. And she was sure it was luck that made her late the day the school bus failed to take the turn and rolled down the embankment, injuring several kids. It was luck that brought her father home from the fighting, even though she had never said a prayer to bring him back.


When she was 12, Annabelle learned that some things bring more magic than other things. It didn't make them more unique. It didn't make them higher or better than other things. It simply made them luckier.


For example, walking along the short portion of St. Cuthbert's Way between her home and the home of her friend Tilda, she ran across a piece of wool left on a fence by a sheep passing by. She had difficulty passing the stranges up, loving wool she did. She loved the feel of it rolling in her palm as it melted with her warmth into a string, doll, or some other gift for her mother. This piece of wool scraped away from a part of the fence around which a clump of thistle had grown. And the white hairs of the thistle had flung themselves into the wool. As she rubbed the golden fibers in her hand, they became first a string, then doubled back over to become a thicker rope line. She twisted and turned them into a small body, the head made by a loose thread circle around the bend in the fold. She spread the fibers beneath the head to create a dress and, as her mother would surely think, the wings of an angel, which, of course, Annabel did not believe in.


As she rubbed the fiber together, she noticed an entire flock of sheep grazing across the pasture suddenly line up and move in her direction. She continued walking. But once the sheep reached the fence, they lined up head to rump and walked beside it in pace with Annabelle. This pied-piping went on for half a mile until a corner prevented the sheep from going further. At that point, she stuck the wool into her pocket.


After spending time with her friend, riding a report on ancestors, she headed home. To her surprise, the sheep lined back up and followed her.


That evening, she noticed that her mother had made her favorite dinner: chicken pot pie with fresh peas from the garden cornbread with honey and butter. Not only that, her mother's three-layer chocolate cake was centered on the table despite it being no one's birthday. There was no explanation. When she finally asked her mother why she made the cake. Her mother replied, "Oh, I got an inkling this afternoon."


Annabelle forgot to give the angel wool to her mother, so it stayed in her coat pocket, and went to school with her the next day. No, Annibal was very smart, but she was also very bored. And often, her schoolwork reflected boredom rather than her intelligence. But that day, when her teacher passed back the math test, he handed her a paper that had a giant red A+ on it. She hadn't missed a single answer.


At recess, she reached into her coat pocket and found the little wall doll, discovering it was a wonderful thing to rub. She could feel the landline on her hands. She kept it in her pocket and rubbed it as she talked to her friends around the wooden swingset. On the way home, she completely forgot about it, her hands being full of books, because the teacher had given quite a substantial assignment in English.


That evening, her mother asked for the coats so that she could wash them.


"don't forget to empty the pockets," she said.


She put the little wool thing, which was now a little bit more raggedy, on the top of her dresser and forgot about it.


The next week, Annabelle's grades followed her usual pattern, mostly seeing an occasional D and one F in a science project that was too dull for her to waste her time on.


And her mother went back to making cheese casserole and not quite boiled potatoes. The week that came next, Annabelle's mother looked in her room, which, in truth, looked like a cow had passed through it, nibbling and knocking things over on the way. And she demanded that Annabel clean her room, which Annabelle did with a big sigh and ample heaving (the sighing as any girl on the cusp of her teenage years would do). As she came to her dresser, she found a pin, a rock, and the wall angel and stuffed them in her pocket, having nowhere else to put them and not quite feeling ready to throw them in the garbage.


She wore that same dress to school the next day. Lo and behold, nothing but A's sat atop the work passed back to her. At Home, her mother put her second favorite meal on the table: salmon chowder, crusty sourdough bread, her mother's best-churned butter, and a deep-dish cinnamon caramel apple pie.


"But it's not boxing day, "Annabelle said.


Her mother responded, "Oh, I just had a little whiff of inspiration today."


Annabelle put her hand in her pocket and felt the soft wool doll angel, and as she rubbed it, she was through 100 math problems. And yet her attention was still wide and ready. Has she sat down to read 100 pages of her English class homework? Of course, the next day, the doll was still in her pocket, and she received great kudos from the teacher.


Annabel put her hand in her pocket at recess and felt the wool angel between her fingers. She looked at Sally Mei, the one girl in her classroom that she couldn't stand. Sally Mei was mean and big and, more than once, had made Annabelle's life miserable. Annabelle stayed as far away from Sally Mae as humanly possible on a playground the size of a house. But rubbing the wool in her pocket, she considered Sally Mei, and suddenly, two and two came together. Annabelle closed her eyes, rubbed more fervently, and willed Sally Mei to stop picking on Emma Jones. She could hear Emma Jones starting to whine in the corner behind the slide. Emma Jones and Sally Mei were Armin'sin arms and sharing glitter eye powder within seconds. At that moment, a talisman, a keeper of luck, a keeper of magic, was announced in Annabel's pocket.


It wasn't that good things didn't happen without the wool angel in her pocket. Having it there seemed to put Annabelle in the right place at the right time. It reminded her to work a little harder. It appeared to speak to her mother about how to feed a growing girl.


As she grew and moved on to high school and college, Annabelle kept the wool angel with her. Difficult things still happened, but with a little rub, luck came to her side. She never left home without it.


The talisman, however, got smaller and smaller over the years. That much rubbing on wool whittled it down. By the time Annabelle's children came along, it was barely a walnut in her pocket. Even so, she stuck it in her babies' cribs to be safe.


When Annabel was 50, her mother became very ill. Annabelle rubbed her little angel, and her mother's illness picked up its pace and brought her to the edge of the veil.


Annabel returned to her mother's home when it was the right time. She sat with her mother, chatting about things that had been and things that would come, even though her mother would not be here to enjoy the latter.


As she waited for her end, Annabelle's mother was confident she would run into the arms of Jesus. Still, she told Annabelle, she hoped he would true her one wish. When she got to the other side, she wanted nothing so much as to be greeted by her own mother. Annabelle's mother had lost Annabelle's grandmother at a very early age and had yearned all her life to be reunited.


Annabelle took her talisman from her pocket and placed it in her mother's hand. The moment her mother's hands closed around the wool, she knew she had made the right decision. Pure luck brought it to Annabelle's pocket and kept it there all these years. And pure love that placed it in that ancient palm. Annabelle's mother was 106 years old — even without the wool angel, and she felt sure her mother would get her wish, even if only in her mind. But just in case.


They buried Annabelle's mother with the talisman still clutched in her hand.


That night, Annabel had a dream in which her mother came through a great light, and there on the other side of the light was a woman with bright blue eyes and shiny red hair, a three-layer-cake girth, and wide open arms.


Upon waking up, it occurred to her that perhaps luck had nothing to do with it or any of the magic she attributed to the angel. Maybe it was simply love. After all, she had made it for her mother all those years ago, knowing how much her mother loved and believed in angels.


Perhaps simply loving something was enough — a person, a thing, a subject, one's self.


Perhaps that was the luck.

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