A story to warm your cockles
Dartmoor Storytellers presents New Light – Stories for the Winter Solstice
The nights are long, and the sun is at its lowest point: after a challenging twelve months, we wait for the first spark of the new year, with weary bodies and wild hopes in our hearts.
Dartmoor Storytellers brings you an evening of Solstice storytelling online, with songs, merriment and inspiration, together with sounds and images of Dartmoor in midwinter. Settle down by the fire with your tipple of choice, and toast the season with stories from six fine storytellers from across the British Isles and stories from across the world.
Storytellers: Henry Everett, Clive PiG, Lisa Schneidau, Fleur Shorthouse, Tamar Eluned Williams, Colin Urwin
Sounds and images: Tony Whitehead
One ticket gives you access to a whole evening of storytelling:
7.00pm – 8.30pm: stories suitable for families (age guidance 7+)
8.30pm – 10.00pm: stories suitable for adults (age guidance 14+)
Stories will be told online via Zoom: the link will be sent through before the event, following ticket purchase.
Buy tickets here:
I’ll be re-mixing The Sun Owl – a tale from Arctic Canada
In the far, far north, near the top of the world, it seems winter will last forever. The sun has not touched the sky for many months. Where has it gone? Dark days and nights make life slower than slow, duller than dull, colder than cold, in the tundra.
Some say the sun is sleeping. Others think it’s become as heavy as a giant whale and will never fly again. Perhaps the sun has eaten too many seals?
Igulik puts another bone onto the fire. It cracks like an ice split, and the marrow sizzles and spits. His sister Nuniq, stares at the orange flames as if trying to suck the heat into her eyes to warm her body from the inside.
Usually, it is warm enough in the igloo to only wear a few clothes, but even though they are wrapped up tight in their caribou anoraks they are shivering. They’ve run out of seal oil for the lamp and stove, and all that remains to stave off the cold are a pile of animal bones, a handful of dung, and a few sticks of driftwood.
Mother and father have harnessed the huskies and gone out onto the sea ice to hunt. They’ve been told to keep the fire alive and not to fall asleep. If the fire died, the children might too. Nuniq strokes the ermine fur wrapped around her neck and hopes her father’s harpoon finds a seal soon.
Igulik is worried. What would happen if their parents didn’t come back? There was no food left. Sure, this was a bad winter, but the summer hadn’t been much better. Fewer fish, lemmings, caribou, seals, and whales than anyone could remember.
Outside, the wind whips around and around the igloo as if trying to lift and spin it into the air. Eddies of snow spiral above like swarms of manic white midges.
Winter is often the time when the old and sick die. But even the strong and young were suffering. Igulik was afraid that when their parents returned, they’d find their children frozen, stiff as sleds. He says none of this to his sister. Instead, he puts a piece of driftwood on the fire and tells her to lie down with him and to eat the time by telling tales.
They lie on their backs on the caribou hides with their heads by the fire and their feet towards the wall. They nestle together as flickering shadows dance above them and take turns to tell each other stories they’d heard from Angaluk, their grandmother. Stories about igloos catching fire and of winds that tear across the tundra and bite the heads off naughty children.
Just as Igulik drops a lump of musk ox dung onto the fire, they hear a sound outside. Expecting it to be their parents coming home with a seal for supper, imagine their surprise when they see the head of a fox poking through the entrance. It sniffs about for a few seconds and then looks at the light in the centre of the snow cave.
Igulik reaches for his spear. A fine pelt and meat for the huskies would be an unexpected prize for his family. But before he can launch his missile, something happens that’s very strange indeed.
Nuniq screams as the creature stands upright and walks towards the flames. This animal is wearing an anorak like them and has the body of a man but with the head of a fox. It stands staring at the warm glow beneath and reaches out its arms to the flames and yelps,
Brother and sister hold each other tight and look up at the strange visitor in their home. It was standing as still as a statue made of ice.
A moment later, another head pops through the entrance. The two ivory tusks of a walrus glint in the firelight. The creature rises up and walks towards the centre of the igloo. It stands, staring at the warm glow beneath, and it reaches out to the flames and grunts,
Brother and sister hold each other tighter.
A moment later, another head appears. The great furry head of a black polar bear pushes through the entrance. The creature rises up on human legs and walks towards the centre of the igloo.
It stands staring at the warm glow beneath and reaches out to the flames and growls,
Brother and sister hold each other tighter and tighter still.
A moment later, another head appears. The black and white head of an orca pushes through the entrance. The creature rises up and walks towards the centre of the igloo. It stands, staring at the warm glow beneath and reaches out to the flames and squeaks,
Brother and sister freeze in terror.
The four animal-headed humanoids slowly reach down to the fire and pick it up, cradling it in their eight hands. The light blazes in their eyes as their faces move closer to the flames. For a moment Igulik and Nuniq thought they were going to eat the fire, but then, watch in horror as their only source of heat and light is carried out of the house, and the igloo is plunged into cold darkness.
The two of them huddle together for warmth and comfort. They try their best to keep awake, but very soon their heavy eyelids get the better of them and they drift off to sleep.
Luckily, only a few minutes away, are the returning huskies and parents, with a couple of bearded seals tethered to the sled.
Zip-wire fast, they jolt to a stop. Strange scents whip the dogs into a yapping frenzy. The mother dashes into the igloo only to bolt out shouting. She pulls her husband into the house. They slap the faces of the children in the darkness. They are stiff and still, but then they stir. Their eyes open and their bodies are rubbed and hugged. Once revived, the children explain what has happened and the mother cries. The father exits the igloo and leans against the building. He looks up into the darkness and sighs,
‘No sun, no fire, no life. Sun gone too long. Gone far away. Not come back. If no come back, no eye in sky, we no see. No light, no heat. If long time last, body stop. We die. Spirit fly.’
But then a white shape like a ghost, looms at his face. A flurry of feathers fills the space in the dark. Two eyes, like fiery black holes in a tiny snowball stare into his own.
Is it a flying seal pup? No, it’s a new bird of the frozen land. An owl – a snowy owl. The first Arctic owl in the history of the world.
The white owl’s eyes bore into the worried man’s mind. There’s a flash of understanding between these inhabitants of this hostile habitat. The owl disappears into the night.
Up and over the frozen world, the bird flies silently with wings as soft as a summer breeze. Eyes like torch lights pierce the darkness. Scouring the void. Seeking the elemental heat. The sustaining source of light and life in this primordial world.
And then, there below, light flows from a giant igloo’s smoke hole. Wrapped around the fire, sleep the grandparents, parents and children of the Half and Half. Creatures that are part like you or I, but also of the Other. Beings that existed before us. Animals with the bodies of humans but with the heads of beasts.
Silent as a shadow, the bird swoops into the igloo. The talons grasp the fire, as if it’s prey. The owl flies upwards and backwards with the bright ball of heat. It rises through the smoke hole and brings the light into the darkness.
Families emerge from igloos to watch in wonder at what appears to be a meteor slowly arcing across the Arctic sky. Most follow with their eyes but some with their feet. It leads them towards the igloo of Igulik and Nuniq. They arrive in time to see the ball of fire suspended above the house. The snowy owl is hovering above the smoke hole. They shield their eyes from the bright light.
The white owl lets go of the flames and flies off, towards the east.
Inside, the half-frozen family stir. Igulik wakes to see fire floating down. Nuniq huddles close to the heat. Mother and father look at each other with relief.
Outside people are shouting and whooping.
A sliver of silver light has appeared on the horizon. No larger than a hair’s breadth. But light, none the less. The sun is returning from its wanderings. Winter is over.