Tag Archives: autumn

Leaves Falling

The wind is gentle here, the shape of the hill shielding us from the worst storms. As the wind comes through the valley it swirls and dances, forming tiny whirlwinds that scuttle over the grass. Leaves fall like painted snowflakes, gold from the heavens. A sky full of colour and movement, too lovely to seem properly real.

Slow to tumble, the leaves fall like feathers, turning and twirling towards a soft impact. As though a giant golden bird has flown by and released them. As though the sky is full of leaf tree birds shedding their feathers. As though a tree is a wing paused in motion, only revealing the feather nature of its leaves now autumn is here.

Amongst the fallen leaves, small birds and rodents practice their jumps and halting moves, sharp shifts as though they too are leaves blown by the wind. Feathers pretending to be leaves pretending to be feathers.


Perfect Autumn

Thus far this September has gifted me with a few days that are, to my mind, perfect autumn. We’ve had out share and then some of rain, and grey, overcast days, and we’ve not yet had the mists or the frosts, but I expect those will be along later.

September at its best means waistcoats, jackets or jumpers but not having to bundle up in heavy coats just yet. It means scarves for fun, not a shivering necessity. As most of my clothes preferences tend towards layers, this is the kind of weather my clothes best suit and I most enjoy wearing things I like.

It’s perfect walking weather – a dry and bright day, but not so hot as to make moving arduous, and with no risk of heat stroke. These are good laundry days too, and as someone who depends a lot on wind power for drying, I really appreciate that.

I also really enjoy the way it gets dark earlier but isn’t too cold to be out at night doing something – either moving about, or with a little extra cover. I had a fantastic evening in a tent, for example. It won’t be long before that kind of evening is impossible without a fire.

Every season offers things to enjoy, and every season has its own challenges. I think the trick is to make the best of the good stuff without feeling like you ahve to pretend the difficult things don’t exist.

The lovely sleep of winter. Or not.

And so, with the autumn equinox behind us and the nights growing longer we begin the lovely, restful descent into peace and darkness where we will dream up future plans ready to send forth our shoots again next spring.

If you’ve read anything on Paganism or Druidry, the odds are you’ve run into that sentiment. Evidently it works for some people – for the autumn and winter fans this is a happy time of year. If you have a warm, comfortable dwelling, are insulated from the excesses of weather, confident you can pay your heating bills no matter what, and in a state of good mental and physical health, winter is no bother at all.

My seasonally affected friends are watching the loss of light with the grief that inevitably brings. There are so many people more vulnerable to depression in the winter months, due to shortages of sun-induced serotonin in the brain.

For anyone in poverty, winter is a nightmare, and there are a lot of people in poverty just now. Not having enough food is tougher in the cold, and the issues of heating bills are many. Cold properties invite damp, mould and sickness. There’s a social impact – you won’t invite anyone else into your cold, damp, mouldy home if you can help it.

My seasonal challenges are akin to the ones my female ancestors have probably always faced. I do not have a tumble drier, I depend on sun and wind to dry my clothes. Wet winters make laundry slow and difficult, again with the lingering damp invitation to moulder. I don’t have a car, and walking everywhere can be an exercise in getting very cold, or wet through. At least this year I have a decent waterproof coat, but that hasn’t always been the case. I know people who jog, go out there and get soaked to the skin as part of their sport, but that only works when there’s a hot shower and a washing machine to come home to – not everyone has those, none of our ancient ancestors did. For most of human history, the threat of being cold and wet has been considerable.

The story of winter as a gentle, restful sleep time is a story of modern western privilege, only available if you have money and resources to block out the cold. If you’ve got to keep a fire burning for the next four months and have to source your wood (again, our ancestors mostly had to sort this for themselves) winter means more work, not less. Food supplies depend on stores – grain, apples, whatever else you dried. Mice become a real danger in such a context. If the harvest was poor, then you’d head for the winter knowing there was every chance you’d starve if spring was late. Elderly and fragile individuals would know they were especially likely to die. Our winters are not like that at the moment.

For me, our attitude to approaching winter is one of the most overtly modern aspects of contemporary Paganism. It is far from what you get when living marginally. For our ancestors, winter was a tough time, demanding, difficult, and threatening. The cold could kill you. Hunger could kill you. Hungry predators might try and kill you. The threats and challenges of winter have only been mitigated in the last hundred years or so, and even then – only for those who have the money. There will be plenty of people in our affluent societies who will die if this winter is a cold one – the elderly are often victims. There will be people going cold and hungry who cannot afford to heat their homes or cook their food.

The veneer of civilisation is thin. If the power goes off or there isn’t fuel for cars, most of us will be rapidly heading towards more ancestral-style experiences of the dark half of the year.

Small night mysteries

I walked home in the dark last night, my route taking me through a wooded stretch, where I needed the torch – I don’t see well in the dark, and it gets pretty dark in there. It was a dry night with a soft breeze, and leaves were falling from the trees. They came down in front of me, bright and golden in the torchlight, vivid against the unlit background. A quiet and soft rain of discarded leaves, rustling against the ground as they landed. It was a beautiful experience.

I had missed this.

For the last two years, narrowboat life had given me trees aplenty – hedge trees, edge of canal trees, but not places I could regularly walk where trees surrounded me. On top of that, the last few autumns have been harsh, weather-wise, with angry winds and torrential rain stripping off the leaves. There wasn’t much scope for gentle flutterings.

This year, autumn is taking its time. The tree outside my window has turned to yellow and brown in a leisurely way, and still has a few green leaves. The nights have been relatively balmy, the weather mild and I like this gentle season a good deal more than that which the last few years have delivered. I love that I live somewhere where I can easily go out and walk amongst trees, too. It is a very different experience, being in amongst trees rather than seeing a few here and there. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed enjoying the autumn.

I know a lot of Druids see themselves as solitary people, craving distance from the majority of humans. I’ve done that. I’ve lived for short stretches in places there were no other lights at night, no other humans in shouting distance. I’ve looked at the vast night sky and felt the loneliness of it. I’ve walked, as our ancestors would have done, in natural places with little light, watching the shadows morph into mythical beings, some of whom, the stories tell me, might be hungry. Sometimes you have to go outside the village to remember what the village was for in the first place.

The coming of autumn

The shortening of days is becoming more apparent, as we move into autumn, here in the UK. The first signs of leaves turning, the swallows gathering ready to migrate, and the falling temperature all show that summer is ending. We move towards the darker time of the year.

I love the colours of autumn, and in a slightly perverse way, I love the sadness of it. Autumn is the time of letting go, the relinquishing of summer, of leaves and colour as we head for the cold, damp greys of winter. It is a reminder that all things must pass, that nothing is forever. Life, beauty and joy can be such fleeting things, and it is essential to embrace them as they come, because nothing lasts and you never know what may slip through your fingers. I believe in making the best of things as they come.

Druidry honours the full range of life and experience – the dark times as well as the light, the cold days as well as the brightness of summer. We honour the lean times as well as the rich ones. I try very hard to relate to when I am in the year, to engage with it and find what is good in it. But at the same time, winters are hard, and this winding down towards colder, darker days I tend to find difficult. But again, there is nothing in my Druidry that requires me to happily celebrate this time of year, only to recognise and to honour the processes both within and without.

For folk who are assured of warmth and ease, the winter can be a snug, cheery time, the weather not a major intrusion on their lives, the central heating protection from temperature. I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a car, and walking, or cycling in the depths of winter, in freezing rain, or with ice on the ground, is really hard. I’ve never had central heating. Keeping a fire in takes work – much less now I have a Tom, but in previous years that’s been a struggle all by itself. Keeping warm, getting clothes dry without a tumble drier, and all the other simple details of living are harder in winter for me. I’m conscious that my ancestors would have had similar issues.

Looking towards the coming winter – my first winter on a boat – I have no idea what to expect. It’s a small space to heat, and it’s inherently snug, but last year the canal froze, and I have no idea what that would be like. I’m trying to relate to that as a potential adventure. Last year, walking beside the frozen canal was beautiful, and I saw a lot of wildlife. Watching the trees change through the autumn will also be beautiful, along with watching the migrant birds come for the winter. There will be much to celebrate and enjoy. The trick, so far as I can tell, is to focus on the good stuff, and to re-shape life around it, rather than trying to use resources to maintain ways of life that do not fit with the prevailing conditions. I’ll shift my working and playing patterns to follow the availability of natural light. I’ll crotchet more in the darker months because I don’t actually need to see to do that. I will also mourn the departure of summer, because that’s part of the process too.

The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that nothing, and no one, should tell us how to feel about anything. I’m very wary of anything that tries to instruct about feelings. Humans do not all feel the same way, and I do not believe there is any one right way to feel in any circumstance. I’m also conscious that some of the time, what religions do is very specifically try and shape how we feel, pushing us towards certain emotional responses to the world. This is also true, sometimes, of Druidry, especially around the solar narrative of the year. We are supposed to feel like trees. We are supposed to be full of energy at midsummer and resting quietly and midwinter.

I am not a tree.

I’m also very wary of anything that prescribes greeting each new thing with unbridled joy and enthusiasm. I do not happen to like the ice. I respect it, but I’m not going to dance with it. Ice does not make me happy, it makes me afraid. I find extreme summer temperatures equally unappealing, I am not a total sun worshipper either. I like the inbetween times, the days that are neither one thing or another. As I honour what happens outside, I also have come to respect what happens inside me as being my own, natural reaction to things, and to hold that response as something I am entitled to. I’m wondering if this means I can sneak a few hours today to honour my inner sloth.