My experience of the wheel of the year is not about celebrating festivals. What I most like to engage with are the seasonal events in my local landscape – the timing of which varies somewhat from year to year. Over time, I’ve built up an understanding of how the seasons occur in the local landscape, and there are certain things that are particularly important to me.
One of those things is getting to see the wild orchids. The hill nearest my home usually has a lot of orchids on it at this time of year. I can’t claim any confidence around telling the pinky purple ones apart. I love the bee orchids especially, and I’ve seen half a dozen this year, which is amazing.
The photo doesn’t really do justice to the profusion out there at the moment.
Apparently Michaelmas daisies aren’t native to the UK, but were introduced from America in the 1700s! They grow enthusiastically at this time of year, and the bees and butterflies like them.
To further confuse matters, this isn’t Michaelmas – that’s in September.
But here they are anyway, cheerfully flowering in a green space near the centre of town. I see them a lot on roadsides. They are an iconic summer plant for me.
Although for further confusion, since I first posted this blog it’s been pointed out to me that these may not be Michaelmas daises at all, but Oxeye daisies, and I still have no idea (having looked at the internet) how you would tell them apart! It’s quite possibly the case that some of the other images for Michaelmas daisies online were actually oxeye daises and that there are different schools of daisy naming and that it isn’t just me!
Vibrant new growth photographed on a day with some sunlight. I love the colour, and the intensity of new life emerging from the soil. There were bees, but I’m not fast enough with a camera to capture and image of one, and have much the same problem taking pictures of small birds. Plants I can manage!
I saw lambs at the weekend. Some of them were very small and clearly hadn’t been out and about for many days. The garlic has its leaves up and the blackbirds have started singing fairly reliably at the end of the day.
After what has felt like an impossibly long and grey winter, there is finally sun. It’s still cold here, but not as cold as it has been.
I’m not experiencing a rush of energy or enthusiasm. I’m feeling relief – to a mild degree. I crave light and warmth, but I don’t know how much difference that will make when I’m also craving peace, economic sanity and responsible leadership. Here in the UK things are grim. Killing people with the cold, with hunger, with poverty isn’t quite as dramatic as killing them with bombs. I grieve for the people of Ukraine, but I live in a country where class war is killing people every day and no one is going to send us arms to fight back.
Fewer people will die when it gets warmer. We can have the windows open and improve our chances of not getting covid. Spring offers some relief, but not enough.
It wasn’t so many years ago that I used to do long walks as part of how I connected with the seasons. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been so relentlessly ill that my walking range has dramatically reduced. On a good day now I can go about a mile before I need a serious rest. That’s a hell of a lot more than many people have, and far less than I used to have.
I used to depend on the length of time I spent outside, and on the distance travelled for my feelings of connection to the wild world. I can’t do that now. I have to focus on details and in many ways that’s been good for me. I have to pay more attention and make the most of the time I get outside.
Today I saw that the garlic leaves are emerging from the soil. There are flowers on some of the wild fruit trees. I saw dogs’ mercury, which also has flowers on it. The small birds are very active, and there were also a few crows around where I am not used to seeing crows, so that was interesting. I also saw a heron in flight.
I’m fortunate in where I live. There are trees, fields and waterways right on my doorstep. I don’t have to be able to walk far to encounter some other living being.
The weather has been noticeably a bit warmer in recent days. This has led to a lot more bird activity. It’s still too cold to open the windows, so I only hear birdsong when I’m out and about, but there’s definitely more of it to hear.
At this time of year birdsong in the UK is at least in part about establishing territories and finding mates. The morning I saw a solitary male bullfinch, his red chest a dramatic contrast to the grey of the day. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a bullfinch calling like that before. I stopped to watch and listen. My guess is that he was trying to attract a mate. It’s usual to see bullfinches in pairs, they can pairbond for life so I’m guessing he was a young chap, maybe born last spring or summer.
I also saw a pair of jays, although they were entirely quiet – as jays tend to be. A lot of birds make check-in noises with each other when they’re out in pairs or family groups, but jays don’t tend to, and these two were entirely quiet.
I don’t have a total knowledge of birdsong – I often hear birds I don’t recognise. This is because a lot of birds make sounds in different ways depending on what they’re doing it for. Spring birdsong is different from family check-ins, which is different from what you get with singing the sun up, or down, which is also different from alarm calls. I can usually tell what sort of sound I’m hearing, but not who is making it and amongst trees it can be hard to spot the singers.
Here in the UK, snowdrops are strongly associated with Imbolc. I saw my first flowers a few days ago, where they have emerged through last year’s dead leaves. A perfect visual metaphor for the year turning.
It’s also a time of year when locally, the elf caps tend to appear, and I’ve seen a few of those in recent days.
Spring also means catkins. Some are open now, but some, like these, are not.
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.