Category Archives: Seasons

A cold spring

Back during my boat dwelling period, there was an April with heavy snow. I can’t remember exactly when the last wintery-spring happened in Stroud, but there was one not so long back. Cold springs are hard, and this one comes on the back of a bitterly cold winter in the UK coupled with hiked energy prices. The direct human suffering this causes is huge, and it’s also impacting on our polytunnel farming and thus on our supplies of fresh food.

Early spring has always been hard and unpredictable. It’s no accident that Lent falls at this time of year. In the past, people would be facing the end of their winter stores while fresh crops had yet to appear. Depending on how good the previous harvest was, and how long the winter turned out to be, this could be a very hungry time of year. There’s something to be said for making a religious virtue out of the problem of being obliged to fast.

However, this is not about needing faith in a world of uncertainty. These are problems of our making. Humans have caused a climate crisis that greatly increases this kind of unpredictable weather. Greed is why we have an energy crisis in the UK, it’s all about deliberate choices, not inexplicable acts of God. We should be able to keep people warm and fed, and yet we can’t – and at the moment that’s mostly something that we, as a country have done to ourselves. Splitting from the EU was a serious mistake and has enabled politicians who don’t seem to understand how anything works.

We aren’t set up to live like our ancestors. We don’t grow our own food, or have the means to store it. Like many people, I don’t have a garden or a cellar. Most of us rely now on complicated systems of distribution for our food. We rely on companies for our heat and light – which should be cleaner and more sustainable than burning things at home, but that’s only true if the energy companies play fair. Being in a flat, I can’t have my own wind turbine or solar panels. 

I’m very much a fan of shared solutions to problems. However, that only really works when there’s kindness and benevolence in the mix. When the food growers can’t afford to heat their polytunnels, and when we’ve broken the system that brought us supplies of food from other countries, what do we do? 

This spring is cold in the UK, and unkind, and we were not ready for it.


There are some plants that loom large for me in the wheel of the year. These are the ones whose timing is more predictable and seems relevant to me in terms of how I relate to the seasons.

Snowdrops are the first flowers I watch for, and celandines are the second. While crocuses and hellebores can show up in that time frame, and the first greenery starts to emerge, it’s the cheery nature of celandines that inclines me to pay particular attention to them.

Each year, the exact order of spring flowers emerging can vary – along with the elf caps, which tend to show up around now locally but overall have a much longer season. I try to be alert to how the year is unfolding specifically rather than working with generalised ideas about spring. There are always outliers and oddities – I’ve got a few elder trees putting out leaves already.

The climate crisis means that we will probably have increased unpredictability around how the seasons unfold. Plant species will adapt – or fail to adapt – in different ways. It feels important to me to be alert to what’s happening and to engage with it.

The promise of spring

This photo shows an oak tree standing in an open field. If you look at it carefully, you can see that there’s a fattening at the tips of the twigs, and a touch of brown at the edges of the tree.

These are the emerging buds for this year’s leaves. 

It can be more obvious when you see it happening in a woodland – this sudden fattening and browning that comes before the unfurling of new green leaves. That unfurling itself may be quite some time away – oaks in particular can be very late leafing. However, in the brown buds is the promise for the year ahead, and I always find that cheering to see.

It’s still very cold where I live (this tree is further north than I am.) It doesn’t really feel like spring yet, but the snowdrops are up, and the promise of spring is certainly there to be seen.

With thanks to Keith Errington for letting me use his tree photo.

Osiers in winter

I love willows, with their incredible resilience and capacity to keep going. Willow will grow, and regrow from almost nothing, they’re remarkable survivors.

There are many different kinds of willow, all with their own distinctive qualities. The one in the photo is an osier willow, and these are particular favourites of mine. In the leafy part of the year they aren’t very self announcing, but in winter, the narrower stems show up dramatically with their red and orange hues. In untouched trees, this is mostly to be found in the twigs, but pollarded trees are more dramatic, as the photo shows. The lighting for this doesn’t really convey the colour intensity.

One of the things I tend to find hard about winter, is the greyness. I find the lack of colour impacts on me emotionally. Seeing the osiers always gives me something of a boost,

Resolutions and looking ahead

For many years, I’ve taken time at the end of December to reflect on where the year has taken me, and to set intentions for the year ahead. I will also take time through the year to reflect and assess, because living in a deliberate and conscious way is very much part of how I do my Druidry.

One of the things I’ve managed to do in terms of following through on intentions, is being more open to my intuition. Right now, my gut feeling is that many aspects of my life are hanging in the balance and that much depends on other people’s decisions. The intentions I hold might not amount to much unless a number of other people decide to align their intentions with mine.

Where I’m most confident at the moment is around the writing side of my life. There are good things going on around my old Fast Food at the Centre of the World novel – so good that I’m going to write a sequel! David and I will be working on the second Wessex novel, and that’s a creative partnership and process  I entirely trust and feel very good about. There are other projects that I hope will work out but are less certain.

One way or another, I’m going to invest more in music this year. Exactly how that works depends on who else wants to do what, and this is an area of my life that is definitely going to be informed by other people’s choices. There are lots of interesting possibilities and a number of people I want to work with, or at least jam with.

In recent months I’ve seen a version of me I like a lot – more confident and more able, emerging a bit from the crushing despair and from the restrictive influence of panic. There are things I can work with on my own here, but change so far has not been a solitary project, and is unlikely to be so going forwards. Some of this depends on what other people choose. I’ve had some really powerful and encouraging conversations with Tom about what we can choose as a household, and that has the potential to make a lot of difference. I’m on a trajectory that feels powerful and hopeful.

I’m aware at this point that improving my mental health, and for that matter, my physical wellbeing, is going to call for decisions on my part. I’m going to need to hold better boundaries, and to be more willing to do things that feel selfish – like saying no to people when I’m under-resourced. I need to pick my fights more carefully, and focus on the situations where I can do some good, rather than being exhausted by things I cannot change. 

I’ve got a lot of uncertainty on the work front, because so much depends on whether I can get my body well enough to support taking on anything else. I’ve had too many days in the last year where I could not have made it out of the flat. I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do, which makes it hard to set intentions. If I get the low blood pressure sorted out, I will have more options. With two new books coming out next year with publishers, and some self-pubbed stuff on the way as well, it would be good to be able to dig in with that, too.

I’m going to invest in learning more about Latin dance – youtube tutorials mostly. I like learning new things, I love dancing and it feels like a project that will align with other things I want.

It’s a much less focused and coherent set of thoughts that I usually come up with. I have very little idea where I’m going or what I’m doing with my life alongside a vague but appealing sense of how I want to change and who I want to be. More than anything, I want to deal with the mental health issues and get to a point where I can be happy. It’s thinkable, and I can see how to do it. I think I’m underway, I’ve got the support I need, and I think a great many things are going to change as a consequence.

The Wheel Turns

The turning of the year is especially self announcing around the solstices as the shape of the day changes. The passing of a calendar year also makes us more alert to the progress of time, and the existence of so many winter festivals adds to all of that.

Festivals are often the focus for awareness of the wheel of the year. It’s often when we pause to celebrate a key point that the journey through the year becomes most apparent to us. I’ve seen this a lot in ritual spaces, where checking in with community and spiritual practice for festivals also brings people into relationship with the seasons. Back when I was regularly leading rituals, it was evident that for a lot of people, these key check in points formed the majority of their relationship with the seasons.

The wheel turns every day. We’re in a constant state of movement and as we pass through any season, the next one is also being made. A lamb born at Imbolc will be growing in the womb at this time of year.

Taken as a day by day process, the changes are hard to see – it’s the moments of drama that make it most apparent where we are in a season. First frosts. First flowers. And while the solar process of the year is entirely predictable, how any given season plays out is far less so. I’ve seen heavy snow in April when it should have been spring and I’ve been outside in just a t-shirt some years in December. Sometimes our festivals align well with what’s happening in the natural world, but not always.

When I started out on this path I spent quite a few years celebrating the seasons through the eight festivals. That was in no small part because at that time I had a community to celebrate with. I spent some years exploring alternatives to the regular wheel of the year story. There are many things in nature that do not fit neatly into the kinds of stories Pagans like to tell about the wheel of the year. I found spending time on that helped me deal with the ways in which I’m not reliably able to fit myself into those regular wheel of the year stories either.

In recent years I’ve become more interested in approaching the seasons on a more day to day basis, focused on what’s going on around my home. This is in part because I’ve not been able to walk so far, which has focused my attention on what’s closest to me. Exploring the day to day changes makes more sense when you’re looking at the same area of land most days.

Our relationships with the wheel of the year are, to a significant degree, shaped by our relationships with the landscape. How often we go out, where we go, how far we go and how often we go to any specific place will shape how we experience the year.

Leaves on snow

In a normal winter in the UK, the leaves come down before any significant snow falls – assuming any snow falls at all. This year there were still green leaves when the snow came in December. I’ve not seen snow sitting on autumnal leaves before, and I’ve not seen leaves coming down on snow like this, but there’s been a lot of it. The effect is pretty, the reasons less so.

This of course is climate chaos in action. It looks charming enough, but it represents problematic changes. 

In theory, deciduous trees shed their leaves to be more efficient in the dark part of the year and to avoid the stressors of having snow fall on large leaves. I don’t know what happens to trees when they have to deal with this – I see a lot of leaves falling now, but even after the snow has melted in the last day or so, there are still plenty of trees outside my window who still have leaves.

I don’t really know what any of this means, for the seasons or for the trees, but it seemed worth remarking on.

Festive with little waste

I haven’t had a Christmas tree in many years – we live in a small space. I used to have a small tree in a pot which came indoors during the winter. Back then James was a child, and he liked the idea of Christmas trees, so we used to do that together.

I like a bit of cheer at this time of year, but I’m also painfully conscious of how much waste the festive period sends to landfill. As a household we’re committed to throwing away as little as possible, and this impacts on how we handle December. As a Pagan, I really don’t want to participate in the planet-wrecking commercialism that is at its worst for midwinter.

Cyclamen (as in the photo above) are charming little plants. Finding them wild is wonderful because they bloom when there’s so little else out there that’s colourful. I’m aware of a few likely spots for finding them locally. This one came home in a pot, and will live on the altar for the coming weeks. I also have a number of seasonally confused Christmas cacti around the flat. Some of them decided to celebrate Samhain this year, one still has buds on it and will probably bloom soon. The geraniums are still cheery as well.

There are all kinds of ways of decorating that don’t release microplastics into the environment, or leave us with things we can only throw away at the end of the season. Greener options aren’t inferior choices, we aren’t depriving ourselves if we reject throwaway culture. Being able to invest more in the things we bring into our homes is far more rewarding. This small plant will give months of delight, and might survive for years – I have a varying success rate with houseplants.

Handmade decorations, things sourced from your local makers, things passed down in families – these all bring riches with them that a cheap but mass produced item can’t.

Winter poetry

Pagan thinking around winter tends to focus on sleeping so as to rebirth in the the spring. However, not all seeds that lie in the earth will live to germinate. For many people, seasonal affective disorder makes the winter a hard time. The rising cost of living will make this winter cold and brutal for many. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge and honour the darker side of the year with all that it can bring.


Frost fingers needle skin

Ice forming in weary bones

Let me lie down now.

Bury me under snow and let us

See if truly I am a seed

To wake in the spring

With the promise of new life.

March, perhaps, or April.

A bulb, fat with potential,

Resilient against the cold,

Firm holding, thaw me

And I will blossom.


If only I could slumber

As bears do, waiting out

The dark days.

Enclose me snug

In some snow cave

Forgetful months.

Perhaps it is only winter

And not an Ice Age

The chill in my heart

Temporary, soon eased

Not the slow cracking advance

Of another glacier reaching

To engulf me, not the silence

Not the life that is death.

Only winter in these bones

Surely, only winter coming.

Numbing at the edges.

Fingers and feet

Cold beyond reckoning.

Waiting for the chill

To extend along limbs

Stealing breath

Tiny snowflakes

In my eyelashes

Layering up softly

Inside my lungs.

Winter always kills

Lie me down gently

On the iron hard ground

Let the ice take me

I am too tired to fight.

Perhaps in spring

With tears or meltwater

It will matter

Whether I was a seed

To grow fresh shoots

Germinating in the cold

Or whether I could not

Find the means to thrive.

It is only winter.

Surly not an ice age

Surely not forever.

Let the freeze take me

And try to believe

Spring will offer

A beginning.

Closing the windows

This is always a key point in the wheel of the year for me – the closing of the windows. It’s now cold enough that the windows have to be shut at night. There will no doubt be days when I can have them open for a while – or choose to put up with the cold in order to freshen up the air in the flat a bit.

With the windows closed, I can’t hear the nearby stream while I’m lying in bed. Every year I feel this loss keenly. I won’t pick up the subtle sounds of leaves and birds or of fish jumping, as they tend to at night. I might not hear the foxes and badgers who sometimes pass under my window at night. I will still hear the owls because they come in close, and are loud, and we often don’t have any significant background noise that would drown them out.

Many people this year will be facing the implications of a cold house for the first time. Closed windows can mean waking up to condensation. If you can’t keep your home warm, it will get damp. Having damp beds is horrible, and will make you even more cold. If you’re new to all of this I cannot emphasise enough the value of staying dry even if you can’t stay warm. Being dry means not having mould, and is less cold than being damp at the same temperature. 

If you have no money to throw at this problem, the only option is to throw time and effort at it. Of course not everyone can do that, and this situation is cruellest for people who are ill, disabled or so overworked that they do not have the resources to handle even more work. 

You might be able to cut down the amount of moisture in the air by reducing the amount of boiling you do, and cutting the length of showers. Drying laundry is a nightmare if your home is cold and you also can’t afford to run clothes-drying technology. And when it works you just add more problem-moisture to your home.

Physically drying all the windows every morning helps get water out. Opening windows when you can helps with the damp if it isn’t also damp outside. It doesn’t help at all with the cold. 

If you can afford to invest in anything, or run anything then I recommend going for a dehumidifier rather than a heater. They aren’t that expensive to run, and they do add warmth. They speed up the drying of laundry and they are good against dampness and mould. Not everyone is going to be able to afford to do that, either.

Whatever you are up against this winter, I hope you’re able to find ways of coping and managing. I’m afraid that for a lot of people in the UK, things will be grim.