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Heaven: The abode of god and angels, nirvana ,Valhalla, elysian fields. Empyrean, paradise, Swarga, Avalon.

This morning as I am out on the yellow bicycle in search of out elderflower’s for making tea, an odd thought springs to mind (as often happens when I’m cycling).

Could this be heaven?.

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I wonder this because life is extremely good at the moment.

Its as I imagine Heaven to be…….

Pedalling along in no hurry in search of elder flowers,

Avoiding the odd puddle here and there from last night’s rain.

Pottering along country lanes overflowing with goodness,

The right amount of sunshine over head.

Feeling contented with my lot.

Everything falling naturally into place.

Nirvana some might call it.

That small white house I wished for ?

It came!

Not to me of course, I’m in heaven after all and I don’t need such worldly things, but to one of my daughters.

And (so it won’t cause me to envy her), there is no willow tree, nor stream, instead their is copper beech and Siberian iris.

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Then before you think I’m gone thoroughly mad with talk of heaven and Nirvana I spot my elder tree.

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If I haven’t already lost you, let me tell you some uncanny things about the elder tree.

Elder tree’s are known to be associated with the faeries and should be treated with respect as they are used in their mischief making.

It is said that if you weave a cradle from elder wood it is an invitation for the faeries to steal your baby.

Of course they would leave a changeling in its place and you would have no idea except you would find your baby to be very unsettled and cross indeed and it probably would be reluctant to look you in the eye.

You don’t believe me? well here is a story that might make you change your mind.

It was told to me one winters night a few years ago by a man who had been led astray many times by the faeries.

 **************

Once upon a time there was a fleadh* planned to celebrate the birth of a much longed for baby to a couple who had married late.

Unfortunately the couple in longing for this child, paid too much attention to it when it finally arrived.

They praised it day and night, walking the floor with it when it was unsettled and even when it was calm and smiling.

Cooing at it when it was in its crib, which the husband had beautifully crafted from a nearby elder tree.

They could hardly bear to leave down the child.

Many times the father went out to plough the fields in preparation for growing spuds and barley, but would change his mind before he had put on his old rubber boots and come racing back in again(sometimes with one boot half on nearly tripping him up) and lift the boy from his slumber and kiss its tousled head and recite poems of his greatness.

He forgot to mend the fences, dip the sheep, trim the horses hooves.

His wife would head out to weed the vegetable patch and collect the eggs but before she reached the garden gate, she would turn and come skipping back, an empty egg basket in hand and wrestle the baby from her husbands arms and sit on the rocking chair, tickling the babies tiny toes and admiring its dewy skin.

Meanwhile the hens, now allowed to clough freely, raised batches upon batches of chicks which roamed the weedy vegetable patch.

They devoured the pea’s and scratched up the lettuce seedlings and the young cabbage plants.

The cows wandered unmilked and if it wasn’t for their separated calves scrambling through the unmended fences and rejoining their mother’s, the poor cows udder’s would have burst.

The farm became sadly neglected, the owners thin and gaunt.

All This did not go unnoticed by the faeries who lived under the nearby rath*.

They not only watched with interest this uncontrolled adoration towards the baby but also smelled the scent of freshly cut elder tree….

One night  when the couple eventually fell into exhausted sleep, he on the floor beside the crib, she in the rocking chair, the faeries came in, stole the baby and left a changeling* in its place.

On the night of the party, people came from far and wide to welcome this precious baby.

Some set out days in advance and followed signs in the night sky.

They brought gifts of food and whiskey and their fiddles, accordions and bodhrans*

It was said the best musicians of the west attended and if they had to battle through the weeds and fight their way through frisky cows roaming loose on the boreen, they uttered not a word of complaint.

They held the baby admiringly, but if those who had children of their own thought, that when the candle light reflected the babies face, it had the wizened appearance of an old man they held their tongues, and, laying the infant back in its handsome crib of elder wood, took hold of their instruments instead.

Soon the rafters were lifting from the joists with the sound of jigs and reels.

Then, when they stopped for a breather and a drop of the pure stuff,  the ‘baby’, loving the sounds of the music*, leapt from the crib, picked up a fiddle and began to play a wild melodious tune.

A tune the likes of which no one had heard before, except mad Pat, but he was not here to recognise it, having danced himself to lunacy one night on a fairy fort to music only he could hear.

The father who was poking at the turf fire, turned to see who was playing such a joyous piece.

He jumped up in amazement at the sight of the tiny infant fiddling wildly, the poker still in his hand.

The changeling, seeing the poker, took fright and ran out the door, the crowd after it, yelling and roaring.

They searched the night long but the baby was nowhere to be found and the crowds headed home heavy hearted, but in honesty were glad to be returning to their own handsome wife’s and pretty children.

Some found it impossible to find the gate to the road so high were the weeds. (for all I know may be still searching for a way out).

The parents in sorrow, threw the crib into the elder thicket and went to bed sobbing in each others arm’s.

They finally fell asleep only to be awakened later by the sound of a baby wailing,

Rushing into the kitchen they found their son lying on the floor on a bed of the softest rushes.

A nappy of bog cotton* was fashioned around its tiny bottom and a cap of intricately woven elder flowers on his head,

Screeching indignantly, it waved its small fists in fury.

They picked him up and danced around the kitchen in great joy.

That night, the mother went out with a jug, pushing aside the calf and braving a kick from the mother, she milked the reluctant cow and brought the warm frothing jug to the elder thicket.

As she stooped down to leave it there she noticed the crib was gone.

Every night after that she filled the jug with fresh cream from the morning’s milking and left it at the edge of the thicket* and her son grew up healthy and strong.

As he grew he learned to help out with the farm chores and little by little the parents saw sense and once again the farm was a joy to behold and they all grew stout and rosy cheeked from the fat of the land.

The old man who told me this story had heard it from his mother.

‘She always looked at me oddly when she told it’ He explained, rearranging the reddened turf with the poker, trying to get a good blaze going.

‘It was as though she knew more about it then she let on’.

‘And what about your siblings?’ I asked curiously ‘did she tell them the story too?

I’m an only child’ he replied, ‘my parents were quite elderly when they married.

‘The neighbours say they were lucky to have me at all’ He added, giving the fire a hefty poke.

I thought about him as I pulled bunches of elder flower heads, some for making tea, some for making elderflower fritters, some for drying .

The sweet muscadet aroma filling the air, almost narcotic I thought.

Recipe for elderflower tea:

One elderflower head.

One cup.

boiling water.

Method:

Shake the flower heads to rid them of any insects or hidden faeries.

Place the flower head in a cup leaving the stem attached.

Cover with boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes.

Lift the flower out by the stem.

Strain the fluid into another cup using a piece of clean muslin.

Enjoy the sweet scented tea, high in antioxidants and antivirals.

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.* Fleadh…..a party

* A Rath …a hill or mound from megalithic up bronze age times, thought to provide shelter for the faeries.

*Changeling Its not wise to draw attention to a healthy baby, the faeries may take it and leave a faerie child (a changeling) in its place. The faeries are always trying to better their lineage by introducing human healthier babies into their clann’s.

*Bog cotton……..Eriophorum Angustifolium, a lovely plant which grows in bogs and resembles puff’s of cotton wool.

*Music…Faeries are mad about it and can play any instrument without tuition.

*Bodhran…a traditional instrument resembling a flat drum and played with a small stick which is always included in a good seisun.*

*Seisun…. a gathering of musicians playing traditional Irish music ,usually in a pub or anywhere where there is an excuse to have a few pints.

*Faeries love cream and if you leave out some at night, they will not cause mischief to your house .

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