A Storm-Cat, Two Heroes and a Village Full of Light
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Take a Break
Ahhhhhhhhh...be kind to yourself. (Have I said this before?) Step back for a few seconds. Take a deep breath. If you are thirsty, drink some water or make a cup of tea. Go outside and feel the breeze. Hold your own face in your hands, gently and tenderly, as you might do for someone you love.
This tool is from the fifth Toolkit. Here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
A Storm-Cat, Two Heroes and a Village Full of Light
On the rugged coast of Cornwall near the southwestern tip of England, there is a small harbor town called Mousehole--though the residents pronounce it mowzel. The origins of the name are hidden in earlier centuries: perhaps it was related to the size of the tiny but important fishing harbor, or to a very small cave nearby. No one really knows. But the name stuck.
Late in the 14th century, in order to protect themselves and their fishing boats from severe winter storms, Mousehole residents built a massive stone quay or pier. Significant additions in the 17th and 19th centuries lead to the impressive seawall of today. And the opening in that wall that allows boats to go in and out? It's so small you could think of it as...a mousehole.
In The Mousehole Cat, award-winning children's author Antonia Barber, herself a Mousehole resident, retells an old legend, magically illustrated by Nicola Bailey
Barber tells us that once, long ago, there came a winter so ferocious that even Mousehole's hardy fishermen were unable to get their boats out of the harbor. As storm followed storm, the residents of the isolated village slowly began to starve.
One night, Old Tom, an local fisherman, spoke his mind to his beloved cat:
"Mowzer, my handsome, it will soon be Christmas, and no man can stand by at Christmas and see the children starve. Someone must go fishing come what may."
He had lost his wife many years before, and his children were grown and on their own. And so, he said, "I think it must be me."
Very early the next morning Tom left his cottage, making sure to leave a light burning in his window to guide him back into the harbor should he survive the storm. Mowzer followed her dear friend onto his boat.
"For he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat" who had been prowling incessantly all winter, just beyond the protective seawall of Mousehole.
As Mowzer listened to the howling of the Cat she "felt a sudden strange sadness for him. How lonely he must be, she thought, endlessly hunting the men-mice in the deeps of darkness and never returning to the rosy glow of a red-hot fire."
"And her kind heart was moved to comfort him.....she lifted her head and sang like a siren....Soothed by the sweetness of Mowzer's serenade, the Great Storm-Cat paused in his prowling and pulled back his giant cat's paw for a mere moment. Swiftly the little boat passed through the Mousehole and out into the open sea."
All day the Great Storm-Cat played with Old Tom and his boat, "striking it and then loosing it, but never quite sinking it. And whenever his claws grew too sharp, Mowzer would sing to him to soften the edge of his anger."
So Old Tom was able to haul in the fish, net by net--enough, finally, to feed the entire village. Surrounded by the catch and thinking of the delights of fish stew and "star-gazey" pie, Mowzer began to purr.
"Her purring rose like a hymn to home above the noise of the Great Storm-Cat's howling. Such music had not reached the ears of the Great Storm-Cat since the dawn of Time, for when do cats purr out in the wind and the darkness?"
"Puzzled, he paused in his howling, bending his ear to catch the strange sound. It seemed to him that he had once heard such a song long before, when he was no more than a Storm-Kitten. The Great Storm-Cat grew quiet: gone was his hunger for hunting, for making his meal of the mice-men. Only the pleasure of the purring remained. Then the Great Storm-Cat began to purr with Mowzer, and as the soft sound grew, the winds waned and the waves weakened."
"Night fell and the little boat sailed back across a slackening sea. As they came near home, a strange sight met their eyes. The whole village of Mousehole was shining with light....For when the people of Mousehole had awakened to find old Tom's boat missing...they knew he had gone out to find fish for them, or to perish on the deep water....And when night fell, the women...set candles in all their windows and every man lit his lantern and went down to the harbor walls."
There was such feasting that night in Mousehole. And the cats were not forgotten.
Today the residents of Mousehole, and its many visitors, celebrate the memory of Old Tom each year on the eve of December 23, with a party and the lighting of special harbor lights.
There is so much kindness and courage, comfort and loyalty in this simple story, so beautifully told and illustrated, representing all the things I love most about children's books. It makes me cry--and smile--every time I read it.
And like all good stories, there are layers and layers of meaning. This time I noticed that while there were only two obvious "heroes," every person in the village played an important role in the drama.
In the story, the night sky is clearing as Old Tom and Mowzer sail back home. But it's likely that in reality the village would have remained shrouded in darkness and clouds, so the wayfarers would have needed all the light they could get to show them where the village lay, and to guide them in their sliding through the narrow mousehole gate into the safety of the harbor. Those lights would have made the difference between life and death, between sailing and sinking, not just for Mowzer and Old Tom but for all in the village who were close to starvation.
There is a part of me that longs to be the hero, to offer that service, to have that special place of appreciation and honor. Through this pandemic I've been watching with deep gratitude in my heart for the sacrifices of so many heroes--nurses, teachers, essential workers, working parents, scientists and others. But we can't all be heroes all the time. So I have tried to simply keep my small light burning, hoping to help someone find their way to safe harbor through the dark and the storms we have all experienced this year.
May you continue to find safe harbor, dear ones.
Until next time,
Elephants, Mikell Darling, unSplash
Mousehole Harbor, Michael Harpur
Winter waves, Mousehole harbor wall, unknown
Illustrations from The Mousehole Cat, Nicola Bailey