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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Claire Everett

Woden's Crag

morning light
an open book of poems
she takes her fill
high in the hills
this first day of spring

Since it lumbered from the mists of the Lower to Middle Jurassic, this sandstone beast has been compared to the Matterhorn and on a clear day commands spectacular views of the Cleveland Plain and beyond.

Until 1914, when a geological fault and nearby ironstone mining caused a collapse, the crag resembled a sugarloaf. In a scan of the skyline, it cannot fail to draw the eye, seeming so out of place and yet part of the geological furniture. Songs have been written about it, Chris Rea's "Chisel Hill", being one.

a slowing of time...
how a singing ash spear
might glance Woden's brow,
from the seat of the old god
a contrail's drawn-out sigh

After a particularly bitter winter, with the blue bluer for the green, it is not difficult to see why the Vikings revered the site. The current name of Roseberry Topping, favoured by the local community, is a corruption of Óðins bjarg which mutated over hundreds of years from Othensberg to Ouesberry and more recently, Roseberry -- 'toppen' being an Old Norse word for a hill.

of flesh or myth
the gods who roamed these lands,
my breath is mist...
aeons from now
no hill will remember me

My husband suggested we spend the morning here, high above the woods where the birds are singing blossom into the trees. After the last arduous pull of the short climb, we sit in silence, taking in the view. Cloud-shadows cross the valley and crows give shape to the wind that until now had found no place on this still, cool day. The graffiti on the monument and the industrial sprawl of Middlesbrough below no longer matter. It is said that Captain James Cook used to climb this hill as a boy and would sit contemplating the not too distant sea and a future life of exploration and adventure.

breathless from the climb
my fingers in human scrawl
my eyes
on slate-blue distance
time's graffiti on the hills

from his lips to mine
may you never hunger
may you never thirst
time passes on the wings of crows...
the wheel turns

We share a biscuit and a cup of elderflower cordial and my husband's softly spoken prayer passes like incense through my mind. He gives thanks for the coming of spring and for these moments spent here on one of the high hills where the ancient people of this land would have left oblations for their god.