Category Archives: Seasons

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.

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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.


Autumn leaves

The horse chestnut near my flat decided to get autumnal some weeks ago. Partly because of the drought I expect, and also partly because it has some sort of tree disease and tends to shed its leaves early. Said horse chestnut has nearly bare branches already and what leaves remain are the kind of brown most other trees won’t develop for more than a month.

Around it, most of the other trees are still green. At this time of year, the green of leaves is dark and tired looking compared to the fresh, bright tones of spring. A few of the trees are also yellowing – ash and elder specifically. These are usually some of the first trees to turn at this time of year. At least here. I have no idea how exactly autumn plays out anywhere else.

I think it’s really important to observe the seasons as they occur for you, not as they are supposed to occur. Far too many pagan books tell us what the eight festivals mean in terms of nature, and are mostly wrong – because of regional variation, shifts from year to year and so forth. No one can tell you how the wheel of the year will turn for you.

It’s also good to think about key seasonal markers and what those are for you, and how they manifest around you. What kind of trees grow where you live will very much affect your experience of the season. If you mostly live with evergreens, you won’t have colourful leaves. Here it’s predominantly beech, so those tend to turn a little later than ash and chestnut, and produce intense and coppery colours. For me, full on autumn is a beech wood, but for my husband who came from Maine, autumn means maples and birch, which we don’t have in the same way. We get the odd birch, but not enough to define the season.


Early signs of autumn

By nine am yesterday, it felt like summer, and anyone not outside much before then will have emerged into another lovely, late summer day. Warm, but not too warm, with a beautiful sky.

At first light, it’s cold now. Walking in the morning I was glad of my gloves. The morning shifted from autumn back to summer, and I peeled off layers. Although I work from home much of the time, being a parent had me up and out for many years and I got to experience this change more directly. I realised yesterday that because I’ve been tending to walk later in the day, I’ve been missing this seasonal shift for some years.

One of my problems with focusing on eight rituals as the wheel of the year is that it encourages us to think about the seasons as events. What happens is a process, one day to the next. Within that process there are key moments – when the leaves start to turn, and when they fall. The first frosts. The cold mornings, seeing your breath, needing a coat to go outside. And of course these, and many other markers vary from place to place and year to year. There is no one generic model for the coming of autumn, each one is unique and each one of us will experience it individually.

A life lived mostly indoors, in cars, and with little attention can miss the small day to day shifts of one season into another, and may only notice seasons when they hit their peaks. I know this because there was a time in my teens when I wasn’t connected to the seasons and was largely oblivious to the natural world. I had to learn how to show up and notice things. What I notice varies from year to year depending on what I’m doing and when I go out. I have no doubt that it is better to notice, and to feel engaged in the day to day shifts.


Feeling and listening to the spring

Yesterday’s post was very much about the visual side of the season, so, for balance, some more thoughts about experiencing the season with your body.

It is of course the point in the year when windows can more reliably be open. So long as you don’t fill your home with artificial noise, you can let the sounds of spring in. The birds are singing a lot more now than they were a few weeks ago – lots of territorial cries, alarm calls to protect nests, and communication between mates. Blackbirds singing the sun down is one of the great things about summer, for me, and they’re getting into that now.

With the windows open after dark, I can often hear owls. Sometimes I hear foxes and badgers at night. There’s a lot to be gained by listening to the spring from inside your own home. If you can get out, then the sound of wind in leaves is now a possibility while the undergrowth is lively with birds and rodents. There’s the hum of insects, and the prospect of that increasing in coming months.

I experience a distinct shift when I can go outside in the daytime without a coat, and a second such shift when I can be out at night without one. Not needing gloves changes how I experience the world around me. Able to shift from my heavy walking boots to lighter summer shoes means I feel more of the ground. Lighter clothing allows sun and breezes access to my skin. On drier days I can sit on the ground for short periods, and feel the earth with my body and the plants touching me.

With more growing, there’s more to sniff, and more to eat. I like nibbling from hedgerows – it’s something I’ve written about before, along with the sniffing. It creates a powerful and immediate connection with a place. It is important to know what you can safely put in your mouth.

If we just look at nature, we place ourselves on the outside, as observers viewing the scenery. To be participants, we need to bring our whole bodies into play and use all the senses at our disposal. Looking at nature isn’t the only way of connecting with it, and not being able to look at it need not be a barrier to connection.


Leaves and sky

One of the things to love about this time of year is the beauty of bright new leaves framed by bright blue skies. While the leaves have been unfurling in my locality for weeks, we’ve now got to the point where most trees have at least something going on. More importantly for me, the beech leaves are out.

I live in an area dominated by beeches – the hanging beech woods of the Cotswolds helped shape my childhood. I feel less homesick when I’m away in places that also have beeches. Around beech trees, I feel more rooted and connected. When beech trees first open their leaves, they are an incredible, radiant green. This will slowly darken over the summer, but right now, it’s wild and vibrant. Look up at a beech tree with its stunning new leaves glowing against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, and for me, that’s pure magic. It fills me with feelings of wonder and delight.

Copper beeches are also a thing. Usually, chlorophyll is green, but it can also be red, and it’s the red chlorophyll that gives us the copper beeches. As their leaves first open, they look like they’re on fire. I’m blessed with two copper beeches close to home.

Experiences of wonder and beauty are as much about how we look at the world as what’s around us. Every day has scope for beauty in it if you’re willing to take a little time and look.


Druidry at twilight

One of the most important points for me in the wheel of the year, has happened this week. It’s the time when the evenings are light and warm enough that I can go wandering at twilight. There’s a point in the autumn when I have to give it up again, but that can be harder to spot, not least because I’m often a bit in denial about it!

Sauntering about at twilight, I get to see a lot of wildlife – rabbits, and foxes in the fields. Small birds still active in the trees. Owls emerging to hunt. Bats taking to the air. In many ways it the best time to see wildlife because so much of it is active in the twilight. However with the light fading of course, it can be harder to make sense of what I do see. Yes, there was definitely something moving at the top of the field. No, I have no idea what it was!

For me, this is the Druidry of showing up. There are no rituals involved. I’m mostly quiet. The walking is contemplative, but not meditative – there’s no structure to what I do with my head and no intention. Some evenings I am more present than others. If I need to think something through, I do that. As there’s no intention, I’m simply open to whatever happens. Mostly I do not have mystical experiences. Usually I see something beautiful.

I’m fortunate in that there are a number of paths in the area that are flat, have trees along them and are safe enough for me to be walking them in poor light levels. Clearly this is not an option everyone will have. If you want to be all ‘back to nature’ then a path with no lighting, to which you do not take an artificial light, will serve best. But, there’s reasons we have street lights and they are to do with not falling in holes or being an easy target for muggers.

You don’t have to be out in the wilds to have wildlife encounters after dark. Mostly you need to be out and looking. Cars will insulate you too much, but anything that allows you to trundle about at low speed and engage your senses, will work. Sitting in a stationary car with the door open would be worth a go if moving about independently isn’t viable.

Wild things usually have territories and habits, so once you know where to look, the odds are you’ll keep seeing things. Or hearing them – listening to foxes and owls at night is a joy.