At what point do you notice the days starting to get longer again? It certainly isn’t straight after the solstice, and I suspect it changes for me year by year depending in part on what I’m doing around dawn and sunset. I’m now at the point of registering the difference and feeling the lengthening of the days.
One factor in this is definitely the weather. When the sky is cloudy and overcast, it gets darker earlier in the evening. On clear, sharp days, the mornings especially are a lot brighter, and I also notice the sunsets more because there’s more colour. It probably isn’t a coincidence that we’ve had some cold, sharp days this week and that’s made me more aware of the light.
One of the good things about making resolutions in a blog post is it being easy to check back and see how the previous year went. I can’t find last year’s, I may not have made any, it was a very tough winter for me and I was not in a good place.
This year I find myself in the awkward place of needing to re-make a resolution from some years ago. I need to get my body to the point where I can spend a couple of hours doing things. I managed to build up to that, previously. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been relentlessly ill in assorted ways, and currently I can walk for about half an hour on a good day. To get into town and back I need to take a rest in the middle. I can’t climb the hills. The impact on my life and on my mental health has been huge. I’m hoping to get enough time when I’m not ill so that I can rebuild.
I have a fundamental need to be able to pour myself, heart and soul, into things in a way that is meaningful. If I can’t give of myself wholeheartedly, it takes a toll. If all I do is pour from myself into other things/projects/people I can end up burned out and emotionally depleted – this is pretty much my default state these days. I’m not ok at the moment because I’m not giving enough of myself in a meaningful way. I’m not able to give because I’m feeling threadbare and desperately depleted. I need to find some space, or spaces, where more comes back to me, and where I can afford to have my heart on my sleeve. Right now I have no idea how that might be going to work, but I really need to find some answers to this.
As ever, I hope to learn new things this year. I hope to make things, to use less, to improve my relationship with the planet. I hope to do things I can feel good about. I want to invite joy and comfort into my life, I don’t have enough of either at the moment and I’ve felt that lack deeply. Walking was key to how I experienced and connected with the land, and the loss of that has deprived me of beauty and nourishment. Lockdown has deprived me of music. I’m missing too many of the things that enable me to feel like myself. Currently I’m not sure what I can build, or rebuild, or reclaim and I have no idea who I will be doing that with or in what way. I’m waiting to see who opts in.
I’m a relational creature, I don’t function well on my own. Most of the things I most want to do involve interacting with other people. Much depends on who wants to do what.
I don’t track how many books I read in a year. Often my reading is pretty random, and informed by who wants a review from me. Sometimes I just go to the library and pick up random stuff I know nothing about. However, this last year I’ve been being a little more organised and as a result have come up with some reading goals.
I’m working my way through Jane Austin’s books. So far I’ve read Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. I’m aiming to get Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park in the coming year. There’s an unfinished novel that I probably won’t explore.
I’m also working my way through the Brontes. I’ve already read Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I have The Professor to go.
I’m planning to work my way through EM Forster’s novels. So far I’ve read A Room With A View and A Passage to India, leaving me Where Angels Fear to Tread, The Longest Journey, Howards End, and Maurice.
Last year I read the first part of the Japanese epic-classic – The Tale of Genji – I aim to read the rest of it, although I’m not expecting to manage that next year.
Otherwise my intention is to broaden my reading and pick up more classics in translation. Particularly with an eye to reading more classics that aren’t European in origin.
My idea, Tom’s art, my mangling of a poem. Whatever you’re doing today, I hope it goes well for you. It’s not my festival, it may not be yours either. It can be a tough day for people who are alone, missing someone or otherwise struggling. I can’t offer much, but I can bring silliness, so here we are.
One of the true joys of winter for me, is looking out for birds who are winter migrants. Who is where at this time of year depends a lot on where you live. Helpfully, there’s lots of information online, and a mixture of looking up information and wandering round peering at feathery visitors can be highly productive.
The most dramatic visitors round here are the swans who have come down from the arctic circle. We also get a lot of migrating ducks, who are charming if less dramatic. My other seasonal favourite is the fieldfare, and I always keep an eye out for them. I have some good memories of large fieldfare flocks feeding on fallen, ice softened apples one winter. They’re a subtle bird, not unlike a thrush to look at, and easily missed if you aren’t paying attention. I spotted a flock outside my local co-op recently.
Winter brings its own conditions for birdwatching. In the bare branches of deciduous trees, birds can be a lot more visible at this time of year. However, winter light can really leech the colour out of everything, which can mean relying on silhouettes and bird calls to establish who you’re seeing. I’m a mediocre sort of birdwatcher, so sometimes all I can do is guess a family – a flock of probably finches or possibly tits… could be sparrows… There’s always more to learn, and time spent trying to figure out who I’m seeing slowly builds my knowledge base.
This year’s Yule badgers are made along the lines of paper angels I used to have as a child. The internet has lots of templates for cone shaped foldable paper angels. Having looked at a few, Tom figured out a Yule badger for me, and I coloured a few.
The Yule badger has become very much part of my winter celebrations.
The place I live is made up of hills and valleys. The town of Stroud nestles (mostly) between the hills, with villages occupying other valleys. This place was carved out of the limestone by water working its way down to meet the Severn.
In winter, the sun doesn’t clear the hills much in some places. I have a friend whose home gets no direct sunlight at this time of year. For those on the hilltops there is still plenty of light, but also a lot of wind. Down in the valleys, where I live, it is a lot more sheltered, but also gloomier.
I don’t experience the solstice as having any great impact. For me, the dark part of the year starts in early December and continues well into January. My sense of the light and the season has everything to do with how I experience light – and the absence of it – in my own home and that in turn has everything to do with where I live in relation to the hills.
I think it’s important to be specific and personal in our relationships with the natural world. Thinking about ‘nature’ as some sort of vague abstract won’t give you much. It’s easy to pay lip service to a vague idea, but a real relationship calls for specifics.
How does the wheel of the year turn for you? What are your personal experiences of the seasons? What happens where you live?
While the first frosts can come a lot earlier in the autumn than they have this year, they are always a sign of the winter to come. For me, they never feel like a good sign. Granted, there is a kind of sharp beauty and clarity that also tends to come with the frosts. Frosty mornings tend to be bright and crisp, and can feature some intensely blue skies. However, cold weather tends to hurt.
My body doesn’t handle the cold well. I get stiff more readily, and I hurt more. I’m never going to appreciate the prettiness of frost with uncomplicated feelings of joy. At the moment I’m enjoying a life where I don’t have to head out on frosty mornings. It’s easier to enjoy the light and the sparkles while not being out there dealing with slippery surfaces. I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to afford to keep my home warm enough not to suffer at the arrival of frosts.
Being able to enjoy the winter tends to involve privilege. Enough money for heating and a body that isn’t threatened by the conditions are key. For some people, the reduced amount of sunlight causes depression. For many, winter is isolating. If you can enjoy the season, that’s lovely and you should do so. But please remember not to berate or shame people who express difficulty. And yes, while it’s true that there are no bad weather conditions, only unsuitable clothing, it is also true that you have to be able to afford that clothing, and not everyone can. A winter without a substantial coat is tough. I’ve been there.
If it gets cold enough, you can’t wear enough jumpers to make up for not being able to afford to heat your home. If your home is a van, or a boat, if you sleep in your car, or are living in a tent or rough sleeping, winter is a very hard season. You can’t always tell by looking who is dealing with such issues. There are working people in the UK who live in cars and tents and hide it well. Please be gentle with the people who find winter difficult.
Some twenty years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between modern Druid festivals and the wheel of the year as it turns where I live. The solstices and equinoxes make total sense because of their relationship with the length of the day and night and all the impact that has on the rest of nature.
Imbolc is traditionally associated with sheep lactating and with snowdrops. Lammas (which is at the same time as Lugnasadh) is associated with the first of the grain harvests. While lambs don’t reliably appear in the fields this early, we have some obvious markers for these two festivals. Gathering May blossom is traditionally associated with Beltain, and it’s also the time of year when bluebells come out, and when it’s warm enough to be barefoot outside (or to have sex outside, but barefoot is probably more inclusive!).
I spent a long time considering Samhain. The pumpkin harvest may seem obvious, but pumpkins are from the Americas and not part of UK tradition. If you’re growing them, it may well make sense to take them as a key seasonal marker. Twenty years ago is struck me that the leaves are usually down from the trees by Samhain.
Climate change is impacting on the wheel of the year. How we relate festivals to seasons may need serious consideration in light of this. Do we stay with the ancestral dates? Or do we adapt based on what those dates mean to us? I suspect the answers will be individual. For many people around the world, those ‘Celtic’ dates have never related much to a lived experience of the local seasons anyway.
It is Halloween. Most of the trees in my area still have all their leaves. Many are barely beginning to turn yellow, and there’s a lot of greenery present. There is no sense of the dying year, not yet. It’s still warm enough to be outside without a coat during the day. Grazing animals are still out in the fields. If your focus for Halloween is the idea of bringing animals in and choosing which ones will live, then we aren’t at that point in the year yet, either.
As a Pagan, I’m predisposed to celebrating. Every day, there are awareness raising campaigns, commemorations, and celebrations. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether to celebrate, or raise awareness – as with International Women’s Day or Pride month. All too often it feels performative and superficial. We wave the right hashtags about and make vague supportive noises and move on to the next one, but has anything changed at all?
Today isn’t World Mental Health Day or Suicide Prevention Day. The ill and depressed people haven’t gone away. The social pressures contributing to people’s mental health problems have not been fixed. It isn’t Bi Visibility today, but here I am, back to being my usual invisible bisexual self and wishing for a world in which I didn’t have to routinely flag up my own existence to try and make space for the fact that I and my fellow bi-folk exist and would rather like to be allowed to exist, free from both prejudice and erasure.
Earth Day isn’t enough. Peace One Day isn’t enough. We can probably do with just the one international apple day, and there are a fair few cheerful, innocuous world celebration days that aren’t big issues. But for everything else, one day a year of trying to make the right noises really doesn’t cut it, and it doesn’t beget serious change.
Real and meaningful change takes dedication. It makes more sense to pick a few causes you can properly support and commit to doing that all year round. Raising awareness and educating people requires more time, more insight and more effort than is possible showing up one day a year. Rather than being awash with Day of the Whatever and performative allyship, it is much more use to focus and commit to some specific issues.
You can take on quite a few issues on these terms. I’m a longstanding woodland and tree campaigner. I talk about mental health a lot, I raise awareness around domestic violence and queer issues. I talk about disability, accessibility, diversity and inclusion. I make this part of my everyday work and part of how I do my Druidry. I used to spend more time as a campaigner for Paganism but that feels less urgent right now. There are, inevitably, a lot of issues I don’t really show up for as a campaigner. But, I can always undertake to learn and to educate myself, to pay attention and try to improve my understanding. There’s always more to learn.