Category Archives: Seasons

Flowers for the solstice

One of my ongoing issues with the Pagan concept of the wheel of the year is that it can focus a person’s sense of the seasonal down to eight key days. Outside, the cycle of the seasons is a process from day to day, and if you aren’t engaging with it day by day, you’ll miss things. That in turn can help perpetuate the simpler eight key points narrative because we don’t tend to see the things we aren’t looking for.

The demoiselle flies (smaller than dragonflies, but different from damselflies because they have dramatic black wings) tend to show up a few days before my birthday. A week ago there was a big hatching. A couple of days ago I saw my first dragonflies of the season. Most of the garlic has died back, most fledglings are now out of the nest, but there are still clutches of new ducklings hatching. That’s true where I live, for this year, but next year may be different.

This year I have particularly noticed the arrival of cranesbill flowers and meadowsweet. As there’s a lot of foliage growing, they were able to do all their leafy growth without my spotting them, but now the flowers are out, the plants are a distinctive presence. The purples of the cranesbill flowers, the misty clouds of fragrant meadowsweet. I didn’t have them in my head as a solstice flower, I don’t remember exactly when they appeared last year. I tend to think of meadowsweet as something that blooms later on, and perhaps it is. Many of the usual rhythms are being thrown out by climate change.

You have to catch a cranesbill just right to see why it has the name – the flowers themselves are nothing like cranes. It’s the forming flower bud, which, before opening, looks just like a head and beak. There an edge plant, so look for them in hedgerows, along shaded footpaths and at woodland edges.

More about cranesbill here – https://shop.reallywildflowers.co.uk/products-page/wildflower-plug-plants/meadow-cranesbill/

And a lovely piece on meadowsweet here with herbal and mythical properties https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2012/07/06/meadowsweet-queen-of-the-meadow-queen-of-the-ditch/


Summer trees and Druid wanderings

Sometimes the great British summer produces hot days. I’m one of the many people whose body is invariably startled by this. I find in hot weather that being under trees is really the only way of being comfortably outside in the daytime.

Walk through woodland on a scorching hot day, and you’ll be in balmy conditions with a little dampness in the atmosphere and pretty much no risk of sunburn. The bright light that can leave you squinting, and for the long term, more at risk of cataracts doesn’t reach through. Intense sunlight filtered through leaves becomes something gentle, joyful and habitable.

I can’t walk in direct sunlight for any significant time without a hat, and even with a hat, the risk of headaches and queasiness remains high. In woods, I can be out all day in high summer and this just isn’t a problem. I don’t dehydrate as quickly, I don’t feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

In the absence of trees to wander beneath, the shade of a tree in park or garden is always a blessed relief in the height of summer.

There are plenty of reasons to connect the idea of ancient Druidry with the idea of tree lore and tree wisdom. From the Roman reports of Druids meeting in sacred groves to possible etymologies relating the word Druid to names for oak, I am inclined to think of Druids as tree people. The simplest and most powerful tree lore for high summer is that to experience the sun filtered through leaves is kinder and safer than to be under its direct glare.

Many spiritual paths are keen to use light as a metaphor for goodness – ‘enlightenment’ when you think about it, is a word with light in it. At the same time we tend to associate darkness with evil, and these habits of thought are deeply ingrained in our culture. Trees do not offer us light, but gentle and friendly shade, with patterns of shifting light and darkness. Too much light will hurt you, blind you and burn you. Our bodies do not thrive when overexposed to sunlight. We benefit from places of ambiguous light, softer light, and cool shadow.

 


A barefoot labyrinth

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will have noticed that labyrinths have become a key part of my seasonal celebrations. Each one, so far, has brought significant new experiences.

My spring equinox labyrinth was the first one I’ve shared with a sizeable group – and perhaps most significantly, a group where the majority had not been involved in making the labyrinth. I found that quite affecting. There is a big difference for me in making something that is shared.

We used a different location – in the past I’ve built them all at the same spot in a public park – which has felt a bit exposed. This time we were in a very different public space. We were in a graveyard, with the ruins of a mediaeval church, an array of massive Victorian tombs, and the clearly marked square under which lies an Orphic mosaic. The labyrinth went over the mosaic, and coming from a mediaeval church design, seems quite at home there.

I had two striking experiences while walking the labyrinth. The first, on my way into it for the first time of the day, was a visceral sense of how that bit of the labyrinth sat on the ground in the park where we’ve previously done it, and a feeling of sympathy between the two locations.

There were gusts of wind, and at some point after I’d walked my way to the centre, the wind moved something. It’s likely that the other people with me fettled this, but fettled it the wrong way. This being a bigger labyrinth design, it’s not unusual to feel you must have gone wrong somewhere, and that you’ve walked this bit before as the paths fold back on themselves. As a consequence I was there for quite some time before I realised that the labyrinth had changed, creating a closed loop I could not leave. I returned to the centre, and pondered it out, and corrected things. It’s interesting to have the elements redesign the path in this way.

This is the first time I’ve been able to walk one of my labyrinths barefoot. This really adds to the experience, creating a much deeper feeling of rootedness and engagement. It becomes a much bigger sensory experience for having bare feet. It’s also easier to handle tighter turns – some uncertainty about space meant this was the smallest I’ve made the design, resulting in tight turns at the centre where attentive footwork was required – a smaller labyrinth encourages me to go slower, because of the tight turns. A bigger labyrinth creates the room and the incentive to pick up speed.

I don’t know where or when the next one will happen, but I’ve made a proper bag to hold the parts of the labyrinth, and that’s certainly a commitment to doing more of them.


A sudden spring

Last Friday when we walked through the wood it was all much as it had been through the winter. There were buds fattening, but that was all. We walked through the same wood two days later, and everything had changed. The brown of dead leaves covering the ground had been replaced by green as the wild garlic had come through. Elder leaves were unfurling in earnest – they always are early in that spot. The wild plum had produced its first flowers.

This is a route I usually walk several times over a week, so I know its habits well and watch it for seasonal changes. Going from brown to green so quickly startled me. But then, the Friday had been warm enough to be without a coat and this had clearly affected the soil.

I read once that as trees feel the approach of spring and gear up, they put out heat – not a vast amount, but enough to give any plants at their base a head start, too.

Last week I blogged about spring walking, and the uncertainties of planning long wanders early in the season. I worried about the cold. What happened instead was that I was stripped down to bare arms at one point in the walk, with too much sun an unexpected issue. I’m not sure if it’s sun stroke or heat stroke that gets me, but I’ve never had to think about either in February before. March yes, but not February.

There were kingcups in flower, the celandines are out and I found some amazing snowdrop patches. I didn’t have a camera, but I plan to change that. I don’t want to spend my time looking at the world through one, but I would like to collect more images of plants through the seasons. More of that as it happens.


Wandering in early spring

January and early February are quiet months in the seasonal walking calendar. I don’t plan big walks at this time of year, because the weather is too unpredictable and I don’t like slippery surfaces much. Plus, tramping about in mud can do a lot of damage to land and plants alike, so I tend to limit walks to lanes and solid footpaths.

My seasonal plants of preference – snowdrops and catkins – are available right outside my front door, so seasonal plant-orientated pilgrimage does not have to involve much effort!

However, we’ve reached that point in the year when there are odd warm days, its drier underfoot and it can be good walking weather. It’s tempting to get out, but still risky. How risky walking at this time of year will be of course depends firstly on where you live. Are sudden blizzards a risk? Could sudden loss of visibility put you in danger? What’s the footing like and can it change quickly if the weather changes?

I live in a fairly mild part of the world, and I don’t walk in the mountains. My risks for this time of year are about getting cold. With crappy circulation, I suffer a lot if I can’t stay warm and while walking is good for circulation, if the ground is cold enough, or the wind chill fierce enough, it can get challenging.

I know for a lot of people the great challenge of pitting self against nature is an exciting prospect. I don’t have a body or a mind for conquering anything, so I have to work cooperatively with the natural world. I have to walk when it’s passably sensible and stay in if it isn’t. I have to consider how cold I can afford to get when thinking about distance. There’s no one right way of doing this stuff, but I assert that it’s absolutely ok to be not in the least bit macho about it.


The Imbolc Labyrinth

It was cold, I grant you, but not too cold. Making a labyrinth is, as I discovered back in 2016, an intensely physical business taking me an hour to an hour and a half (depending on extra hands). But, it’s not the kind of physical activity to make you warmer, so I was unsure as to whether we’d get away with it in early February.

We did.

The making process means a person has to engage with the great outdoors for the duration, and that in turn prompts meditations on the season and its implications. I can’t say I went into the labyrinth with a clear head and walked it in a perfectly contemplative state, because my concentration wasn’t equal to that. But, I walked it twice, thinking about spring, and listening to the bird song – which has noticeably increased in recent days. I walked thinking about my intentions for the year and what I want to bring into the world. Each time I walked out of the labyrinth feeling clearer in my sense of direction.

The process of building and walking inspired me to think about when and where I want to make future labyrinths, and who I might want to make them for. I also came away with the certainty that I need to make a bag for the labyrinth to live in when it’s at home, and I need more material. I became aware of how the things I use for building only have this role, and have a growing identity as a labyrinth. I need to build on that with a labyrinth bag.

I find rituals difficult if it’s just me, or me and my immediate family – three isn’t enough people for ritual. It is enough people for a labyrinth. I can accommodate more if I need to. There’s little planning- just pick the time and place. At the moment, the labyrinth seems like a better answer to seasonal ritual for me than actual seasonal ritual. It will be interesting to see how this plays out through the year.


Catkins: One of January’s true joys

The Pagan myth that nature is all asleep and quiet now and everything kicks off at Imbolc, is rather brought into question by the beautiful January phenomena that is the catkin. Catkins are the reproductive parts of some trees, they form in late autumn, and flower from January onwards. Thus far this year I have seen open catkins on hazels and alder, while the pussywillow is just starting to open.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

Catkins are small and subtle, you won’t see them unless you get fairly close to the tree and look. But if you do, there they are! They tend to be male and female, and wind pollinated. Male hazel catkins are quite colourful, pussywillow invites stroking (hence the name) and they add a bit of cheer. They are also the promise of life to come, of hazel nuts, new trees, and everything else getting going as we move towards spring.

alder catkins

alder catkins

Nature never really sleeps, something is always happening. The trick is to get past our simplistic notions about what ‘nature’ is doing at any point in the year, and see what’s actually going on around us.

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize...

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize…

I have an alternative wheel of the year column over at Sage Woman blogs, so if you’d like a monthly prompt for things to celebrate that aren’t a tidy match for the regular wheel of the year narrative, do wander over – http://witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel.html

Images in this blog post come from the Woodland Trust website, find out more about trees and tree protection here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/


Seasonal Blues

It is a perfectly reasonable, human thing to struggle with the winter. The shorter days, often with far less sunlight mean those of us in the northern part of the earth are short of vitamin D. Some of us suffer seasonal affective disorder. For some, the cold, the treacherous footing, and the dark nights are a downer. This is the first year in ages where those dark nights haven’t been a real barrier to me having a social life, and that’s in no small part because I’ve now frequently got things to do of a Sunday afternoon.

For anyone whose finances are tight, winter adds extra pressure – for some it means a choice between heating and eating, for some even that choice isn’t available. This is an unkind season, an isolating season, a killing season. Many people roll out of the festive period into the harsh reality of increased debt at the start of the New Year.

I often find there’s a backlash after midwinter festivity – yes, in theory the light is returning, but it seems a long way off, it still gets dark early, it’s still cold, there are a good two months of this to come… but now there’s nothing much to look forward to. The feeling that it should be getting easier can contribute to actually feeling worse about it.

I’m luckier than many people because there are viable solutions for me. I can add colour, warmth and light as needed. I do now have the resources – financial and energetic – to connect with people at this time of year. I have places I can go and things I can do. But I’ve also been on the other side of this, cut off, cold, stuck, and without the resources to change any of it. That’s not a good place to be. If you know someone who could be isolated by this time of year, drop them a line, call them, if it makes sense to show up, show up. It can be a lifeline – in a practical sense and also emotionally.


Evergreens in winter

This time of year is the best for spotting evergreen trees in predominantly deciduous landscapes. With the majority of trees losing their leaves, the vibrant colours of holly and ivy really shine through in a woodland. Ivy can dominate a tree such that it looks like it has its own leaves – in extreme cases, mistletoe can do the same, so it’s always worth getting in for a closer look if you can.

There are also evergreen oaks – the holm oak (see above), which in the greener part of the year you won’t see unless you’re really looking for them. In winter they really stand out.

holm oak leave.

holm oak leave.

More holm oak information here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/common-non-native-trees/holm-oak/

Images in this blog borrowed from the Woodland Trust website.


That New Year thing

An arbitrary date change is as good a reason as any to pause, look back and look forward. Since giving up the aspects of self-abuse and flagellation (lose weight no longer features on my list) I’ve come to rather enjoy the process of setting intentions and checking in at the end of the year to see how I did. The blog is decidedly helpful in this regard.

Last year’s resolutions were all met. I read more books, I sold a lot of books, and I did a far better job of picking my fights and not investing energy where it would clearly do no good. Last year I also resolved to go to the pub more, have more live performance in my life, and dance more, and these have been the areas of wildest success.

This summer I discovered Dawn Morgan’s 5 Rhythms classes, which are fantastic. I’ve gone once a month, ish, and my confidence, balance and joy in dancing have improved greatly. I’ve danced more at home as a consequence.

Stroud Out Loud (a monthly spoken word based gathering) became my opening gambit for ‘more live stuff’ and is a brilliant event, and has since spawned an occasional singing session that goes to the pub. This year has seen a fantastic upswing in my social life – improved energy levels and really feeling that I’ve found my tribe now. I’ve got people to do things with.

I intend to keep going with all of the things on last year’s list. So, here’s the stretch-goal list for 2017

  1. Improve my stamina so that 2 hours of fun stuff (walking, dancing) does not challenge me at all.
  2. Remove the mute button, and be as I am with more people more of the time.
  3. Ceilidh
  4. Write songs. Even if I only sing them twice in public, before I go off them, I want to do more of this.
  5. Cause more fun stuff to happen.
  6. Pick up some new skills (maybe craft skills, I don’t know, we’ll see what comes along).

 

Despite the international politics, despite the many environmental issues that worry me greatly, despite the many good and beautiful people who died in 2016, it was a good year for me overall. All years have their share of pain and challenges in them, that’s a given. And despite all the bigger picture issues, I feel optimistic about next year. 2016 saw a lot of changes, I think I grew and healed a considerable amount and I feel ready to move forward towards better things. More books. Lovely people. More walking and dancing and singing and going to the pub.