Storytelling Starters ~ Nature Stories
But the theme of the words is not just birds but cuckoos.
A while ago, a good friend of mine who is also a storyteller got me interested in sponsoring a cuckoo. To do what, you might very well ask? The answer is that the British Trust for Ornithology is keen to find out why cuckoo numbers in Britain have been on the decline and why cuckoos from Scotland and Wales have been doing rather better than cuckoos from England. So they’ve been tagging cuckoos and, by tracking them on the fantastic journeys they annually make from the UK, down across Europe into Africa and back again to where they set out, they are hoping to discover what problems the different cuckoos face.
Last season, I sponsored an English cuckoo who’d been awarded the name of Kaspar. Alas, he didn’t return from the 16,000-miles or more that these cuckoos normally travel. This season I’ve sponsored a cuckoo from Ceredigion in Wales who is yet to be awarded a name. I’ve written in, along with many others, to suggest what name might be chosen for him.
My suggestion is Taliesin. Taliesin was one of the earliest Welsh poets. He lived in the second half of the 6th century and I’ve often told audiences the magical legend about him that appears in the Mabinogion.
Taliesin still sings, I said in my email, and hopefully the soon-to-be-named cuckoo will sing for a long time too.
I recommend the BTO website. Like the tree-sign in my last week’s blog, the material on cuckoos (and other birds too) is a story in itself.
A cuckoo legend:
By tradition, it’s on April 7th that the first cuckoo’s song of the year is heard each year in Pembrokeshire which is my native part of Wales. The 7th April is St Brynach’s Day and, in the village of Nevern where St Brynach eventually settled after making a pilgrimage to Rome and spending some years in Brittany, people would wait for the cuckoo to come and fly down to the old Celtic Cross that is St Brynach’s Cross. And it’s there, they say, that the cuckoo would sing.
One year, the bird was late arriving. Waiting eagerly for it to come, the priest was reluctant to start the service until he’d heard the cuckoo’s song.
Eventually the gathered congregation saw the cuckoo fly down through the trees in the churchyard and settle on St Brynach’s Cross. But the bird looked terribly battered and tired and, after singing for one brief, glorious moment, it fell from the cross and died.
My personal link with Nevern:
When I was a child, we often drove past Nevern churchyard on the way to see my grandparents in their smallholding near the Cardiganshire border. If ever we stopped in Nevern, we’d go into the churchyard and visit the ancient tree known as The Bleeding Yew from which flows a sticky red substance that looks exactly like blood. Looking up its details now, I see what I don’t think I knew before, that a man was once hanged from this tree and before dying swore that the tree would bleed forever as a sign of his innocence.
On a happier note, our journey to my grandparents would also pass the hill known as Carn Ingli which is where, they say, the angels would come down and administer to St Brynach when he went up there to meditate.