The Old Man and the Kestrel

by Andrew Cooper-Knight

Following a chance meeting with a truly inspirational druid, I realised the time was right to sign up to the Bardic Grade course.

Over the past few weeks I have created my sacred grove in which I find myself when I meditate. It is a true sanctuary, with a community of birds thriving in the surrounding trees, a family of foxes often seen padding across the lush grass and the sound of bees and other insects playing across the warm summer's breeze. It feels like a gift from the Goddess and a perfect haven of peace and calm.

Not long after creating my grove, my druid guide appeared and by a flickering fire, as the night drew in, he told me the tale of 'The Old Man and the Kestrel', and it is this that I am sharing with you here...

An old man called Olwyn lived high up in the mountains, breathing the clean, fresh air and surviving from eating the berries, seeds and plants around him, sometimes venturing to the lower altitudes to collect provisions.

As time went on, those in the village below started to perceive him as odd or unworldly and someone to be avoided. For this reason Olwyn lived the existence of a hermit, albeit a happy one, communing and being at one with nature. Barely if ever bothered by others, it was a solitary, but contented life.

Over the years Olwyn learnt many things and observed many changes – he learnt much from observing those on the lower slopes and understood what was important and what qualities made a true man.

One day, he was aware that two of the horses used for labour in the village had gone missing and despite many searches by the villagers, could not be found.They had in fact moved to the higher levels and the villagers’ avoidance of such heights, for fear of encountering Olwyn, had left them safe and undiscovered. Olwyn had espied the horses, contentedly grazing, playing and absorbed in their new found freedom. Olwyn in turn said nothing to the villagers, for fear of the abuse and unkind words he might receive for his attempts to help and knowing the mistreatment the horses would receive if returned.

As time passed, Olwyn’s life drew near to its end, but before he passed on to the next life, he left a note for anyone who should venture to his home in the mountains.

Sometime later, a boy called Cerwyn who had not yet been indoctrinated with the fear caused by the rumours about Olwyn, had climbed the mountain and come across his home. Olwyn was nowhere to be found, his body having moved on to the next realm of life. Cerwyn did, however, find the note – It described how Olwyn had felt, detailed where the horses were and gave an apology for his silence on their whereabouts, during his life. Olwyn had also described how happy the horses seemed, having served long and hard for the village folk and how they now deserved time to rest, away from the servitude that had taken up so much of their earlier existence.

The choice was now with Cerwyn, to tell the elders and subject the animals to a life of service until their dying days or allow them to continue as they now were, a simple reward for a life given to others. Olwyn also explained that should the horses not return, he would ensure he watched over them in his next life, as he had in this.

Cerwyn returned to the village, leaving the note high up in the mountains, deciding that nothing should be said and determined that when he came of age, he would make sure that any of the work animals he had, would enjoy a time of rest, long before their life came to an end.

Years passed, day after day, night after night, and soon Cerwyn had his own farm-stead and family, ensuring that his animals were treated with love and respect and reserving a particularly fruitful area of land to be used on their ‘retirement’. For some time, as the years passed, Cerwyn noticed a kestrel who visited, swooping and circling high above and occasionally taking a low pass over his land. The bird became a familiar feature of his life, until one day it visited no more. Content that Cerwyn had led a commendable and honourable life as an adult, practising the respect and kindness that he had, Olwyn was able to move on.

Now as he soared high above the clouds, he was once again able to breathe the cool, fresh air and experience the freedom he had known as an old man, knowing that change was slowly coming to the village and a new generation could provide the hope and love that was once a distant dream.