Category Archives: Seasons

Seasonal windows

One of the key shifts in the seasons, for me, is the point at which I have to start closing windows at night. Most years this means there will be a few nights where the indoor temperature gets very low before I’ll admit that I really do have to shut the windows. It’s always hard and an unhappy moment.

When the windows are open, the internal home space is much more connected to the outside world. Bird song is a constant during the day. I can hear the nearby stream from the bedroom. Owls are much more audible at night. Closing the windows shuts out an entire soundscape. I can no longer hear the wind in the trees, or the leaves skittering about. It is a loss I feel keenly. Of course it also comes at the time of year when sitting outside is getting to be a good deal less viable as well.

I will get outside more days than not, and I spend time at the closed windows, but my relationship with all that is wild and natural changes at this point in the year. My body is not robust enough to tolerate getting cold – that makes me even more sore and stiff than I would otherwise be.

What I crave is some sort of sheltered, permeable space that would work all year round. Living in an upstairs flat, there’s no liminal space I can sit in. There are outside spaces here, but nothing sheltered and I am not allowed to put up a small shelter. It would make worlds of difference to me to have a space where I could sit in all weathers and seasons, be dry and out of the worst of the wind, and also not entirely indoors. With my own garden, this would be easy to achieve.


Summer turns to autumn

The journey into autumn has certainly begun in my part of the world. The blackberries were early this year. The hawthorn berries have ripened to deep red, and the somewhat diseased horse chestnut outside my window is getting into autumn leaf colours. The tree always does this, and has survived with its diseases for many years at this point.

I’m conscious of the changing light levels. I find the lack of natural darkness difficult around midsummer, and do better with sleep during the part of the year when there’s simply more darkness available. So I’m feeling my body ease into that calmer state of having more time in proper darkness. It comes as a relief.

The days are cooler, but that could change again, sometimes autumn is warmer than late summer. The feeling in the air is different in the morning – first thing in the morning is always the time when I most notice this seasonal shift. It coincides with back-to-school, although we are not back-to-school any more. We’re a few weeks from off-to-university, and another shift that is bigger than the seasonal process, but aligned with it.

This summer behind me did not feel like a summer at all – either so hot that I couldn’t be outside, or weirdly cold. Thanks to lockdown and my inclination to remain cautious, the summer had very little of my normal summer activities in it. This whole year has been weird on that score, nothing has felt rightly itself.

I head towards autumn feeling emotionally engaged with this season of loss and falling away. Whether that will last is another question. It’s important to me right now to remember that autumn is also when you plant some things – anything you want to have come up in the spring, for a start. Trees are best moved or planted in late autumn. Many creatures become pregnant in the autumn to give birth in the spring. The falling away is not the whole story of this season, and it is not the whole story for any falling away period in a person’s life, either.

 


Summer subtleties

Once we get into summer, the season can feel a bit like a solid block of experience. There have been flowers since the spring, there are flowers now. We may look for early signs of autumn instead for a sense of the seasonal. Those are certainly present – the hawthorn and elder both have small green fruit starting to swell and ripen.

In practice, there’s a lot of nuance in the flowers at this time of year. Seeing it depends on paying attention to the details. There are big swathes of flowers out there, but some flowers come later in the season than the others. The purple loosestrife is at its peak right now, while the meadowsweet is starting to die back. The teasels are flowering, the thistles are producing fluffy seeds. On the ragwort, the cinnabar moth caterpillars are large, and fat, or disappearing as they head for cocoons.

Every day, something is different. Seeing the difference depends on re-visiting and familiarity. Seasonal shifts are subtle processes and the less time a person spends looking for them, the harder it is to read.

There are more teenage birds about, but some birds are into their second and third clutches, so there are young birds around at all different stages of development.

One of the hardest things for me this year has been seeing which trees haven’t come into leaf at all. Some of them were always late, and I kept watching and waiting and hoping. There is a large, ancient hawthorn that stands beside a spring near one of the paths. It was a magical tree, but this summer there have been no signs of life. I don’t know when exactly it died, or how long it may continue to stand in this state. Life goes on within in it and on it – it is still a habitat and still supporting a lot of other life.

Dying away is not just an activity for the autumn. The grass on the commons is already well under way with its own death. Many of the early flowers have already died back. Summer is as much a time of death as it is a time of high energy.


Body, Seasons, Druidry

When we talk about the wheel of the year and the seasons in Druidry, most often what we’re talking about is external to us. Things in nature that we might observe, or contemplate from a safe distance.

In practice our primary way of experiencing the seasons is through our own bodies. It occurs to me that I’ve not seen anyone explore it on these terms (if you know otherwise, please do leave a comment).

Often a body experience of a season is about having to mitigate the effects of it. How does that work in terms of communing with nature? If we’re doing seasonal stuff for spiritual reasons, should we not embrace the season? Is our adapting natural, and therefore something to work with, or is it a denial of what’s going on? I could make a case either way, but I think the main consideration has to be… what works for you?

It is summer. We’ve had some really hot days. I adapt by wearing less, staying indoors in the middle of the day, and not moving too much if I can help it. Getting out there for some sun worship would likely make me ill. In winter I have to do other things to mitigate against the cold and to deal with the risks of falling. My response to the seasons is always to try and keep my body in a state where it’s not being overloaded.

The seasons should impact on our bodies in terms of what is available to eat. Whether we favour raw or cooked food can be a seasonal consideration. Our work may be seasonal, and what we do to take care of our homes may well also have a strong seasonal angle. How we travel, how we feel about going out, even who we spend time with can be informed by the season. These are all things we will experience primarily inside ourselves as part of a personal relationship with the time of year.

Summer means bare feet. But it also means grumpy lymph glands, sore skin and the scope for puffy ankles. It means hayfever – as the plants try to have sex with my face. Heat will make me ill if there’s a lot of it. Summer means watching my blood pressure and electrolytes and making sure I stay hydrated without washing too much useful stuff out of my body. Sometimes it means the comfort of warm sun on my skin and the pleasure of sitting on the grass.

These are all everyday, fairly mundane things, easily overlooked. But at the same time, this day to day stuff is how I live the season and how I feel it in my body. It is my most immediate experience. It lacks for drama most of the time, it doesn’t have the big narrative energy of the things we like to say about the wheel of the year. It’s not especially mystical. But, as a process of rooting my Druidry in my lived experience it strikes me as an important one and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to see it on these terms.


Temperature and Season

I think of May as a warm month, and my experience of it in previous years has certainly been that way. This year going outside for me means hats, scarves, gloves, jumpers and/or jackets. It is my relationship with the season that has changed, not the season itself.

In previous years my experience of May has predominantly involved being outside during the day. I assume it is warm out there in the sunny hours. My flat is a bit like a cave and tends to remain cool in warm weather, so if I stay in, I do not experience much of the heat of the day. I am of course mostly staying in, so the warmth of May isn’t an experience for me.

I’m walking at night and in the early morning, for the greater part. Even once the sun is up, it is really cold out there. Some places the old can be deep and piercing in the early morning. Gloves are essential.

What struck me, coming home today is that of course the coldness of May has always been there, I just don’t usually partake of it. I’ve done my share of midsummer and summer solstice vigils, I know how cold the summer nights can be. I just don’t usually have that be my dominant experience. Of course most UK mammals are active at night. This is how bats and owls experience this time of year – as cold.

It’s so easy to fall into a simple, single narrative about what something is, or means. But there are always other experiences, other meanings and other possibilities. This year, May is cold for me and I need to wrap up warm to go out. My understanding of what May is, has expanded accordingly.

 


Bluebells at twilight

Bluebells and new beech leaves, garlic flowers and wood anemones – these are the key plants for me at this time of year. I live in an area of beech woodland, where all of those flowers can be found – sometimes intermingled, sometimes in great swathes.

The two best places for experiencing the flowers and the gorgeous, vibrant delicacy of new beech leaves, require quite long walks. Lockdown issues aside, I’ve had a lot of body difficulties since the winter and my energy levels aren’t great. Ambitious walks are not any sort of option at the moment.

Yesterday I figured out a more feasible walk that would give us some, if not all of the seasonal plants. We didn’t get as far as the wood anemones. As the route required crossing the local common – a spot that can be rather too busy for my social distancing preferences – we set out in the evening. I love walking at twilight, and there are never as many people about.

Bluebells in the gloom turn out to be rather wonderful, a sort of blue haunting rather than the woodland sea effect you can get in the day. We were also treated to a spectacular sunset and at one point the clouds looked like cranes in flight, I thought. Which I am taking as a good omen because frankly I could use some good omens right now.

I feel more connected for being able to do this. More connected with the land, and the season, more grounded in myself. There’s a lot going on for me at the moment, despite the limitations of our current circumstances. I’m rethinking my future plans, and reimagining myself so there’s a lot of upheaval. It’s good to check in with something that is so much part of this landscape, this time of year, and so much part of my heart.


Apple blossom and seasonal walking

Seasonal walking has been at the heart of my Druidry for some years now. I have a calendar of what happens where and when and I walk to meet various manifestations of the season. At this time of year I would normally be planning a big walk to take in bluebells, wood anemones, wild garlic and new beech leaves. Lockdown aside, my body is not in a good way so long walks aren’t currently an option. I will have to find alternative places to go.

Yesterday I had a surprise encounter with apple blossom. There is a cycle path near home, but one of the stretches runs down the side of a duel carriageway, so I don’t normally walk there. However, one of the gifts of lockdown is far less traffic, so that stretch of footpath has become far nicer to walk. It also tends to be fairly quiet at twilight, and I’ve walked it a few times in recent weeks.

Last night all of the apple trees on that stretch of cycle path were in bloom, and it was incredibly beautiful. Normally this wouldn’t be part of my seasonal walking because traffic noise and air pollution have put me off. I’ve been feeling unsettled by not being able to do so much seasonal engagement through walking, so this was an uplifting gift of an experience.


Spring and courting birds

I expect there are a great many birds out there right now establishing territories and seeking mates. I don’t know all of my feathered neighbours well enough to spot the changes in what they do. However, the blackbirds and woodpeckers have been really noticeable over the weekend.

The blackbirds seem – in so far as I can tell – to be squabbling. It doesn’t look much like courtship at this stage, more like figuring out who gets which spot. I’ve stepped outside repeatedly only to find them making a great deal of noise and chasing each other off. It’s not always easy with birds to work out whether chasing is about the desire to catch or the intention to move the other bird on. However, the tone seems irate to me.

The woodpeckers are simply making a lot of noise – often I don’t see the birds themselves. I hear their loud calls even through closed windows, and they’ve been doing this for some days. It’s rare to hear them normally, the intensity of calling has definitely gone up. I am inferring courtship, but this could be about territory. Most of my reason for inferring courtship is that I know they’ve bred round here in previous years. You don’t tend to get as high a population density in woodpeckers as you do in blackbirds so boundaries may be less of an issue. Yesterday I saw a pair of woodpeckers in flight – some distance from home, but possibly the same ones.

What I notice and what I infer may tell me things about what’s on my mind. I do not assume messages from any other source when I notice things in this way. The blackbirds and woodpeckers are busy with their own lives. Any meaning I take from them pertains to me, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. Nature does not exist simply to send us messages and guide us.


First leaves

It feels too early. I’d expect the fruit trees to start flowering around now, but there are leaves unfurling on a number of trees as well – most notably the elders in the more sheltered spots. I can remember springs when there were very few leaves until April and one year, May. Spring did not used to start before March round here.

The garlic is coming up, it too is early. I’d expect to see the first shoots about now, but we’ve got whole leaves out there, and lots of them.

At the margins all kinds of small, leafy plants are appearing. Again, too much, and too soon.

This is a friendlier face for climate change. On the plus side, a longer growing season will take more carbon out of the air. Even so, it is a manifestation of the chaos we are causing.

When talking about climate chaos online I’ve had people ask me what I’m afraid of and what I imagine will happen. I can only assume some people must be really disconnected from the world not to know that change is already here. We have chaos. We have storms the like of which I’ve never seen before at a frequency that is startling. Places that didn’t normally flood are under water.

It’s going to be expensive. My hope is that short term climate chaos will prove expensive enough to focus the minds of people who want to carry on with business as usual. It’s not so easy to turn a profit when you’re on fire, or underwater. I hope that there is still time for a bit of waking up and getting real.


Imbolc in nature

Round here, the snowdrops and catkins come out typically a week or two before the calendar date for Imbolc. So, if you go with the date, these seasonal markers aren’t the ones to focus on. If there are pregnant or lactating sheep in area, I don’t get to see them.

What does appear reliably at this time of year, are elf caps. These are a small, red fungi (see the video below for examples!). They have a much longer season over all, but where I live, they are absolutely something that shows up for the start of February.

The relationship between what the rest of nature is doing, and the calendar date varies according to where you live. Druidry can be a bit generic about seasonal celebration, which I think is a real weakness. We need to dig in with whatever we’ve got where we live, and make that the focus, or shift our dates so they match what the season means to us.