31 July 2011 a post by Bruce Stanley

The Way to the Mill

The 1st of August is Lammas, or Loaf-Mass. This short meditative piece, written by Tony Bellows, reflects on the importance of corn and wheat from ancient times to the very present day, and also on how the plight of Africa calls for our aid. The friar, incidentally, is quoting verbatim from the Carmina Gaedelica, the book of ancient prayers from the Hebrides.

It was a pleasant afternoon, and I thought I would take the path to the mill. I watched the ducks and geese gliding across the pond, for a while, and then I took the bridge across the gently flowing stream, and headed up the path into the woods.

The path forked, and I decided to take a different path. I had always taken the lower path, which still meandered up and down until it came to the mill. I had often wondered where the other path led, and sometimes when I had passed, it had been overgrown, hardly a path at all.

It was as if it came and went at times, sometimes there, and sometimes gone. But this time it was there, leading up the hill, and inviting me to take it, to be adventurous, and go forth into the unknown.

The day was warm, and hot, but the trees gave shade, and the sunlight dappled though to the ground, as I climbed steadily upwards. At times, I paused for breath, for this path was steep in places, and required an effort. And then I was walking out onto the summit, the meadowland, rich with sweetly scented heather, and a dolmen ahead of me.

I had seen many dolmens, ancient structures of huge stones, but they all looked weathered, with many stones destroyed by greedy landowners. But this dolmen looked complete, and it looked new, freshly built. The capstones came cross the whole length of the dolmen, and it had been inset inside an artificial mound; all that remained was for the top to be covered over and sealed in. Outside, there was a larger circle of smaller stones.

And beside the dolmen, sitting on the wild grasslands, were people, dressed in rough woollen clothes. There was a lady sitting there, and beside her was a large quern, a rounded piece of granite with an indentation in it. In this was some corn, and she held in her hand a smaller stone, which she was grinding into the corn on the other, and all the while, she was singing a song. And I sit down, and listen to her sing:

Let wind take seeds and scatter
The good seed on the land,
Let rain come down and water
By Cerridwen’s mighty hand
That seeds buried in winter
May warm and grow as grain
In breezes and in sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

Bless here our humble acre
Her hand reaching so far
To give us grain for flour
And be our guiding star
Fill cup of mead to brim
Her moonlight overhead
And so to us, her children,
She gives our daily bread.

And a man comes, and offers me bread and mead, and we break bread together, and each in turn take a sip of the same cup, and he says:

Blessed art thou, Cerridwen, goddess of the corn
Who brings forth bread from the earth

A cloud obscures the sun, and it is suddenly getting cooler. A breeze springs up, rustling the wild grass, and I know it is time to take my leave of this tribe. I bow to the man, and he to me, and I head off back into the forest, along the path.

The sky above the forest canopy is darkening, and I feel some drops of rain falling down upon me, and I hasten along the old track. The side of the track is earth, worn and shaped by rain, and there is a stream flowing downwards.

But then the track levels off, and the raindrops cease, and I find myself in a clearing, and in the clearing is a man in a simple brown gown, with a girdle around his waist, and his head shaven in a tonsure. He has short brown beard, and a gentle, peaceful face. And I know he must be a friar, on his travels around the land, pausing between towns, coming to this quiet place to meditate.

He is sitting down on a fallen log, and he opens a knapsack and takes out a flagon of red wine, and a loaf of bread. As if expecting me, he looks up, and holds up the bread, and breaks off a piece. He says:

I ground it in a quern on Friday
I baked it on a fan of sheepskin
I toasted it to a fire of Rowan
And I shared it round my people.

I went sunways round my dwelling,
In name of the Mary Mother,
Who promised to preserve me,
Who did preserve me,
And who will preserve me,
In peace, in flocks,
In righteousness of heart.

And he hands me the bread, and I take it, and afterwards, I sip the rich wine from a wooden cup, and he says to me:

Blessed art thou, Lord God of the Universe
Who brings forth bread from the earth

Then we sit together for a while, he and I, looking at the world, the birds calling from the trees, the butterfly fluttering across the clearing, and the small ants going to and throw in their business. We see all this, but we are just watching, the still point in the moving world.

Suddenly, the clouds return, blotting out the sun, and the rain begins to fall heavily. The friar gets up, places the remains of the meal in his knapsack, and bows to me, and hurries off along one path. But I take another path, one into the more heavily wooded trees, that may offer more shelter from the rain.

There is the sound of thunder, and the sky darkens, and I hurry down the path. The rain is running in rivulets down the side of the path, and my feet are beginning to churn up the soil as it turns to thick mud. And the thunder ceases as quickly as it came, but the rain continues, and I see the light sparkling in the water on the leaves, as a voice whispers softly:

I will send you rain at the right time, so that the land will produce crops and the trees will bear fruit.

And I hear the running water even more clearly, and see the water running into a swiftly flowing stream. The stream is running along the lower boundary of the woods, and I see water a meadow between it and the natural stream in the valley bottom.

Then I come to an old stone wall, and a small garden, where there are many different kinds of herbs flourishing. I reach out, and pick one of them, crush it in my hand, and at once, I smell the sweet scent of rosemary.

mill

Behind the wall, I hear the creaking as the watermill wheel turns, and the rushing noise of water pouring down. And I turn through a gap in the stone wall, and there is the water mill, towering above me in all its glory, a fine granite building.

I enter the mill, and see a huge fireplace, stone paving for floor, and climb the stairs. And there are the wheels turning, the great central shaft, large wheels geared to turn smaller ones, and finally the burr stone turning to grind the wheat into flour. There is a man seated there, the miller, and he rises to greet me, and he says:

Hear the call from distant lands
Distended bellies ache in pain
The crying of the hunger pangs
Calling for the wholesome grain

Hear the call from distant lands
Where children hunger to be fed
The crying comes across the globe
Take the flour, and bake the bread

Hear the call from distant lands
Famine strikes, no time for thrift
Give across the world, you must
Bread of life, our Lord’s great gift

And he hands me sacks of flour to take with me, and I know that my task has just begun, and I begin to walk back through the forest, knowing that this precious grain has a longer journey than I.

Soon I will pass it to others, and they in turn to others, and with them I will make a chain which reaches across to those who starve in lands cursed with drought; for I am kindred with those who hunger in distant lands, all fellow children of our Father in Heaven and Mother Earth, reaching out, hand to hand, to feed the hungry world.

Tony Bellows.

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