It’s not something I’ve ever really noticed before, but this year I am seeing the birds courting. They’ve done it all through January. They turn up and forage in pairs, and I’ve been treated to some amazing displays of close flying – small songbirds nipping through the undergrowth, turning and dodging together, a matter of inches apart. No doubt this happens every year at this time, the only change is in my noticing.
In the last few years I’ve become more conscious of other ways in which the essence of spring is distilled in the depths of winter. All the trees have leaf buds on them right now – locked tight against the frosts, but ready nonetheless. The catkins hang, tight and dark, equally ready. On the woodland floor, the bluebells and garlic is already putting up the tips of green shoots. It’s still icy out there, still bitterly cold and with heavy frosts, but the makings of spring are well under way.
This year I have been much more aware of the return of the light, seeing the day increase from one evening to the next. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention in previous years, more that I couldn’t see what was happening. I’m not a winter person, but it isn’t always easy to leave. I’ve come into far too many spring seasons with such a deep chill in my bones, and so much darkness in my mind that I found it hard to make an emotional connection with the shift into spring. I found the journey into winter easier this year, and I am experiencing the journey back out without feeling lost or disconnected.
This isn’t especially about my Druidic work of engaging with the seasons, it’s about an entirely separate emotional journey that does not plug neatly into ideas of the wheel of the year. There’s often a profound disconnect between personal cycles and journeys, and the wheel of the year narrative and that can create a lot of tensions for the dedicated Druid. When life is peaceful and all is well then it can be quite easy to go with the flow of the seasons. However, the challenges of life and the baggage we carry can entirely preclude that. It can be hard to form a relationship with the seasons as you experience them when your own life rhythms are very different. Harder still to engage with the seasonal narrative, which isn’t always the same as what’s happening in your climate.
Depression and winter are a dreadful combination for me. I do not enjoy the darkness or the cold, or the extra challenges the season brings. I struggle with low energy and I entirely get how our ancestors could have wondered about whether the light would ever return. I wonder that – literally and metaphorically, when I am depressed. Being less depressed, I am less affected by all of these things, and curiously more able to recognise the changes for the better. I can feel the year turning. In winters of deep depression, I could not feel it, even when the spring came. Winters of the spirit can alienate us from the actual return of light.
This is not to say that working with the seasons will cure you from depression. It may do the opposite, making it more painfully clear that are not experiencing spring or any kind of return of light. However, overcoming depression undoubtedly makes it easier to work with the seasons.