Category Archives: Seasons

Commercialmass is coming

The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.

We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.

We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.

We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.

We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.

Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.

If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.


Shades of Winter

I’ve never really paid attention to the shift from autumn to winter before. I don’t like the winter, so usually I’m trying not to engage with it. This year, being better resourced I’m more able to cope, and trying to change my relationship with this time of year.

I’m not sure what marks the edge between these seasons. The first frosts were some time ago. The leaves are still on the trees. The nights are long, and it is cold. I need my winter coat most of the time when I go outside now. I need thick socks in my boots and heavy gloves and still I struggle to stop my hands and feet going numb. This is more about my body than the temperature.

Today there is sun, and the colours on the trees are pronounced so it feels like autumn. Yesterday was cold and grey, and I was more conscious of where the trees are bare, and it felt like winter.

We’re not into frosty or frozen ground yet. I haven’t had to break out my microspikes. As someone with poor balance and a lot of anxiety, slippery surfaces are a seasonal nightmare. I put fell-runners crampons on my boots, and those keep me safe and radically reduce the fear. The point at which those come out is definitely winter. Which is a useless measure for those wet and grey winters where frost and ice are never really a thing.

I’ve spent most of my life measuring winter in terms of discomfort. I know this is the reality for many other people. As I work on changing my relationship, I’m conscious of the shift from insufficiency towards privilege.


Returning to the Earth

If you live with deciduous trees, then late autumn is a time of shifting energy. When there are buds, leaves and other growth, trees are very sky orientated. Being amongst trees will tend to take your attention up into the canopy. What you see of trees from a distance will be dominated by their furthest reaches into the air. In summer, leaves are drawing energy from the sun, the tree is interacting with this energy in very literal ways.

Once the leaves start falling, that process will take your attention downwards. That might be in watching leaves come from the treetops and head for the soil. If you walk in fallen leaves, then the sound and texture of them may draw your attention downwards. Also, given how good fallen leaves are at hiding surprise poo, puddles and potholes looking down carefully is often a good idea! As the leaves come down, energy from the tree – energy that was in the sky – held in leaves grown from sunlight – is returning to the earth, where that energy will be released into the soil.

Winter exposes the roots. With undergrowth tending to die back, it can be a good deal easier to see the base of a tree in winter. Again, this shift tends to draw our attention and we may become more aware of trees as rooted beings, going down deep into the soil.

Autumn tends to be fungus season. In woodland this means that we get to see something of the life beneath the soil. Fungi live in vast networks, interacting with tree roots. Much of the life of a wood happens beneath the surface, where we can’t see it. The appearance of fungi in the autumn is a reminder of what’s there all year round. It’s easier to think about things and be aware of them when there’s some more tangible sign of them, and the fungi give us that.

It’s normal to talk about life pulling down into the Earth during the winter, but important to have a more specific awareness of what that means. Tree life certainly is more earth orientated at this time of year. Each living thing responds to the seasons in its own way. For the migrating swans, early winter is all about the skies and making huge journeys guided by the stars. For amphibians, the season can be all about retreating into water to hibernate. There is no one single, simple energy narrative for any given season.


Signs of autumn

Back when I used to teach Druidry to people, I spent a lot of time thinking about the wheel of the year, and what seasonal events it connected with. I came to the conclusion that the trees being bare of leaves might be an important one for Samhain.

We’re a few days from Samhain now, and many of the trees around me are still green. Some have started to turn yellow and some leaves have started to fall. This could be one of those years where leaves are still present into Yule. It has happened before.

I spent some of last week further north (I live in the south west of the UK). There, autumn was further ahead, but in the place I was staying, there leaves had, I was told, just gone brown and started falling.

This morning, I woke to my first proper frost of the season. Normally this is a sad moment in the wheel of the year for me. I do not enjoy the cold, I am not good on slippery surfaces. But today, I am glad to see the first frost because it’s so late. It’s a relief to have it there.

In the last year or so, the number of rough sleepers around the town has increased considerably. First frosts are very bad news for them. Any scope for enjoying these conditions is rooted in privilege and it is so very important to keep sight of that. Don’t tell people off for being killjoys if they aren’t keen on autumn and winter. Poverty makes being cold a much bigger problem. Yes, autumn is lovely if you can put on your fluffiest socks and read a book by your log fire, looking up to enjoy the scenery outside the window. If you can’t afford the heat to keep the damp at bay, it is a miserable time of year.

For anyone who suffers SAD, this is a tough time of year. It can add to other forms of depression too – you can be practically affected by the cold and dark in ways that increase depression and anxiety. Having to travel to and from work in the dark is an obvious example. The cold can exacerbate pain. For older women with more fragile bones, a broken hip is a life limiting disaster, and the frost and ice pose a real threat. There are many other such examples. No one should add to the misery for people who cannot enjoy what autumn brings.


Closing the windows – a seasonal thing

I always hold on as long as possible, but there will come a morning (it came yesterday) when the night was too cold and I have to admit I can’t have the windows open any more. It’s not a great point in the year. Having the windows open at night means being able to hear running water, owls, and sometimes other wildlife really easily.  Closing the windows is a recognition that winter is coming, and I’ve never much liked winter.

During the warmer part of the year, open windows make my home fairly permeable. The sounds of nature come in. Blackbird song at twilight, the dawn chorus, sounds of wind and leaves. Even when I’m indoors I can feel quite connected in this way. Once the windows are shut it is far harder to hear the owls at night. Subtler sounds are lost entirely.

In previous years, closing the windows has marked the start of a whole host of problems. Condensation in cold dwellings – some that have been hard to heat, times when being warm enough to avoid it was unaffordable. Condensation leading to the dampness of everything and the difficulty of keeping stuff dry, and the ongoing battle to keep black mould out of the equation. Or to control it. Or finding it’s grown somewhere in secret and is out of control. One very old house I lived in blossomed with a vast profusion of mould growths as soon as the windows were shut, and I could not get that under control no matter what I did.

Shutting the windows is less of a problem now that I have and can afford to run a small de-humidifier at night. It warms the flat slightly, dries the laundry in wet weather, and keeps the condensation and mould at bay. It’s a neat bit of kit, and using it, I will likely go some time before I’ll need to put the heating on as well.

Damp is more of a problem when you live in small spaces. The more cramped you are, the more stuff is squeezed into spaces not suitable for it, the more people there are in relation to the space, the less air movement there is, the more moisture people are breathing out – these things combine to make winter moister. They are things that go with poverty, with over-crowding and not being able to afford heating or a dehumidifier. Too many people are heading into these conditions as the year turns. You choose whether to be cold, and somewhat damp, or a bit less cold and more damp – neither way is a win. An open window on a cold night will still leave your clothes damp in the morning, especially if you don’t have a wardrobe.

When there’s space, ventilation, money for heating, when you can easily dry out your home, this time of year is fine. For many people, closing the windows means you are just choosing which miserable and unhealthy situation you find most bearable. One of the problems with privilege is how invisible it is to the people who have always had it. If you’re enjoying that cosy autumn feel with your fluffy socks and pumpkin spice everything, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t go that way for everyone. Don’t call people killjoys or otherwise put them down for struggling with the shift towards winter. It’s not a Pagan-fail to struggle with this time of year if it causes you real issues.


Looking for autumn

It is the first of October, and here in the UK, there are not that many signs of autumn. Most of the trees around me are still in green leaf – a few have picked up yellow tones.  The horse chestnuts are cracking on with things, but this is in no small part because they are diseased. In previous years, their leaves have been down by this point, so they are late in their own way. Their conkers are one of the few autumnal things I’ve been noticing.

Last night was the first evening of the season when I shut all the windows. This morning, I have windows open again. It’s not super-cold, but there has been a shift. I remember camping at a folk festival at the end of September about twenty years ago and having frost on my tent in the morning. Autumns are warmer than they were when I was young.

My rose bush is blooming again. I don’t have a garden, but I do have a collection of pots, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down for the winter.

I have mixed feelings, because of course this is climate change in action, and that worries me deeply. At the same time, I’ve always found long winters hard. When the leaves come down around now, it can make for a long wintery season. Having the green still there is in many ways a comfort to me. I have committed to loving the land and nature no matter what climate change does to it, and the continuation of leaves is an easy thing to love.

The seasonal walk I undertake to appreciate the beech leaves is on hold. I have no idea when it might make sense to do that.


Approaching the equinox

I’ve never been very good at equinoxes in terms of celebrating the wheel of the year. Even when I was doing ritual regularly, they were the ones I found hardest to honour. It’s curious, because these are distinct events marking key shifts between the light and dark halves of the year.

There’s a disconnection for me in the way we talk about equinoxes  as times of balance, and the way I experience them. At the equinoxes, we have the fastest day by day change in the balance between light and dark. At this time of year, heading towards the equinox it becomes most obvious that the nights are drawing in and the dawn is later. I feel the shift, not the balance.

This may be one of those cases where modern Paganism has come at something intellectually not experientially. Somewhere in the midst of all this change there is indeed a balance point, but in terms of how we live through these days, that moment is almost invisible. It’s only really there to experience because we’ve agreed that it is, and that agreement may be taking us away from the experience of equinox.

I’m feeling the change and the shift into autumn. I’m feeling the changing length of days, and how different from summer the light is now when I get up in the morning. I’m feeling sleepy earlier in the evening. The smell of the air has changed, the nights and early mornings are colder. It’s a period of intense change, soon to be amplified as the leaves start changing colour and the woods around me shift dramatically from green to golden and brown.

I don’t feel balanced in myself, either, I feel the rush of change, the scope for everything to be different. If I am still now, it is because I’m being tugged in a number of directions and am waiting to see which pulls are the strongest.


The final flowers

There are flowers on the brambles still, and I’ve seen ragged robin and campion in the last few days. At some point, I will have seen the last of these. There are already summer flowers I won’t see again until next year.

First appearances are easier to spot than final showings. When will I see my last bat before they go into hibernation? When will I see my last swift or swallow for this year? It’s not usually until some time after the event that having seen the last one – or the last one for this year – becomes obvious. Spring announces its new arrivals, but as the autumn moves in, those key points of final sightings just aren’t so clear. It means the letting go process is much less defined than the welcoming in.

Of course there are things to welcome in autumn – I’ve seen my first conkers. Leaves changing colour, fruits and nuts ripening, and later in the year, the arrival of winter migrants – these will all be easier to spot. But, the end of summer feels like a falling away without quite knowing what you’ve lost.

It’s useful to reflect on this and spend some time with it. In so many aspects of life, we don’t know when we’ve had the last, or the best of something. People we don’t get to say goodbye to. Things that will never come again. It means that you don’t know how important a meeting is, or a parting, because we never really know who, or what we will see again.

It’s so important not to be complacent about things – you never know when something important may leave forever. Hopefully, the swallows will be back next year, along with the wildflowers and the new leaves. Even that doesn’t feel so certain anymore.


Apple harvest

At the weekend, I had the lovely opportunity to be involved with harvesting and processing apples. It was a small, non-commercial thing, helping out friends whose garden has a lot of fruit trees. I picked apples, cut apples, spent quite a lot of time extracting juice from apples. I drank freshly squeezed apple juice – which is wonderful. Someone else made apple crumble, and we ate it together. There were some spontaneous bursts of collective singing, and an improvised apple shanty.

This kind of seasonal working and feasting creates not only a sense of community, but also a rich relationship with the time of year. For me, it also creates a sense of connection with ancestors. I’ve found that around jam making, preserving, making Christmas puddings and other seasonally specific domestic activities. I feel it at the first point in the year when I can hang washing outside. These are the things people have been doing for a very long time. The technology changes, a bit, the recipes evolve, the songs get new words, or new songs are added, but the essence remains the same.

Ever since the industrial revolution, working people have been sold an idea of convenience. That it is better for us to work just the one job, and buy most of what we need from other people who are doing just that as their job. Before then, most of us would have been much more involved with the practical realities of daily life. We get told all the time how much we want and need convenience – usually this information comes in the form of adverts for products.

We get told that doing a job the slow way and by hand is drudgery, old fashioned, and undesirable. My experience has always been that going the slow way gives me more. I can’t do it for everything all the time, in no small part because I don’t live in a space that would allow that. I need a bigger kitchen, some workshop room and a bit of garden. Maybe, one day this will be possible.

Self sufficiency is clearly hard work – but it also isn’t what most of our ancestors did. When you work together in a community, any given job doesn’t take so very long, and you can focus on what’s most urgent, and share the loads out and deploy people where they are more useful. As an ambidextrous person, I was able to work the apple juice machine faster than a single-handed person could, I enjoy the opportunities to use my hands that way. Other people are better suited to other things, and sharing the work out this way has its advantages.

Communal working for the good of your community has a very different feel from paid work. There’s more investment in doing the best possible job, there’s no incentive to rush, and there’s room to have fun while you’re doing it. ‘Convenience’ offers none of that.


At the end of summer

It has been an odd summer to say the least. Climate change is very much with us and climate chaos is clearly our new, abnormal norm. There have been days of intense, unbearable heat. There have been many days of torrential rain. High winds have brought down trees. Some days have been so cold and grey that it’s felt like late autumn.

For anyone whose spiritual life is connected to the wheel of the year, this is challenging stuff. Our stories about what the seasons mean aren’t going to hold up in face of climate chaos. The things we look for in the wild world won’t happen when we expect them to. It’s disorientating. To be a nature-worshipper with the natural world in a state of wounded disorder, is to also feel that woundedness.

The sun cycles are dependable – the nights are drawing in, and the dawns are a little later. The quality of light when I first wake has changed, feeling less like summer and more like autumn. But, what does autumn mean this year? We could have a late burst of summer weather – it’s happened before. We could be plunged further into cold, damp darkness under heavy cloud and relentless rain. Harvests are already suffering. It will not be a season of bounty.

I’ve taken a decision in recent weeks that is going to influence how I do my Druidry. I am alarmed and distressed by what’s happening, and the reasons for it, and the lack of political will to deal with the harm we do. But I also know I can’t live like that. Climate chaos is probably here to stay. I have to be able to make sense of my days, and I do not want to feel radically out of kilter with the wild world around me. So I have taken the decision to love the excess. I’m going to love the wild, lashing rain, the flash floods and the challenges they bring me. I’m going to love the high winds, no matter what damage they do. I am going to love the extremes of temperature even when I have to also hide from it. I am going to open my heart to all these things and make room for them and live with them.

Wounded beings lash out, even when you try to help them. This is no different. A being I love – this living planet – is wounded, and lashing out. I will undertake to love her anyway.