Tag Archives: autumn

Shades of Winter

I’ve never really paid attention to the shift from autumn to winter before. I don’t like the winter, so usually I’m trying not to engage with it. This year, being better resourced I’m more able to cope, and trying to change my relationship with this time of year.

I’m not sure what marks the edge between these seasons. The first frosts were some time ago. The leaves are still on the trees. The nights are long, and it is cold. I need my winter coat most of the time when I go outside now. I need thick socks in my boots and heavy gloves and still I struggle to stop my hands and feet going numb. This is more about my body than the temperature.

Today there is sun, and the colours on the trees are pronounced so it feels like autumn. Yesterday was cold and grey, and I was more conscious of where the trees are bare, and it felt like winter.

We’re not into frosty or frozen ground yet. I haven’t had to break out my microspikes. As someone with poor balance and a lot of anxiety, slippery surfaces are a seasonal nightmare. I put fell-runners crampons on my boots, and those keep me safe and radically reduce the fear. The point at which those come out is definitely winter. Which is a useless measure for those wet and grey winters where frost and ice are never really a thing.

I’ve spent most of my life measuring winter in terms of discomfort. I know this is the reality for many other people. As I work on changing my relationship, I’m conscious of the shift from insufficiency towards privilege.


Returning to the Earth

If you live with deciduous trees, then late autumn is a time of shifting energy. When there are buds, leaves and other growth, trees are very sky orientated. Being amongst trees will tend to take your attention up into the canopy. What you see of trees from a distance will be dominated by their furthest reaches into the air. In summer, leaves are drawing energy from the sun, the tree is interacting with this energy in very literal ways.

Once the leaves start falling, that process will take your attention downwards. That might be in watching leaves come from the treetops and head for the soil. If you walk in fallen leaves, then the sound and texture of them may draw your attention downwards. Also, given how good fallen leaves are at hiding surprise poo, puddles and potholes looking down carefully is often a good idea! As the leaves come down, energy from the tree – energy that was in the sky – held in leaves grown from sunlight – is returning to the earth, where that energy will be released into the soil.

Winter exposes the roots. With undergrowth tending to die back, it can be a good deal easier to see the base of a tree in winter. Again, this shift tends to draw our attention and we may become more aware of trees as rooted beings, going down deep into the soil.

Autumn tends to be fungus season. In woodland this means that we get to see something of the life beneath the soil. Fungi live in vast networks, interacting with tree roots. Much of the life of a wood happens beneath the surface, where we can’t see it. The appearance of fungi in the autumn is a reminder of what’s there all year round. It’s easier to think about things and be aware of them when there’s some more tangible sign of them, and the fungi give us that.

It’s normal to talk about life pulling down into the Earth during the winter, but important to have a more specific awareness of what that means. Tree life certainly is more earth orientated at this time of year. Each living thing responds to the seasons in its own way. For the migrating swans, early winter is all about the skies and making huge journeys guided by the stars. For amphibians, the season can be all about retreating into water to hibernate. There is no one single, simple energy narrative for any given season.


Signs of autumn

Back when I used to teach Druidry to people, I spent a lot of time thinking about the wheel of the year, and what seasonal events it connected with. I came to the conclusion that the trees being bare of leaves might be an important one for Samhain.

We’re a few days from Samhain now, and many of the trees around me are still green. Some have started to turn yellow and some leaves have started to fall. This could be one of those years where leaves are still present into Yule. It has happened before.

I spent some of last week further north (I live in the south west of the UK). There, autumn was further ahead, but in the place I was staying, there leaves had, I was told, just gone brown and started falling.

This morning, I woke to my first proper frost of the season. Normally this is a sad moment in the wheel of the year for me. I do not enjoy the cold, I am not good on slippery surfaces. But today, I am glad to see the first frost because it’s so late. It’s a relief to have it there.

In the last year or so, the number of rough sleepers around the town has increased considerably. First frosts are very bad news for them. Any scope for enjoying these conditions is rooted in privilege and it is so very important to keep sight of that. Don’t tell people off for being killjoys if they aren’t keen on autumn and winter. Poverty makes being cold a much bigger problem. Yes, autumn is lovely if you can put on your fluffiest socks and read a book by your log fire, looking up to enjoy the scenery outside the window. If you can’t afford the heat to keep the damp at bay, it is a miserable time of year.

For anyone who suffers SAD, this is a tough time of year. It can add to other forms of depression too – you can be practically affected by the cold and dark in ways that increase depression and anxiety. Having to travel to and from work in the dark is an obvious example. The cold can exacerbate pain. For older women with more fragile bones, a broken hip is a life limiting disaster, and the frost and ice pose a real threat. There are many other such examples. No one should add to the misery for people who cannot enjoy what autumn brings.


Closing the windows – a seasonal thing

I always hold on as long as possible, but there will come a morning (it came yesterday) when the night was too cold and I have to admit I can’t have the windows open any more. It’s not a great point in the year. Having the windows open at night means being able to hear running water, owls, and sometimes other wildlife really easily.  Closing the windows is a recognition that winter is coming, and I’ve never much liked winter.

During the warmer part of the year, open windows make my home fairly permeable. The sounds of nature come in. Blackbird song at twilight, the dawn chorus, sounds of wind and leaves. Even when I’m indoors I can feel quite connected in this way. Once the windows are shut it is far harder to hear the owls at night. Subtler sounds are lost entirely.

In previous years, closing the windows has marked the start of a whole host of problems. Condensation in cold dwellings – some that have been hard to heat, times when being warm enough to avoid it was unaffordable. Condensation leading to the dampness of everything and the difficulty of keeping stuff dry, and the ongoing battle to keep black mould out of the equation. Or to control it. Or finding it’s grown somewhere in secret and is out of control. One very old house I lived in blossomed with a vast profusion of mould growths as soon as the windows were shut, and I could not get that under control no matter what I did.

Shutting the windows is less of a problem now that I have and can afford to run a small de-humidifier at night. It warms the flat slightly, dries the laundry in wet weather, and keeps the condensation and mould at bay. It’s a neat bit of kit, and using it, I will likely go some time before I’ll need to put the heating on as well.

Damp is more of a problem when you live in small spaces. The more cramped you are, the more stuff is squeezed into spaces not suitable for it, the more people there are in relation to the space, the less air movement there is, the more moisture people are breathing out – these things combine to make winter moister. They are things that go with poverty, with over-crowding and not being able to afford heating or a dehumidifier. Too many people are heading into these conditions as the year turns. You choose whether to be cold, and somewhat damp, or a bit less cold and more damp – neither way is a win. An open window on a cold night will still leave your clothes damp in the morning, especially if you don’t have a wardrobe.

When there’s space, ventilation, money for heating, when you can easily dry out your home, this time of year is fine. For many people, closing the windows means you are just choosing which miserable and unhealthy situation you find most bearable. One of the problems with privilege is how invisible it is to the people who have always had it. If you’re enjoying that cosy autumn feel with your fluffy socks and pumpkin spice everything, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t go that way for everyone. Don’t call people killjoys or otherwise put them down for struggling with the shift towards winter. It’s not a Pagan-fail to struggle with this time of year if it causes you real issues.


Looking for autumn

It is the first of October, and here in the UK, there are not that many signs of autumn. Most of the trees around me are still in green leaf – a few have picked up yellow tones.  The horse chestnuts are cracking on with things, but this is in no small part because they are diseased. In previous years, their leaves have been down by this point, so they are late in their own way. Their conkers are one of the few autumnal things I’ve been noticing.

Last night was the first evening of the season when I shut all the windows. This morning, I have windows open again. It’s not super-cold, but there has been a shift. I remember camping at a folk festival at the end of September about twenty years ago and having frost on my tent in the morning. Autumns are warmer than they were when I was young.

My rose bush is blooming again. I don’t have a garden, but I do have a collection of pots, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down for the winter.

I have mixed feelings, because of course this is climate change in action, and that worries me deeply. At the same time, I’ve always found long winters hard. When the leaves come down around now, it can make for a long wintery season. Having the green still there is in many ways a comfort to me. I have committed to loving the land and nature no matter what climate change does to it, and the continuation of leaves is an easy thing to love.

The seasonal walk I undertake to appreciate the beech leaves is on hold. I have no idea when it might make sense to do that.


The final flowers

There are flowers on the brambles still, and I’ve seen ragged robin and campion in the last few days. At some point, I will have seen the last of these. There are already summer flowers I won’t see again until next year.

First appearances are easier to spot than final showings. When will I see my last bat before they go into hibernation? When will I see my last swift or swallow for this year? It’s not usually until some time after the event that having seen the last one – or the last one for this year – becomes obvious. Spring announces its new arrivals, but as the autumn moves in, those key points of final sightings just aren’t so clear. It means the letting go process is much less defined than the welcoming in.

Of course there are things to welcome in autumn – I’ve seen my first conkers. Leaves changing colour, fruits and nuts ripening, and later in the year, the arrival of winter migrants – these will all be easier to spot. But, the end of summer feels like a falling away without quite knowing what you’ve lost.

It’s useful to reflect on this and spend some time with it. In so many aspects of life, we don’t know when we’ve had the last, or the best of something. People we don’t get to say goodbye to. Things that will never come again. It means that you don’t know how important a meeting is, or a parting, because we never really know who, or what we will see again.

It’s so important not to be complacent about things – you never know when something important may leave forever. Hopefully, the swallows will be back next year, along with the wildflowers and the new leaves. Even that doesn’t feel so certain anymore.


Light through beech leaves

In the spring, beach leaves are a pale and delicate green, the sun passes through them easily and there’s something enchanting about a beech wood in direct sunlight. As the year advances, the beech leaves darken to a deep green that doesn’t let very much light through.

However, come the autumn, trees pull what they can back out of leaves, and the dark green fades to a delicate yellow, and then leaves turn a coppery colour before they fall. The impact on light in a beech wood at this point is startling.

A lot of light comes through the pale yellow leaves, but, filtered in this way it comes through as much more golden. If there are also fallen beech leaves, you get the amazing effect of honey tinted light interacting with coppery tones on the woodland floor. It’s a subtle thing, something you could miss if you weren’t looking for it. If you stop and pay attention, it’s quite a remarkable sight.

Beauty is around us. Re-enchantment is an everyday option if you go looking for it.


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.


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.