Category Archives: Seasons

New Year Resolutions

Yesterday I blogged about making radical green resolutions. So, you may well ask, what are mine? I already don’t own a car, a fridge, a freezer, a television or a microwave or washing machine. I’m already committed to not flying, and I’m already vegetarian. I can’t do much more to eco-fit my home because I live in a block of flats. I can’t grown my own food or compost my own waste for the same reason. My scope to make radical changes is not as big, as a consequence.

I am looking at strategies to reduce the amount of animal products in my diet. I’ll be blogging about this as I go.

I’m looking at how people drive because of me, as an extension of car use issues.

I’m going to invest more effort in persuading people to live more as I do, and I’m going to do that this year as part of a project to talk more about how to be happy. I get a lot out of my relatively low impact life and I think other people could, too.

Last year brought a lot of changes and challenges for me, but it’s made me think a lot about what I want in all aspects of my life. I’m rethinking where I am creatively – more on this to follow. I’m set on focusing more on how things work day to day, rather than being too long term about anything. I don’t have any long term goals at this stage in my life that don’t depend more on luck than my own efforts. How I live day to day has more impact on me than where I might be going.

This last year has taught me to rethink a lot of my relationships with people. Every time I’ve held my boundaries and said no, it has really paid off for me. I’ve asked for help – something I find difficult, but I’ve clearly asked the right people and have had help that has made a huge difference. I’m going to go forward more aware that help may be available, and more willing to ask for it.

My major intention for 2019 is to make more time for daydreaming. I’ve still got a lot to figure out. I feel like I’m in an in-between place, not really ready to set firm intentions for a calendar year, but needing to put in time on how I want to change and grow. Daydreaming has always been an important imaginative tool for me. I use it to test ideas, seed creative projects and figure out who and how I want to be. I need to dedicate more time to it.

I hope whatever you plan for yourself for this year, that you can do it in a way that serves you. I’ve tried resolutions as penitence and self-punishment and they don’t achieve much. I’ve done much better with them since I shifted to setting intentions and looking at my trajectory and needs. I can heartily recommend this as an approach.

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Tis the season to be cranky

I don’t enjoy midwinter festivals much. I don’t enjoy the cold, or the pressure to be jolly. Thankfully, the man who made it his personal job to patronise me about this every year has removed himself from my life, so that at least, is progress.

As a self employed person, I don’t get sick pay or paid holiday leave. Several of my jobs depend on how well I do the jobs, so time spent not working can compromise how much paying work there is available for me in the future. But even so, there’s not much work to be done between Christmas and the New Year. It’s not a good time to try and sell books.

On the plus side, I get a whole week off. This will be the first whole week off I’ve had since this time last year. I do not recommend this as a way of working, but I have yet to figure out an alternative. I thought I’d manage to take a week off in the summer, but a loss of hours from what was then my main job made that impossible.

So between here and the great shutdown, I’m doing all the work I can. Christmas brings extra costs, I can’t afford for this to be a thin month. I know a great many other people have the same problem – unpaid holidays are a nightmare. Not everyone has the scope to pick up other work to fill the gaps.

I’ve got two late night jobs coming up and three days on the local market. The market work is a gamble, but hopefully we’ll make something selling books there. I’ve written all my blog posts already, and by the middle of next week I’ll hopefully have all my other from-home work done for the festive period. It’s a bit of a strain. I will likely hit the festive period exhausted and needing that week to recover, which is not what I want from a holiday.

And on the whole I know I’m lucky, because I do have paying work and I can afford to heat my home and eat over Christmas and many people are far worse off than this. If you are marginal, midwinter festivals are a nightmare, simply. The extra stress and pressures are not welcome. If you aren’t marginal, be alert to your scope for adding to someone else’s misery. Don’t tell them off if they don’t have the energy for parties, or don’t want to come out, or aren’t getting into the festive spirit – that just piles shame and discomfort onto existing problems. If someone doesn’t seem to be having a merry Christmas, try asking what would help rather than telling them to try harder.

It’s also a good time of year to avoid piling extra work onto other people. I mention this because that’s the thing I’m most cranky about. Not extra pay, extra work. At no notice. If you are comfortable, don’t assume everyone else has the same resources of time and energy to deploy at your whim.


Sky through branches

Most of the leaves are off the trees now in the area where I live. One of the more noticeable features of early winter, when there’s no weather drama, comes from this change. Winter is perhaps most easily noticed in terms of cold, storms, frost, snow and so forth, but British winters often aren’t that dramatic. Engaging with the season means noticing what else is going on.

With the leaves down, sky appears where, previously in the year I could not see much sky. The view from the window I sit in when working is dominated by trees. In the summer, my view is mostly leaves. However, I can now see a lot more sky. This can be especially good around sunsets, and sometimes I see the moon through the bare branches.

When I’m walking at this time of year, views become available to me that I just can’t see in summer. Seasonal shifts have a significant impact on my relationship with the land. In some ways, winter can be more expansive, with more sky, bigger horizons, more views into the distance. It’s curious because we tend to associate winter with drawing in, looking inwards and being more interior with spiritual practices. However, it is the time when we might most readily see further, and see more. The bones of the land appear without the leaves to cover them.


Winds from the east

It is the winds from the east, and the north east, which bring winter where I live. Blowing in from Siberia and the Arctic, these winds also bring migrating swans. Bewick swans spend the summer on the Russian tundra, where they raise their young. They migrate to the UK for the winter, flying at night, using the stars for guidance. Young swans make their first journey with parents so as to learn how to do it. There’s more information here – https://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/saving-wildlife/science-and-action/uk-species/bewicks-swan/

For about three years, I lived in Slimbridge, and then on the canal in the vicinity of Slimbridge – the location of the first Wildlife and Wetland Trust site whose link I shared above. This site was established as a reserve by Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic) because of the migrating swans. They come to feed on the banks of the Severn during the winter.

While I was living in the village, an older neighbour told me how, when he was a child, the swans would come in incredible numbers and you’d see them flying round the church spire. Swan numbers, like pretty much everything else in the natural world, have been dwindling. It’s now rare to see a migrating swan coming in on a wind from the east early in the morning. It’s happened to me a few times now, and it’s an experience I feel deeply grateful for.

The coming of these winds marks a turn towards colder weather. When it happens varies – the first swan this year showed up in October. Most are coming in now. The colder the weather, the more swans come to Slimbridge – there are other sites migrating swans go to, but the harsher the winter, the further south they head.

Even though I no longer live in Slimbridge and no longer see the bewicks grazing in the fields, they are very much on my mind when the winds come. And this year, I’ve seen several pairs of swans coming in over the hills in the early morning, no doubt heading towards the river.


Season of denial

It turned cold this week. Properly cold, with heavy frost on the ground for my walk to work yesterday. I find myself reluctant to even blog about what’s going on seasonally. The point in the year when temperatures start falling to freezing is always a tough one for me. I can’t find much to enjoy in it. I mostly have to mitigate against it and try to get through.

This morning my hands are desperately sore, and this isn’t a coincidence. Most of me is stiff – there are a lot of things that can hurt in a body that will hurt more if cold.

There can of course be beauty in this season. The sparkle of sunlight on frost, the shapes of bare trees against the sky. Yesterday I saw a kingfisher, and last night the skeins of thin cloud racing past the moon – a few days shy of full – was a dramatic sight. I can find things to be moved, uplifted and filled with wonder by. I can be inspired. But even so, on the whole, I hate the cold and it takes a toll on me.

We had our first snow this week – a brief flurry of fat snowflakes that clearly weren’t going to stick. I worry about the people sleeping rough in this. I worry about the people struggling to stay warm inside their homes. I worry about how long the winter will last.

There are of course a whole array of natural responses to winter. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and wait it out. Bears, hedgehogs and others hibernate. Birds migrate to more hospitable environments. Dying back is normal. Frantically struggling for survival is normal. I can think of fewer examples of creatures who have fun with the snow – foxes play in it, certainly, and otters make slides, but on the whole, happy responses to the dark part of the year may be more of a human thing. Being happy and comfortable in winter tends to depend on accessing those resources and technologies we usually feel set us apart from the rest of nature.


First frost

Over the weekend, some places in the UK had snow – including places near me. The tops of the Cotswolds often get rougher weather than the valleys. Much depends on the shape of your location in relation to the direction of the wind. Being tucked away in a sheltered spot, I didn’t get snow.

The wind was like a knife yesterday, and although it had dropped by the evening, I had a suspicion the night would be a cold one. I don’t always get this right. Sometimes we wake to the first frost shivering and surprised. I’ve tried to cultivate a ‘Druid weather sense’ but I’m still nothing like as accurate as I want to be.

Aside from signifying a drop in overnight temperature, the first frost has implications for walking. As I walk for transport, this is something to take seriously.  From here on, the surfaces outside will be unpredictable – especially first thing in the morning and at night. A heavy frost makes the paths slippery, especially if there were a lot of wet leaves to start with.

I have mixed feelings about frost – it is pretty. However, I don’t enjoy the cold, or the slippery conditions.

What I’ve described here is a good illustration, I think, of why we have to focus on our own experiences of the seasons. Whether you had a dash of snow at the weekend or not is very area specific. When your first frost was/is/will be is also very specific to the conditions where you live. How you respond to these things may depend a lot on how nature manifests in your body. If you are a warm, hardy and well resourced creature, winter can be fun. If you feel the cold, fall easily, hurt more in winter, then these conditions are hard. We can honour nature as it expresses itself across these relationships between place, time and self. There is no reason to assume anyone else will have the same experience.


Exposed to Autumn

As I usually point out when writing about the seasons, the journey through any given season is a process, not an event. Some things of course are events – the first frost is a good example. There is a process of the nights getting colder until heavy dews are replaced by frost, but there’s a definite difference between frost, and not-frost and you can mark it.

Changes in temperature aren’t a smooth process. We may have a few unusually cold or balmy days and then the season gets back to something more expected.

This week, I passed a significant marker for the season – the nights are now cold, and walking home after dark now requires more layers, hats, and so forth.

Walking for transport gives me an immediate relationship with what’s going on outside. I walk at different times in the day depending on what I’m doing, so there are some morning forays out, some daytime excursions and at least once a week I’ll come home after dark. For most of the year, I have to pay close attention to weather and temperature so as to be dressed for it – and not only dressed for when I leave, but for when I come back. A few hours can make a surprising difference.

In this way, I have a day to day body experience of the season. Our Pagan ancestors would have had this as well. You don’t have to go back very far for most people to be on foot or on horseback, or in a cart if they were going anywhere. Insulation from the elements was for the leisured few. Dealing with weather and temperature day to day was part of the normal life of most people in a way it isn’t now. If you can set the thermometer in your home to a fixed temperature, and if outside is only a few moments between temperature-regulated home, and temperature-regulated car, then your body isn’t involved with the seasons. I’ve never done it, so I have no idea what that experience does to a person.

 


Autumnal shifts

It’s been later getting cold this year than is usually the case. I still haven’t got any heating on at home, I sit here typing wearing a long sleeved shirt, and no jumper. No doubt this is climate change at work, but I admit to feeling gratitude alongside my unease. I struggle with being cold; my body hurts more and flexes less in cold weather.

I have poor circulation and can get chilblains, so autumn always means shifting away from being barefoot, and needing to wear gloves while outside. I have lightweight gloves for this time of year, and much heavier ones for if it gets really cold. My body informs my experience of the seasons in very direct ways. In the cold half of the year I have to resist what the season does to me.  Nature as manifest in my body and nature as manifest in the season are never going to be in harmony.

Of course this isn’t just an issue for me. Some birds migrate to deal with shifting seasons. Hedgehogs and bears hibernate rather than deal with the winter. Trees drop their leaves in self defence. Some parts of nature are falling into sleepy time, other parts are gearing up for a long fight to survive. There’s no one right way to experience this, and no single narrative about how it all works.

In this as in all things, I think you have to start with nature as it manifests in your own body. If you try to work with a wheel of the year narrative that doesn’t reflect how you feel and experience things, you’re always going to feel out of kilter with the seasons. You also run the risk of turning ‘nature’ into some abstract story, something to think about in rituals rather than something to live. How we live day to day defines how we experience everything. It is your body, in your landscape, at the moment you find yourself in that underpins everything else.


Darkening Days

The day length changes most rapidly around the equinoxes. Shifting day lengths is a constant process through the year, with pauses at the solstices, but it tends to only register with me at certain points. I notice when I start having to get up in the dark – we aren’t quite there yet. On the other side of the year, I notice when I’m waking with the light, and I notice when it gets light too early and I stop reliably waking at or before dawn.

Here we are, in late September, and I’m noticing when it gets dark and how that impacts on my sleep patterns. At this time of year I’m inclined to go to bed after sunset, which is passably realistic. As the days get shorter, this will become less feasible, and some time – a month or so hence, I’ll stop feeling that urge, and will start being comfortable going to bed later.

Clearly my body has an inclination to sleep and wake with the setting and rising of the sun. In practice, the shape of days here when they move towards their natural extremes, doesn’t work for me. In summer I need more sleep than going to bed after ten and getting up about three would give me. In winter I need far less sleep than going to bed at half four and getting up at eight would give me. It’s interesting watching the interplay between body rhythms and light levels.

It’s at the times when I can most be in synch with the day length that I most notice how the day length changes. I also notice that, because of pre-dawn light and twilight, the equinox does not create an equality of light and dark. Light enters my room a little before half six in the morning, darkness falls a good deal later than half six in the evening. The stories we have about nature are not always fair representations of what it’s like in practice.


How winter impacts on autumn

For most of my life, my experience of autumn has been coloured by what winter has meant for me. It’s been difficult to enjoy the many lovely things autumn offers, because of the threat of winter. Being cold radically increases my pain levels. I get chilblains. Everything domestic is that bit harder. Winters when there wasn’t enough money to be really warm, have been horrible. I can end up a lot more isolated in winter, and I hate walking on frosty and icy surfaces.

I’ve blogged in the past about how being able to enjoy the winter is a marker of privilege. It’s impossible to enjoy the lead-up to winter when winter itself is a grim prospect.

This year I find myself in a different sort of position. Despite the upheavals of summer, I’m on a really good footing financially. I’ve got the right technology in place to deal with some of winter’s practical issues. In my case that means a de-humidifier, and a really good spin drier. I’ve got good boots and a decent winter coat. I’m thinking about upgrading to an even more waterproof coat for walking in, if I can. Maybe a new pair of waterproof trousers as well. I feel very, very fortunate in all of this. I am aware that for many people, this winter will be as much of a nightmare as any of the winters before it, and for others, struggling in winter is a new problem which they don’t yet have the skills to deal with.

I’m going to make a point of writing about small seasonal shifts this year. Partly I’m doing this because I’m changing my relationship with the dark half of the year. Partly because it’s a good theme to write on. I feel that no longer struggling quite so much, I might be more comfortable talking about what’s hard in the darker months. Often it’s easier to write about something when I’m not living in it.