Category Archives: Seasons

Flowers, margins and trees

Where I live, we’re now at the point in the year when the summer flowering has begun in earnest. Many of the spring flowers appear in the woodlands – getting in before the canopies closer over. The summer flowers can generally be found at the margins – woodland edges, alongside hedges and on road verges. My locality is blessed with some large open commons where orchids and cowslips bloom in profusion at this time of year. We also have a lot of fields that are rich in wildflowers.

There’s been a great deal of intense growth in recent weeks. The cowparsley now comes up to my waist. The cleavers are, where they can lean on anything, about the same height. Ragged Robins, campions, great hairy willowherb, tall grasses and all manner of other wild flowers abound. Beautiful to look at, sometimes challenging for the nose and eyes!

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Margins tend to be the places with most biodiversity. The edges of woodlands are especially lively places. What ideally we need are large woodlands with plenty of room for open glades, thus maximising the scope for life. Butterflies especially like this kind of habitat. One of the reasons cutting small areas of woodland in cycles is good, is that you open up more margins.

Of course to many people this seems unnatural – humans manipulating nature. However, you have to consider what is no longer in most of our woods. We don’t have wild cows, let alone giant aurochs. We don’t have wild boar in most woods, or wild horses or ponies or anything else that might clear out areas of low growth. We used to have these larger mammals. We also used to have beavers.  It is their activity, in the past, that would have created clearings, and in the case of beavers, would have created pools as well.

The other major mechanism for naturally creating clearings is the death of old, massive trees. For this, you have to have a steady supply of massive ancient trees. We don’t have those. There are no giants whose falling will open up a large area – certainly not in most smaller woodlands. We’ve got hundreds of years of work to do if we want to restore them.

Our woodland ecosystems are damaged. If we want the best woodland we can have – and by best I mean most diverse and able to support the most life – we have to help. At least for now. Perhaps one day we’ll have enough woodland to have room to support the boar again. Perhaps the European program to recreate aurochs from what’s left in the DNA of domestic herds will work out… perhaps we’ll have our beavers back to manage water systems and thin out trees. If we get there, we won’t need people to do the work, but in the meantime, people are needed to make up for what’s missing. We have to compensate for the mistakes our ancestors made.

The image in this blog came from The Woodland Trust (with permission) and you can find out more about how The Woodland Trust takes care of woods here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/why-is-ancient-woodland-special/ 

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Horse Chestnut in May

The tree that has most folkloric associations with May is of course the hawthorn – whose flowers are also called May because they appear at the start of the month. However, the tree that has most impact on me at this time of year, is the horse chestnut. This is simply because there’s a large one right outside my window.

Over the last few weeks, my chestnut has come into leaf. My view previously had a lot of sky in it, and now it is a vibrant green instead. It’s a dramatic seasonal shift for me, because my workspace is at the window facing the tree.

In recent days, the horse chestnut has flowered – producing tall white candles of blossom in great profusion. It’s a lovely sight, and I appreciate it every time I look up from the keyboard – which is a frequent occurrence.

Here’s a lovely video from the Woodland Trust tracking a year in the life of a horse chestnut –

 


Druidry and the seasons

When I first came to Druidry I put in some years honouring the wheel of the year. During that process, I learned that what I was working with is a modern system, inspired by Celtic practice, but not an authentic historical model for nature worship. There’s lots of evidence from the alignments of stones and burial sites that our ancestors honoured the solstices back into pre-history. There’s far less for the equinoxes, and little folklore to go with them. As for the ‘fire festivals’ of Imbolc, Beltain, Lugnasadh and Samhain – these are not universal Celtic festivals. Those are Irish names, and my understanding is that there’s little evidence to suggest any group of people historically honoured all of them. (Ronald Hutton is my source here)

The wheel of the year is a useful system for organising people to meet up and share ritual in community. On those terms, it doesn’t really matter what its origins are. The reason it exists in both modern Druidry and Wicca has a great deal to do with the relationship between Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner. It can be useful, but if it isn’t, don’t feel restrained by it.

The trouble with the wheel of the year is that even within the British Isles, we don’t all get the same seasons at the same time. We may well also get local phenomena that are important to our landscape but that don’t fit into the wheel of the year. I live close to the River Severn, and the bores on the river are of great local significance. We get migratory swans coming in for the winter. We’re traditionally a sheep rearing area, but there are no lambs in the fields at Imbolc, they’re out now.

Over recent years, I’ve built up a seasonal calendar of things that are part of my landscape –much of it has to do with which flowers bloom when, and I make a point of going out to see them. It’s all very personal and immediate to where I live, and it shifts year to year depending on the exact weather conditions. It’s also a constantly expanding process as I learn more, or find new places to see particular things.

Rather than celebrate the wheel of the year, I’m in a week by week process of encountering the slow turn of the seasons. I don’t know how my Pagan ancestors celebrated in this landscape – there was a temple on the Cotswold plateau, but I do not know what they did there. Roman ancestors in the area likely honoured Orpheus, if the mosaic at Woodchester is indicative. Anyone living near the Severn will have honoured the river, and some of them called her the Goddess Sabrina, and I expect some of them honoured the elvers who used to be a seasonal feature and a significant part of the local diet.

There are many barrows in this landscape. They are in exposed, hilltop locations and if you want to spend time with them you really have to be there in the summer, because in the dark half of the year, the perpetual wind around them, and the cold makes them inaccessible. You can’t do ritual around a barrow when the wind takes your voices. Whatever was done here with the barrows, I feel confident that the end of October was not a focus.

I find it hard to imagine that anyone round here was, before the arrival of modern Paganism, celebrating Irish-named festivals. Aside from being confident about the river, I don’t know what people might have celebrated. Thus it makes more sense to me to develop my own relationship with this landscape, as I encounter it now and not how it may have been in the rather different climate of two thousand years ago and more.


Seasonal greening

There have been leaves emerging and plants growing in my area since late February. However, in the last week, there’s been a distinct rush of growth as many of the trees have come into leaf. The difference has been visible day to day.

The slowest trees – the few local oaks – still haven’t started, and the ash is slow. What dominates around here is beech. The smaller trees have their leaves, and the large ones clearly aren’t far behind. From the hilltops you can see how patches of woodland are developing – and each wood is different depending on how its slope relates to the sun.

For me, the new beech leaves are a seasonal wonder. They unfurl as flimsy things, incredibly pale so the light passes through them. When the sun is on them, they seem to glow, and they slightly colour the light as it passes through. A spring beechwood has a distinctly otherwordly feel to it.

As the year progresses, the beech leaves become darker and more substantial. The whole character of the woods changes, as shade deepens.

Alongside the trees’ unfurling leaves, there’s an eruption of foliage at ground level as well. On the commons, the cowslips are blooming in great profusion, and I’ve seen a few early purple orchids.

As the leaves change, my relationship with the sky will change, too. With the hotter part of the year underway, I will seek the welcome shade of trees, and tend to avoid the large open skies – except at twilight. I’m grateful for the opportunities to do that, also.

 


Spring in the microclimates

Stroud has a lot of microclimates. The folds of the land, and how they catch the sun at this time of year produces little spots that are not only a bit different in climate when you enter them, but can even have different relationships with the seasons.

Over the weekend I found a south facing bank, protected from the wind. On it there were violets and wood anemones, in bloom. It’ll be some weeks before those show up at some other spots around here. Wood anemones usually bloom with the garlic and bluebells, in early May.

The shape of the land in relation to the sun equally creates places that are darker for longer, where frost and snow linger after everything else has melted.

The process of winter turning into spring, from Imbolc to the spring equinox, is complex. It doesn’t all move at the same speed even over a small geographical area. The seasons are not events, but a day by day shifting of warmth, light, growth and life. If we focus too much on the seasons, or on specific Pagan festivals, we can easily miss the details. It is all about the details really – our arbitrary divisions of the year into four seasons and eight festivals is misleading and can take us away from the everyday nature of seasonal change.


Signs of spring

Where I live, there have been many signs of spring during the last week. It would be normal to see celandines, catkins and snowdrops by this time in any year. Some of the fruit trees blossoming don’t seem too early either, but I’m seeing other signs of spring that I wouldn’t normally expect before March, and sometimes later.

There are leaves unfurling. I found a hawthorn tree with quite a lot of leaves on it. Willows are starting to come out and other plants as well. These are early.

The cleavers are up – again, late February doesn’t seem like quite the right time for this, but here they are. The garlic is also starting to show leaf tips emerging. That’s very early.

Yesterday I went walking and at several points was down to bare arms because I was too hot. On this occasion, my bare skin cannot be ascribed to a hot flush. It was warm enough that Tom took off his jumper. Tom is the sort of person to wear three layers of jumpers in the winter. He definitely isn’t having hot flushes.

This, I suppose, is one of the kinder faces climate change can wear. Being warm and enjoying the sunlight is so nice, that it is easy to overlook what’s causing it. A bit warmer in February is pleasant. A bit warmer in July – as with last July, can be overwhelming and lethal.

We had a frost overnight. That’s considerably more normal than warm sun and bare arms.

We all know there’s a climate crisis. And yet, all around me I see people carrying on absolutely as normal. The roads are chocked with cars at busy times. Perhaps everyone is waiting for someone else to sort it out.


How shall we love?

Who are we legally allowed to love and how are we allowed to express it? Who might we be punished, shamed or cast out for loving? Are we free to love openly and honestly? Are we safe in our choices?

What stories do we carry about what love means and the shape it should take? Do we fit into those stories, or are they narrow boxes we are trapped in? Do we love in the way we were told to love? Do we love in the way we think we are supposed to love?

How much are we allowed to show? How much are we allowed to say? What are we able to do for each other? What is too much, or unreasonable, or excessive and unhealthy? How do we know?

How afraid are we to love and how afraid are we to be loved? Does love seem like power, like loss of control, like sacrifice? What does it mean to love, to be open hearted and available in some way? What does it mean to be too fearful and to shut doors against that?

Do you think love will save you? Do you think it will make you whole? Do you think it is the job of someone who loves you to save you from yourself and to mend whatever is broken inside of you? Can you forgive the person who loves you but is unable to save you? Can you love someone you cannot save or heal? Can you love someone who is not magically transformed by the impact of your love?

Is your love a deal, a contract, a system of barter? Do you withdraw love when others don’t meet the terms and conditions? When is it a good idea to let go of love, to give up on one you loved, to change your heart? How much should you suffer for love, and how costly should it be? Is it right to measure love by its cost to you?

Have you read this blog post thinking only about one kind of relationship? Can you separate love from sex? Can you separate love from friendship? Is your love entirely about humans? Can you talk about love without thinking of a happily ever after endings?


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.


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.