Sanctum: A Horse Ride on South Dartmoor

Trail to moor viewed over horse's headNegotiating the winding track to the moor is always the hardest part. The peaty water rushes off the beacon polishing the large slabs of granite as it gushes down towards the village. Here, it unknowingly meets the River Erme and begins its winding passage to Bigbury Bay where it disperses amid a restless and weary ocean. The deep grey, marbled effect of the rocks, dappled with the dancing shadows of sheltering trees, contrasts with the emerald green velvet cushions of moss that creep over and encapsulate everything. Early morning sun pierces through the branches and snowdrops peek out from the thicket as we clamber through an enchanted and magical landscape. The rhythmical clatter of hooves alongside the creaking of leather and the delicate choral hum of birds soon drown out the distant drone of the dreary main road. That familiar, faint smell of tack polish mixed with sweet haylage and the slight dampness of a fur coat remind me that I’m home.

As the track nears its end, the rich, honeyed scent of wild gorse and heather fills my nostrils. The track unfolds into a familiar opening. The last of the heavy morning haze lingers just beneath the summit, concealing the deep auburn coats of those few deer brave enough to venture onto the moorland after sunrise. There is a small area of open meadow, naturally enclosed by wild shrubbery, which is more often than not guarded by the fending shadow of the beacon. At the top end of the opening, there is a small verge, right on the foothill, and we turn around to look back down at what we’ve accomplished so far. I peer in between those pricked, silver dappled ears, fringed with a coarse blonde mane and look down on the South Hams countryside, quilted together by hedgerows and tiny tarmac veins connecting the sparse villages like a dot to dot all the way to the coast.

summer bluebells at holwell lawn on dartmoor national park in devon

I have always thought this is my own little secret place. I convince myself that surely no one besides us can know that this magical sanctum is even here. I remember the many summer evenings spent here as a child, racing around on muddy ponies with the idyllic backdrop of a lilac heather cloak and golden yellow gorse flowers, caramelised with the last of a burnt-orange sun as it dipped behind the beacon. We used to build little jumps by weaving together old branches, or we would play Cowboys and Indians and hurtle around bareback with feathers and flowers decorating the bridles and use mud to paint on our faces and around our ponies’ eyes.

Everything seemed possible on those hot, clear evenings, where the seamless sky was dyed with crimson purples and deep magentas which amassed in streaks and swirls like a living watercolour. We forgot the burden of school and exams, the pressure of teachers and parents and the fear of our future that had been instilled in so many of us from such a young age. Instead, we would stay out until the glittering stars littered the sky and our t-shirts clung to our backs desperate for warmth. I remember heaving the aged, solid oak front door and lifting the latch as slowly and delicately as I could as to avoid the clunk ringing through the entire house. I don’t think I ever succeeded. Far too heavy handed, I was always caught by Dad, gingerly confined to the doormat due to the sheer amount of Devon mud I had managed to cover myself in. But he never minded. Instead, he would chuckle, eager to hear of my latest adventure on the beacon.

This essay is written in memory of my pony, Dougal, who I sadly lost last year and who enjoyed walking on the beacon as much as I did.

Click here to visit Eleanor’s website.
Top photo by the author.  Bottom photo by Helen Hotson.

Nature Perseveres at Akron Falls Park

Sunday starts spectacular. A sixty degree spring day with an invitation from a good friend are enough to coax me out of my fair weather nature lover hibernation, back into the warmth and outdoors that I love. It’s been months. Our destination is Akron Falls Park in Western New York for some hiking. This was a favorite place when I was in high school. Nearly forty years have passed since I’ve been, so I’m looking forward to seeing what may have changed since my friends and I had time to sprawl out on blankets next to our cars, soak in the sun and chat the day away.

The half hour drive to the park is a treat in and of itself. I choose a route where the less trafficked rural winding roads are a perfect excuse to turn up the music and enjoy. The farmers are out on the tractors and that fresh smell of spreading fertilizer fills the air. I don’t mind the unmistakable smell, my nostrils accept all that my open window has to offer, just as my eyes appreciate the wide open space set out before me in beautiful patterned fields.

Akron Falls early springWhen I arrive at the park, it seems much smaller than I remember. I meet my friends and a hiking group at our predetermined spot and after polite introductions our stroll begins. Akron Falls, the namesake signature forty-foot waterfall that highlights the park begins the trail. The water is gushing today, still overflowing from the torrential rains that fell in the days before, which allows for a mighty view and scenic photo backdrop. After group shots and selfies, we continue on our path bordering Murder Creek, the source of the falls. We hike for a bit, puddle jumping and straddling the mud-soaked ground. To the left of us are small tree-laden cliffs that send down mini waterfalls of their own, producing glistening streams over black shale and creating pools at our feet. Moss has made its pretty carpet over the fallen trees, and we have fun identifying and admiring the new spring growth including trout lilies, coltsfoot, wild ginger and white and purple flowers.

Since this is my first hike of the season and I am accustomed to facing a computer Monday through Friday, I take a rest and settle on a perfect perching log on the edge of the trail, content to let my group go on ahead without me as I sit and observe. The passing hikers are friendly and many have dogs, so I have the good fortune of getting some pets in with the exchanged pleasantries. There are many families out today. Across the creek is a park with a playground in close proximity to the creek. Squealing children delight on the swings, walking the chains into twists and letting them go until they spin. And boys, both little and big are heaving rocks both little and big into the water, somehow a nature must for humans I’ve decided, that I will never grow tired of watching.Tree-lined trail and old bridge

I like to sit in nature to slow my world down and reconnect with my five senses and beyond. It is an extra perk to see people take time to fish, bend over to pick up sticks and play. There must be a small airport nearby, as occasionally a Cessna makes its way above my head. As if to mimic, far away in a field through the trees I can see several small remote control planes scatter themselves about. When a Dad walks by side by side with his little girl’s small fist wrapped around his pinky, it makes me happy. When he picks her up and places her beside him on the railing of a small nearby bridge with his arm securely wrapped around her to enjoy the creek view, it makes me happier because I can feel the love he has for her in the moment.

Muddy Murder CreekBefore long, our group returns to that same bridge where I rejoin them. I’m told that I just missed the legend of how Murder Creek got its name, which I am in a way pleased about since the father/daughter silhouette is still etched in my mind. We head back to our starting point saying our goodbyes and my being grateful for a wonderful start to my hiking season.

As I take the same relaxing route back home through the countryside, one of my favorite songs, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” comes streaming through the radio. The timing is exquisite as his gentle voice sings, “In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches,” at the precise moment I pass a small chapel with a sign out front. “Love always perseveres.” I smile in agreement, thinking back to all of the families I saw today, thanking my friend and saying to myself, “Ah yes, and so does nature.”
Yellow Flowers close-up

Mary Clista Dahl has been exercising her passion for pouring out her heart and soul on paper from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. Her desire to promote joy, love and compassion through the written word, combined with a perpetual calling to help, have become the foundation for her life’s work, Capture Life Writing. A people and nature lover, Mary receives most of her inspiration by connecting with the outdoors and others. After more than thirty years of assisting college students with their life and career paths, she is transitioning to her idea of heaven on earth, spending time with friends and family and playing at the nature preserves and beaches of Florida. Besides taking nature walks, her greatest joys come from being a Mom, encouraging others and being a lifelong listener of the most gratifying statement ever, “Have Mary do it, she likes to write.”

Photos by Mary Clista Dahl

Visit Mary Clista Dahl at Capture Life Writing and on Facebook.

Wait, stars

Wait, stars, as I try to set this straight:
you not only illuminate
the night sky as we navigate
the darkened byways of our lives,
you also somehow orchestrate
our every fear, ambition, love,
to some distant celestial date
far beyond what our understanding may conceive.

Now, winds, whichever way you blow,
in whatever directions you may go,
this much, at least, can be held up as true –
you’ll always find the quickest route,
never going around us, but straight through,
so delicately taking us apart
that we never seem to realise how
you’ve laid open the quiet corners of our hearts.

Come, clouds; start your silent advance
and, with your subtle cadences
insinuate those half-imaginings
in shades of what we think we know we saw.
Smudge out a path across the skies
and down the half-lit slopes of dawn.
Come, laden with your inconsistencies.
Colour our waking with your undertones.

By Simon Smith

Simon Smith is a teacher, poet, angling writer and nature writer living on the south coast of Wales in the UK. His first book, a mixture of poetry and angling writing titled, Running with the Tide, was published in 2013 by the Medlar Press.


Honeybees gather,
cluster at the end of a garden hose,
buzz along edges of wet spill.
as I water mom’s flowers.

They are without jobs,
bored and unemployed
now that almond orchard
blooming season is over.

I am out of my element,
paying another’s bills,
tending a yard not mine
while I comfort my dying mother.

Like me, agitated drones have
been reassigned to unfamiliar tasks,
unsettled by abrupt change of mission,
normal routines disrupted.

By Jennifer Lagier

Be on pink flower

The author, Jennifer LagierJennifer Lagier has published ten books and in literary magazines. She taught with California Poets in the Schools, co-edits the Homestead Review, helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Forthcoming books: Harbingers (Blue Light Press), Scene of the Crime (Evening Street Press), Camille Abroad (FutureCycle), Forthcoming: Like a B Movie (FutureCycle Press, 2018).Click here to visit her website. Photo by the author.


Not once have I seen an egret
dead, stretched out on the ground

like the whiter than white shadow
of an invisible bird—

the perfect, immaculate specimen
escaped from Plato’s Aviary…

and the old philosopher staring
at the empty cage, heartbroken.

By Don Thompson

Don Thompson was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, and has lived in the southern San Joaquin Valley for most of his life. Currently the poet laureate of Kern County, he has been publishing poetry since the early sixties,including a dozen books and chapbooks. For more information and links to his publications, visit his website San Joaquin Ink.