The deer at lammas tide motley moose

She’d risen at dawn as usual, in company with her colleagues, to gather on the veranda of the Big House that served as their dormitory while the Great Barn’s bedrooms were undergoing repairs. They sat on the wide veranda drinking coffee and talking in low voices while they watched the grey mist rise slowly from the wet lawn to reveal the shadowy deer coming out to nibble around the edges. They were mostly does and fawns, although the occasional buck appeared.

Resuming her walk through the rows of apple trees, Aylwin turned a corner and stopped again. A doe was standing beneath one of the trees, nibbling apples from a low-hanging branch. Two dappled fawns, one on each side, stood close to their mother. Sunlight filtering through the foliage highlighted the spots on the fawns’ backs and the lustrous dark eyes of the doe.


Tomorrow she and several others would spend the day baking the bread loaves for which the sabbat was named: “Lammas” derived from “loaf-mass.” The day after would be market day, which this year would fall on Lammas itself. Half the loaves they made would be sold at market; the other half would be retained to feed the commune. And two loaves would be placed on the altar, of course, in thanksgiving.

Indeed, it was an unlikely thought for a city-bred teacher of high school English. But during an Ostara ritual several months ago, in which the leading priestess had invited everyone to aspect a patron god or matron goddess, Aylwin had received the message that was to change her life. Diana had delivered the message in no uncertain terms: “You are too contented with your home and hearth. You need to get out into the woods more. You need to spend a great deal more time looking at the moon than you have been.”

Struck by these words, Aylwin had mused on them for some time afterwards. It was true that she loved her life: loved her little walled city garden with its beds of herbs and flowers, its espaliered peach trees, its pots of strawberries and lavender. She enjoyed making her way around the city by bicycle if the weather were fine, rejoiced in the slow change of the seasons, took great delight in curling up with her books at night in her favorite recliner with a cat or two. Yes, she was far too content.

By sheer chance an opportunity to work on the farming commune had offered itself through a flyer at the local farmers’ market: free room and board for two months in the summer in exchange for eight hours’ work a day, six days a week. Aylwin’s request was accepted immediately, and now here she was—windblown, tanned, and insect-bitten, but happy.

Across the room Red Hawk, Falcon’s husband, held a finger to his lips. Falcon grinned in acknowledgment and resumed his speech. “Okay, folks, you probably don’t want to hear this but we’ve had a visit from a county board member and a landowner. They’ve declared a deer cull on the land adjoining ours, which means—” Falcon held up a hand to hush the murmur of protest that rose from twenty outraged throats—“that we will not interfere with the hunters in any way. No attempts to engage them in conversation, no attempts to stop them, nothing! You know the trouble we’ve had getting permission to rent this land. The owners think we’re a bunch of hippies that drum all night around the fire circle and go skinny dipping in the lake. We’ll have to just ignore the deer hunters and go on with our work.”

Aylwin, who was not a member of the ritual planning team, returned to her breakfast, seething. A deer cull! Blast the county board, the landowners, and all who would participate in the deer cull! She thought of the entrancing sight she’d been granted just half an hour ago and felt a wrench of the heart at the thought that any of them, doe or fawns, might be killed.

After lunch, hurrying through the woods to the Queen Oak, Aylwin picked as many wildflowers as she could fit into the jar of water she carried with her—white Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed susans, blue wild chicory, yellow lady’s slipper. After placing the jar on the altar she bowed her head. “Diana, Goddess of the woods and all that is wild, please accept my gift of flowers and protect all your beautiful creatures. Let them come to no harm! So mote it be.”

As she straightened up, still looking at the statue, she felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. She sensed she was not alone. Someone else was there: someone in the woods, perhaps, watching her. Slowly, she turned around. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sudden flicker of movement behind the trees but she could not discern whether it was animal or human.

Well, back to work. It was her turn to pick the lettuces for tonight’s dinner. Aylwin made her way quickly back to the Great Barn and the greenhouse. She stopped to laugh at the sight of the white duck chivvying a group of hens away from the barn toward the springhouse. The white duck reminded her of a drill instructor in charge of a gang of raw recruits: the chickens appeared to be in awe of him, scurrying along every time he flapped his wings and quacked.

The next morning found her in better spirits. It was Lammas Eve, after all, and there was nothing like Lammas tide to put a smile on one’s face. How good it was to mix the yeast with the water, to add the flour and lovingly knead the dough, how fine to set the dough to rise in the great ceramic crocks. As the kitchen was cooled only by fans—the Great Barn wasn’t big on modern conveniences like air conditioning—some of the workers stripped to the waist as the day went on and the temperature rose.

On Lammas Day Aylwin woke just before dawn. There were so many things to think about: the Lammas feast, for example. That night they would enjoy roasted vegetables over pasta, along with the bread they’d baked. Berries were traditional food at Lammas, so she and Lily would make strawberry tarts, blueberry cake, and blackberry rolypoly for dessert. After dinner there would be an outdoor ritual with a huge balefire shooting sparks toward the heavens. As they danced around it they would symbolically cast the qualities they wished to discard from their characters into the leaping flames.

Time to be up and doing. Quickly Aylwin washed and dressed, leaving the Big House just as day was breaking. Before she began the day’s work she would gather flowers again to place on Diana’s altar at the Queen Oak. Today was to be the last day of the deer cull. To be sure, she’d already asked the Goddess to keep the wild ones safe, but the wildflowers would have withered by now. It couldn’t hurt to make a fresh offering.

Going back through the woods to the orchard, Aylwin realized what she had to discard: her arrogance toward those who didn’t believe what she herself believed, who didn’t follow her religion or her way of life. And there was something else she had to acknowledge—that there were events in which she could not, should not interfere. She thought of what Silver Oak had said. “It’s part of the endless cycle of life, Aylwin.”