The Men Who Chased the MoonPosted: 23 March 2011
For some of the stranger stories we have, you might wonder how on earth someone came up with them in the first place. The more cynical side of you may turn to such answers to this question as ‘drinking’. Aptly enough, as a traditional centre of community the local public house may just have been the birthing place for many of the folk tales still in memory. It is almost certainly the case for the following tale, which should definitely be taken with a pinch of salt!
One fine evening the men of Lorbottle were sitting outside enjoying the air and the occasional mug of beer. The night was so very merry and the company so amiable that one of their number stood up and toasted the health of them all, saying,
“Gentlemen, neighbours, I would speak to you of a matter which has troubled my mind for some time. Of all the times of year, there is none I like better than when the moon is high in the sky. So long as the moon is smiling at me it does not matter how far I should need to go; and at the harvest, my brothers, I could work all night as long as her pale light were shining down on me!”
This speech was met with many cheers and shouts of agreement from the men assembled. All raised their mugs to toast the pale moon, which before long was to be making her gentle ascent into the sky. The man who had spoken raised his voice once more.
“I am glad that you all agree with me,” he continued, “for I have a plan. As beauteous as she may be when she is with us, our moon is forever running; many a night goes by when she does not show her face, like a timid creature of the fields. So I propose, gentleman, that we should catch her, and tie her to those trees over yonder, so that she may shine for us every night!”
This raised yet more cheers and not a little laughter from the men. Though one was wont to call out in reply, “and how can you do that?”
“Oh, nothing so easy!” the man replied, brandishing his mug. “Last night I sat out and watched where she makes her appearance; just over the brow of the hill. If we go there tonight, we can trap her with nets and carry her back in my sledge, like a giant cheese.”
All the villagers thought this a fine idea, so they took out the sledge and hauled it to the top of the hill where the man had pointed. But to their dismay, the moon was not there. Instead, they saw her coming up behind the next hill.
“No great defeat,” said the man. “We may have missed her tonight, but we will come again tomorrow night; and we will be sure to catch her, as soon as she comes up!”
So the next night the men assembled once more and went in good time to the brow of the next hill; but alas, the moon was not to be seen here either. She had seen them waiting for her and had skipped onto the next hill, creeping up quietly, her pale face mocking them all. The men were very disappointed, but did not give up their quest; the next night they travelled to the next hill, and the next, the hill beyond that. But on the fifth night she did not appear at all, staying hidden behind the clouds.
“The moon has led us a merry chase, for sure,” said the man. “It is a pity that we may not have her; if we were younger men we would have had the strength. But distances such as these are too much for my old bones.”
So the men of Lorbottle gave up their chasing of the moon. But it was not long, however, before their erstwhile leader came up with a better idea.
“My friends, we may have failed to capture the moon for our own,” he said, “but do not despair, for I have another plan. Have you not noticed, that when the cuckoo comes to the trees of Lorbottle we see fine weather, and when she flies away, she takes the sun away with her? Now, it is my opinion that if we can catch the cuckoo and keep her here in Lorbottle, we may have fine weather all year round! No more cold fingers, or wet feet; only the warmth of the sun and the sweet-smelling grass, every day of the year!”
“Yes yes, but how should we keep her here?” asked one of the others.
“Oh nothing so easy! My friends, we will make four walls, and sneak up upon the cuckoo when she sleeps upon the branch. Then, we will fit them together and make a prison around her. Then she will be ours, and remain forever!”
So that very night, they all went out to see where the cuckoo made her roost at nightfall. They soon found that every night she would rest in the branches of a hawthorn tree. Then one who was skilled with carpentry made four walls as the man had described. Then, when darkness had truly fallen, they silently placed the walls around the tree on which the cuckoo slumbered. Agreeing to meet once again at dawn they all went to their beds.
When the morning sun was stretching his fingers across the sky, the men assembled in good time to hear the cuckoo make her first call. They celebrated the success of their plan and greatly praised the cleverness of the man who had come up with it.
But no sooner had they taken their eyes from the tree that the cuckoo flew upwards and over the walls. Before they could catch her she disappeared into the sky; mocking them as she went.
Photo credit: David Hunter