Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Stories: Why bother?

A tiny pink bird has migrated to my desk from the cupboard in my study where I keep my notebooks, stationery and some storytelling stuff. It perches on a small chrome clip and the other day, I persuaded it to come across to my desk to keep me company. Perhaps I thought it might decorate a present I was planning to give to someone or other. By now it looks likely to stay.

But I like it. I like the birds in my life. Since installing a bird-feeder in our garden, we regularly see a troupe of goldfinches arriving – often eight or ten of them. Not surprisingly, these have attracted a bustling gang of pigeons that gather below the feeder to hoover up the scraps of fatball and grain that drop onto the grass when the little birds feed. Plus a lovely pair of robins arrive quite often, moving quietly round the garden’s edges before visiting the area below the bird-feeder. The bossy green parakeets are not so welcome.

It’s good to feel that some kind of partnership can develop between us humans and the creatures in our world. More remote in my life than the goldfinches has been the cuckoo I’ve helped sponsor over the last five years as part of the BTO tagging project I mentioned in this blog last week. The aim is to establish what difficulties lie in the cuckoos’ way and what might be done to help.

The cuckoo I sponsor was given the name Larry. The distances he’s travelled over the last five years beggar imagination. Since 2015, he’s made four complete migrations to Chad in Central Africa and back to the UK. So even before beginning this year’s journey, he’d flown nearly 40,000 miles since first being tagged. Not all the tagged birds have such success. This week came the news that a newly tagged cuckoo, Robinson, had already perished, flying into a window before even leaving the UK.

Stories have the capacity to create the kind of connections between people and the natural world which have become so urgently needed today. I first got interested in the BTO’s cuckoo project when my good storytelling friend, Hilary Minns, sent me details of it. I quickly got hooked. The cuckoo’s call had fascinated me ever since childhood when I’d hear it in the fields round my grandparents’ farm. Sadly after they died, I heard cuckoos no more until, a couple of years ago, during a week’s holiday in rural Italy. However, another strong connection with cuckoos had arisen in my childhood through a story I used to be told.

The cuckoo story:

Nevern is a tiny village in north Pembrokeshire. In its churchyard is ‘the bleeding yew-tree’. And yes, it really does seem to bleed and the blood is certainly red.

Nevern’s cuckoo story is that each year on April 7th, St Brynach’s day, the first cuckoo of Spring would arrive in the village and perch on the tall Celtic cross outside the church. Apparently it used to be thought that this had become something of a religious duty among cuckoos because, like St Francis of Assissi, St Brynach had had a special understanding of birds and animals. So it became the custom in Nevern that the priest there would not begin Mass on St Brynach’s day until the cuckoo had arrived.

One year there’d been a long, hard winter. When April 7th arrived, there was still no sign of Spring. Outside the church, people waited for the arrival of Spring’s usual messenger so that the priest could begin his Mass. When no cuckoo appeared, they began to drift off home. But the priest held firm. Finally, as day’s light faded, a faint fluttering was heard between the ancient yew trees lining the path to the Nevern church door as a tired cuckoo flew down and settled on top of St Brynach’s cross. The messenger of Spring had arrived, the first ‘cuckoo’ of Spring was heard and the priest and people hurried into the Church to celebrate their much-delayed Mass.

Alas, when they came out of the church – it’s the sad end of the story that always, as a child, made me cry – they found a dead cuckoo at the foot of the stone cross. The cuckoo’s long journey to Nevern across sea and land had been too harsh. But, as the story always said, ‘it had kept its trust’.

The much-needed connection:

I strongly believe that stories of the world’s wild creatures can help create and cement a sense of connection between human beings and the world of nature. This is the wisdom in telling them to children. To respect the natural life of our world – something that has never been more urgently needed – we need all the knowledge we can get about the actuality of wild creatures’ lives. Stories are not a hindrance to this. They  help by awakening our emotions and making us care. They help create a sense of connection.

PS: First photo this week is of an engaging wooden bird from South Africa that sometimes gets brought out of my Story Bag. Second photo is, of course, a cuckoo. Third photo is a little owl, no doubt as full of wisdom as stories themselves can be.

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Stories: Why bother?”

  1. Annalee Curran Says:

    Thank you so much, Mary. Our connection with the creatures of the world is so deeply important. That cuckoo kept its trust – and so should we!

Leave a Reply