Gather now nestlings and feather-kin, settle your wings and listen, lest this tale should be forgotten in the cold dark days to come.
Remember the Bone Man and the Bone Dog. Remember the gifts that come unexpected. And always remember that those good days may come again, when the beaks of jackdaw, chough and rook, of magpie, jay, crow and raven never go hungry.
In the days of your grandmother’s grandmother and grandfather’s grandfather the winter snows fell deep, bitter and long. Ice and wind stole our food and our lives. Badger and fox claimed our dead, and we grew weaker and fewer.
Hope shrank and shrivelled, like our bellies. Until, one day in the nest-houses of men and women, a strange man and his dog came to live. The man and dog were as one it seemed. The man was young and lean, the dog was even younger and leaner. Soulmates. Nestmates. And they never chased us from the land around their home.
The man fed himself and his dog on succulent meat cut from the bone. And afterwards, instead of locking the remains inside a bin, like so many of their kind, the Bone Man gave them to us.
Into the bushes, he threw us food. On to the grass, on to the rooftop. Gristle, bone, sinew, cartilage, skin and flesh. Such sweet stuff, the stuff of which corvids dream. The stuff of life, scattered freely. We ate, they watched. When the Bone Dog watched we could eat with no fear of cat or fox stealing us or our food.
We grew strong and winter died instead of us. When the warmth returned many chicks hatched to see the sun. And still the Bone Man and Dog showered us with blessings. We grew strong, though there were many beaks to feed.
And so it went. Summer after winter after summer.
Although the Bone Dog grew bonier, and the Bone Man began to limp, they still shared their bounty. But one day the Bone Dog lay down and never rose again. The Bone Man sat alone in his garden. Jackdaws hopped around his feet and brought him gifts of feather and stone, but his eyes were dark and wet and empty.
Through his sadness, he still fed us. And then, a new Bone Dog, just like the old one, came into his life and the light in the Bone Man’s eyes returned and all was good. But nothing stands still. As the Bone Dog grew older, the Bone Man grew stiffer and slower until he knew his time under the sun was almost done.
One morning, in the cool dawn light, he scattered our breakfasts and said goodbye. He went down to the sea with the Bone Dog and climbed into a boat and rowed out to the faerie isles that wink in and out of being. With Bone Dog by his side, he lay down on the glimmering shore and closed his eyes to this world. The waves began to embrace him, but Bone Dog knew what to do and began to dig, long bony legs and sharp claws throwing enchanted sand over the Bone Man’s cooling body. Soon, Bone Dog had raised a small mound.
We were watching. We knew that Bone Dog’s efforts would be in vain, as soon enough the faerie isle would slip back into the sea. And so we helped. Hundreds of us took sand by the beak-full from the dunes of the mainland and flew out to the faerie isle. We dropped it and Bone Dog piled it on the Bone Man’s body.
Sand, grass, twig, stone. The sky was black for three days and nights as jackdaw, chough, rook, magpie, jay, crow and raven carried their loads. The Bone Dog buried the sea and turned a faerie isle into a solid one.
When the Bone Man was safely hidden, the Dog Who Buried The Sea lay down exhausted and we stood by him as he slept. He dreamt happy dreams of when the Bone Man and Bone Dog were young. We joined his dreams with our own. Good times.
The Bone Dog woke and knew there was one last task. He looked at us and we nodded. He began to dig one more time, a Bone Dog sized tunnel into the heart of the island where the Bone Man lay. And as the Bone Dog disappeared from this world, we filled in the tunnel so he and the Bone Man could rest, safe, together.
Remember fledglings. Things come and they go. Round in circles: rain, shine, wind, snow. Light and dark. Egg and bone.
One day, when we need them most, the Bone Man and the Bone Dog will return.
Keep watching. From roof and tree, from chimney and bush, from rock and aerial, from forest and field, from cliff and dune, keep your eyes and hearts sharp.
Be ready to rejoice anew when the Bone Man and Bone Dog wake and cast their offerings to the sky.
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH AUTHOR ANDY OLDFIELD
FFO: We loved the relationship between the man and his dog in this story. Can you tell us about any pets you have and what makes them particularly good companions?
AO: I have a whippet, Bret. He insists we go out for walks even if I’m inclined to stay inside. Our favorite time for an hour’s stroll is dusk and the early night: owl light. Walking lanes and fields and woods feeds the imagination and the soul as well as providing a cardiovascular workout. Sometimes if Bret’s been fed chicken meat the bones go out for the local corvid populations!