Tag Archives: season

Commercialmass is coming

The greenest thing you can do is simply consume less. Buying more sustainable stuff is still consumption and still has an impact. Our planet can’t afford to have us replace our fossil fuel transport with electric cars, or our plastic packaging with some other packaging. We consume too much, and imagining that we can carry on as we are and just make some slight changes isn’t going to work.

We have to slow down. We have to own less. We have to buy less, and that will help us considerably in throwing less away. Of course for many people, that’s not even an issue. For people who can’t buy enough food reliably, and who can’t afford to heat their homes, over-consumption is not the problem.

We do have a problem with cheap goods that won’t last being the only option for the poor. When you buy something cheap and badly made, you tend to pay a lot more for replacements than ever you would on one good, long lasting thing. Take the cost of a moon cup or re-usable pads against buying cheap, disposable sanitary products every month. Or buying cheap clothing that wears out within the year, versus buying something more substantial that will last a decade. It is not on poor people to fix this situation. If we are to have social justice and sustainability, we need to tackle how expensive it is to be poor, and how much unnecessary waste is caused by that. No one should be so poor that they can’t live sustainably, but the minimum wage won’t give you those options.

We’ve been sold the idea that owning more is good. We see it in terms of status and entitlement, social standing and self worth. Those are emotive things and hard to unpick, but on the other side of it is the simple fact that we are destroying the only planet we have.

We’re heading into the season of obscene overconsumption. Over the coming weeks we will all be encouraged to eat far more food than is good for us, drink more alcohol than is wise, buy throwaway clothes – like the wretched Christmas jumpers. We’ll be encouraged to buy more stuff for people who don’t need stuff, and buy paper to wrap it in so we can throw that away afterwards. We will be encouraged to kill a tree, or buy a plastic tree substitute and fill our homes with shiny plastic rubbish to feel ‘festive’. Many of us will put on a great many extra lights and increase our energy use for good measure.

Commercialmass has already begun, and the shops are filling with it. Which makes this a good time of year to give some serious thought to what you, and the people around you actually need. It’s a good time to remind each other that we all need clean air, and none of us need the oceans to be choked with plastic. We need living trees and we do not need wrapping paper. We do not need to send tons of uneaten leftovers to landfill or even recycling, while other people go hungry.

If you can afford to exchange gifts, you probably don’t need them. If you can’t afford them, you certainly don’t need to go into debt trying to keep up. Give less. Give thoughtfully. Give responsibly.

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.

Owlet season

Last night there were two, possibly three tawny owl chicks near my home. I saw one of them, and they were calling in a way that meant two were definitely present, but three seemed a possibility. Young owls yell constantly so their parents know where they are. Those yells become very excited when parents arrive with food – I’ve seen this happen in previous years. Last night I didn’t see any adults, but there were several rounds of excited yelling, followed by more yelling. I wonder if I was hearing two unfed owlets continuing to call while the third one ate – it was impossible to tell.

Young owls move about before they can fly – the term for this is ‘branching’ where they hop and flutter about along branches and between trees while waiting for food to arrive. In previous years I’ve been fortunate enough to see this happening. Owls can be active before sunset – especially at this time of year when the nights are so short.

Once the young owls can fly more effectively, they will go off with their parents in the evening as they learn how to hunt. Owlet season seems to be somewhere in May and/or June – there was one on one of my regular routes some weeks ago who has since stopped shouting at night. It’s the best time to see a tawny owl – the young ones are so self-announcing that you have a decent chance of spotting them, and if you can see a young owl, you’ve a chance of seeing a parent come in to feed it.

Here’s a page full of owl calls if you need help figuring out what you’re hearing – http://www.wildowl.co.uk/owlcalls.html 

Season of denial

It turned cold this week. Properly cold, with heavy frost on the ground for my walk to work yesterday. I find myself reluctant to even blog about what’s going on seasonally. The point in the year when temperatures start falling to freezing is always a tough one for me. I can’t find much to enjoy in it. I mostly have to mitigate against it and try to get through.

This morning my hands are desperately sore, and this isn’t a coincidence. Most of me is stiff – there are a lot of things that can hurt in a body that will hurt more if cold.

There can of course be beauty in this season. The sparkle of sunlight on frost, the shapes of bare trees against the sky. Yesterday I saw a kingfisher, and last night the skeins of thin cloud racing past the moon – a few days shy of full – was a dramatic sight. I can find things to be moved, uplifted and filled with wonder by. I can be inspired. But even so, on the whole, I hate the cold and it takes a toll on me.

We had our first snow this week – a brief flurry of fat snowflakes that clearly weren’t going to stick. I worry about the people sleeping rough in this. I worry about the people struggling to stay warm inside their homes. I worry about how long the winter will last.

There are of course a whole array of natural responses to winter. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and wait it out. Bears, hedgehogs and others hibernate. Birds migrate to more hospitable environments. Dying back is normal. Frantically struggling for survival is normal. I can think of fewer examples of creatures who have fun with the snow – foxes play in it, certainly, and otters make slides, but on the whole, happy responses to the dark part of the year may be more of a human thing. Being happy and comfortable in winter tends to depend on accessing those resources and technologies we usually feel set us apart from the rest of nature.

The looming season of gloom

Gaudy autumn leaves, sharp, frosty mornings, jewel-like spider webs – these things I can appreciate. At the moment the leaves haven’t all turned where I live, many are still green, and the colour, and loss of colour looks like it will be a slow affair. Somewhere beyond waits the prospect of grey. We will turn from colour towards the season of mist and mud, washed out hues and overcast gloom. The days get shorter and colder; rising in the darkness, struggling to dry laundry and trying to avoid chilblains will soon be on the agenda. I don’t find winter easy.

Many people are affected by the lack of sun over the winter months, and are more vulnerable to depression as a consequence. As I walk for transport, I get more light than average, and spend my working day sat at a window, getting what natural light there is. No doubt, this all helps. It took me years to figure out that what I suffer most over, is the loss of colour.

The winter we were renting the flat, and obliged to live with relentlessly white walls and a beige carpet, really brought home to me how much I need colour. Since we bought the flat, increasing the colour has been a major priority for me. Yellow living room walls, a purple kitchen, the hall is blue, there are rugs, and art has gone up on the walls. Lampshades, textiles… I protect myself from the dark months ahead with amounts of colour that my mediaeval ancestors would no doubt approve of.

This is in interesting contrast to how I dress myself. I prefer dark colours, lots of black, simple patterns if any, simple shapes. I like to dress quietly, but live in environments rich with colour and detail. I am more interested in what I can look at, than in being looked at.

Sun in winter makes a huge difference to me, because it changes the world outside so dramatically. Last winter, we walked over the hills to my mother’s house, on a day of incredible light. The fields, hills, and the River Severn had extraordinary colours, and the sharp winter light brought an almost uncanny kind of clarity to otherwise familiar scenes. I find the cold easier to bear if there is light, and the short days easier to tolerate when there are standout moments full of colour.

In the last hundred years or so, western humans have done a lot to insulate themselves from the winter. We have far more light, heat, insulation and comfort than our ancestors. We import foods from around the world, so that winter doesn’t have to be a bland food time full of dried things soaked and boiled alongside a narrow selection of root vegetables. But we do this at a cost to the wellbeing of the planet as a whole.

Living more lightly than is normal, I feel the winter keenly. I feel it when I’m walking for transport, and when the drying of laundry has to be a daily consideration. I don’t buy much in the way of fresh exotica, and the root stews will dominate my winter months, and I will miss the fresh greens and the soft ripe fruits, but I believe in walking my talk, so I can’t ward off winter in these ways. Colour on the walls though, and cheerful textiles I can have, and the latter mostly comes from cunning acts of upcycling otherwise unusable things. Working with fabrics through the winter also creates a feeling that I am working to protect myself from the cold, and means the colourful things are in my hands and getting my direct attention.

I will never love this time of year, I will never welcome it. I recognise it, and respect it, and intend to work with it as best I can. With a bit of luck, I can find ways to ward off the worst of it, without having to get involved in unsustainable things.