Tag Archives: seasons

November Greys

One of the things I find hard about winter is the loss of colour. November is often a grey month – in the past it was normal for leaves to be off the trees by this point. Rain and fog, heavy cloud and a generally grey gloom are part of how I expect November to go, and the loss of colour always gets to me.

Writing at the end of November, I note that there are still green leaves out there, and many of the trees still bear autumn colours. We have had more of the grey days recently, and I woke this morning to fog.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is not to be persuaded by the grey that there is no point going out. There will be colour, somewhere. There will be leaves on the ground that are bright even when the branches are bare. There will be the dark reds of hawthorn berries and the purples of sloes. There will be birds. There may be breaks in the cloud and moments of sun that brighten everything. Once outside, there will at the very least be more diversity in the grey than I can see from my windows.

I find winter hard, but I try to make the best of it. I think you can honour and respect a season without having to love it. I also think it is important to treat your own emotional responses with respect rather than putting yourself under pressure to feel what you think you are supposed to feel about seasons and festivals.


Signs of Winter

November can be decidedly wintery in the UK. Yesterday we had the first frost, and I thought about the September in my late teens when I camped at a folk festival and had ice on my tent. Autumns are definitely warmer than they used to be.

Frost is, without any doubt, a sign that winter is on the way. However, we’re certainly not done with autumn. Many of the trees not only still have their leaves, but those leaves have a significant amount of green on them. While it is getting colder, it isn’t all that cold most of the time – I’m still not reliably needing to have heaters on at night, and coats are not always necessary during the day.

Climate chaos is confusing. We’ve had some absolute deluges, and the heavy rain is unpredictable. As someone who mostly walks for transport, this really impacts on me. I don’t have waterproof gear that is waterproof enough to stand up to the kinds of rainstorms we’re now getting. In the colder weather, being soaked to the skin is really unpleasant. I don’t want to be trapped inside. But sometimes, it seems that a dry suit designed for water sports is about the only thing that might stand a chance of keeping the rain out.


Seasonally out of kilter

I’ve had a few periods in my life where, despite my best efforts I’ve not felt connected to the season. Getting outside and being with wild things under an open sky is a longstanding part of how I do my Druidry. Health permitting, I walk every day – there have been times when poor health has been the reason for my disconnection. Usually, that time outside allows me to engage with what’s happening. I see the changes in plants, insects, creatures, I see what the trees are doing, I experience the temperature and weather conditions and I am properly inside each season as it unfolds.

Currently I’m out of kilter. Part of this is me. I spent September frozen. I walked regularly, but I wasn’t feeling anything much and even though I made the effort to try and connect, I was doing so from inside a glacier, emotionally speaking. I’ve had this sort of thing happen before and the only answer is patience and persistence. Depression can leave me so numb that I don’t feel anything of what’s going on around me and I lose my sense of joy in the wild things. These frozen times pass. I think I’m experiencing a thaw at the moment.

However, as my emotional state thaws, I’m still finding myself out of kilter with the season. This is because the season is out of kilter. It’s mid October, and many of the trees haven’t even started to change their leaf colour. It wasn’t so long ago that leaf colour went autumnal reliably in September and you could expect the leaves to be down by Samhain in this part of the world.

A few days ago I saw my first catkins. I’ve never seen hazel catkins on a tree this early before, and I’ve never seen them on a tree that also had green leaves on it before. I have no idea what that tree is doing. Maybe the tree doesn’t know either.

This is climate chaos in action. Calling it climate change suggests a process with some coherence to it. That would be more feasible for living things to adapt to. What we have is chaos. Unpredictable, unseasonal temperatures. Storms. Hot days in the normally cold part of the year, and back in the summer, really cold days. I’m out of kilter, but in some ways that means I am more in harmony with what’s going on than I would be if I clung to the idea of what this time of year is supposed to be like. I don’t enjoy it, but I know how important it is to engage with what’s happening, not what we think should be happening.


Seasonal windows

One of the key shifts in the seasons, for me, is the point at which I have to start closing windows at night. Most years this means there will be a few nights where the indoor temperature gets very low before I’ll admit that I really do have to shut the windows. It’s always hard and an unhappy moment.

When the windows are open, the internal home space is much more connected to the outside world. Bird song is a constant during the day. I can hear the nearby stream from the bedroom. Owls are much more audible at night. Closing the windows shuts out an entire soundscape. I can no longer hear the wind in the trees, or the leaves skittering about. It is a loss I feel keenly. Of course it also comes at the time of year when sitting outside is getting to be a good deal less viable as well.

I will get outside more days than not, and I spend time at the closed windows, but my relationship with all that is wild and natural changes at this point in the year. My body is not robust enough to tolerate getting cold – that makes me even more sore and stiff than I would otherwise be.

What I crave is some sort of sheltered, permeable space that would work all year round. Living in an upstairs flat, there’s no liminal space I can sit in. There are outside spaces here, but nothing sheltered and I am not allowed to put up a small shelter. It would make worlds of difference to me to have a space where I could sit in all weathers and seasons, be dry and out of the worst of the wind, and also not entirely indoors. With my own garden, this would be easy to achieve.


Summer turns to autumn

The journey into autumn has certainly begun in my part of the world. The blackberries were early this year. The hawthorn berries have ripened to deep red, and the somewhat diseased horse chestnut outside my window is getting into autumn leaf colours. The tree always does this, and has survived with its diseases for many years at this point.

I’m conscious of the changing light levels. I find the lack of natural darkness difficult around midsummer, and do better with sleep during the part of the year when there’s simply more darkness available. So I’m feeling my body ease into that calmer state of having more time in proper darkness. It comes as a relief.

The days are cooler, but that could change again, sometimes autumn is warmer than late summer. The feeling in the air is different in the morning – first thing in the morning is always the time when I most notice this seasonal shift. It coincides with back-to-school, although we are not back-to-school any more. We’re a few weeks from off-to-university, and another shift that is bigger than the seasonal process, but aligned with it.

This summer behind me did not feel like a summer at all – either so hot that I couldn’t be outside, or weirdly cold. Thanks to lockdown and my inclination to remain cautious, the summer had very little of my normal summer activities in it. This whole year has been weird on that score, nothing has felt rightly itself.

I head towards autumn feeling emotionally engaged with this season of loss and falling away. Whether that will last is another question. It’s important to me right now to remember that autumn is also when you plant some things – anything you want to have come up in the spring, for a start. Trees are best moved or planted in late autumn. Many creatures become pregnant in the autumn to give birth in the spring. The falling away is not the whole story of this season, and it is not the whole story for any falling away period in a person’s life, either.

 


Summer subtleties

Once we get into summer, the season can feel a bit like a solid block of experience. There have been flowers since the spring, there are flowers now. We may look for early signs of autumn instead for a sense of the seasonal. Those are certainly present – the hawthorn and elder both have small green fruit starting to swell and ripen.

In practice, there’s a lot of nuance in the flowers at this time of year. Seeing it depends on paying attention to the details. There are big swathes of flowers out there, but some flowers come later in the season than the others. The purple loosestrife is at its peak right now, while the meadowsweet is starting to die back. The teasels are flowering, the thistles are producing fluffy seeds. On the ragwort, the cinnabar moth caterpillars are large, and fat, or disappearing as they head for cocoons.

Every day, something is different. Seeing the difference depends on re-visiting and familiarity. Seasonal shifts are subtle processes and the less time a person spends looking for them, the harder it is to read.

There are more teenage birds about, but some birds are into their second and third clutches, so there are young birds around at all different stages of development.

One of the hardest things for me this year has been seeing which trees haven’t come into leaf at all. Some of them were always late, and I kept watching and waiting and hoping. There is a large, ancient hawthorn that stands beside a spring near one of the paths. It was a magical tree, but this summer there have been no signs of life. I don’t know when exactly it died, or how long it may continue to stand in this state. Life goes on within in it and on it – it is still a habitat and still supporting a lot of other life.

Dying away is not just an activity for the autumn. The grass on the commons is already well under way with its own death. Many of the early flowers have already died back. Summer is as much a time of death as it is a time of high energy.


Body, Seasons, Druidry

When we talk about the wheel of the year and the seasons in Druidry, most often what we’re talking about is external to us. Things in nature that we might observe, or contemplate from a safe distance.

In practice our primary way of experiencing the seasons is through our own bodies. It occurs to me that I’ve not seen anyone explore it on these terms (if you know otherwise, please do leave a comment).

Often a body experience of a season is about having to mitigate the effects of it. How does that work in terms of communing with nature? If we’re doing seasonal stuff for spiritual reasons, should we not embrace the season? Is our adapting natural, and therefore something to work with, or is it a denial of what’s going on? I could make a case either way, but I think the main consideration has to be… what works for you?

It is summer. We’ve had some really hot days. I adapt by wearing less, staying indoors in the middle of the day, and not moving too much if I can help it. Getting out there for some sun worship would likely make me ill. In winter I have to do other things to mitigate against the cold and to deal with the risks of falling. My response to the seasons is always to try and keep my body in a state where it’s not being overloaded.

The seasons should impact on our bodies in terms of what is available to eat. Whether we favour raw or cooked food can be a seasonal consideration. Our work may be seasonal, and what we do to take care of our homes may well also have a strong seasonal angle. How we travel, how we feel about going out, even who we spend time with can be informed by the season. These are all things we will experience primarily inside ourselves as part of a personal relationship with the time of year.

Summer means bare feet. But it also means grumpy lymph glands, sore skin and the scope for puffy ankles. It means hayfever – as the plants try to have sex with my face. Heat will make me ill if there’s a lot of it. Summer means watching my blood pressure and electrolytes and making sure I stay hydrated without washing too much useful stuff out of my body. Sometimes it means the comfort of warm sun on my skin and the pleasure of sitting on the grass.

These are all everyday, fairly mundane things, easily overlooked. But at the same time, this day to day stuff is how I live the season and how I feel it in my body. It is my most immediate experience. It lacks for drama most of the time, it doesn’t have the big narrative energy of the things we like to say about the wheel of the year. It’s not especially mystical. But, as a process of rooting my Druidry in my lived experience it strikes me as an important one and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to see it on these terms.


Temperature and Season

I think of May as a warm month, and my experience of it in previous years has certainly been that way. This year going outside for me means hats, scarves, gloves, jumpers and/or jackets. It is my relationship with the season that has changed, not the season itself.

In previous years my experience of May has predominantly involved being outside during the day. I assume it is warm out there in the sunny hours. My flat is a bit like a cave and tends to remain cool in warm weather, so if I stay in, I do not experience much of the heat of the day. I am of course mostly staying in, so the warmth of May isn’t an experience for me.

I’m walking at night and in the early morning, for the greater part. Even once the sun is up, it is really cold out there. Some places the old can be deep and piercing in the early morning. Gloves are essential.

What struck me, coming home today is that of course the coldness of May has always been there, I just don’t usually partake of it. I’ve done my share of midsummer and summer solstice vigils, I know how cold the summer nights can be. I just don’t usually have that be my dominant experience. Of course most UK mammals are active at night. This is how bats and owls experience this time of year – as cold.

It’s so easy to fall into a simple, single narrative about what something is, or means. But there are always other experiences, other meanings and other possibilities. This year, May is cold for me and I need to wrap up warm to go out. My understanding of what May is, has expanded accordingly.

 


Spring and courting birds

I expect there are a great many birds out there right now establishing territories and seeking mates. I don’t know all of my feathered neighbours well enough to spot the changes in what they do. However, the blackbirds and woodpeckers have been really noticeable over the weekend.

The blackbirds seem – in so far as I can tell – to be squabbling. It doesn’t look much like courtship at this stage, more like figuring out who gets which spot. I’ve stepped outside repeatedly only to find them making a great deal of noise and chasing each other off. It’s not always easy with birds to work out whether chasing is about the desire to catch or the intention to move the other bird on. However, the tone seems irate to me.

The woodpeckers are simply making a lot of noise – often I don’t see the birds themselves. I hear their loud calls even through closed windows, and they’ve been doing this for some days. It’s rare to hear them normally, the intensity of calling has definitely gone up. I am inferring courtship, but this could be about territory. Most of my reason for inferring courtship is that I know they’ve bred round here in previous years. You don’t tend to get as high a population density in woodpeckers as you do in blackbirds so boundaries may be less of an issue. Yesterday I saw a pair of woodpeckers in flight – some distance from home, but possibly the same ones.

What I notice and what I infer may tell me things about what’s on my mind. I do not assume messages from any other source when I notice things in this way. The blackbirds and woodpeckers are busy with their own lives. Any meaning I take from them pertains to me, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. Nature does not exist simply to send us messages and guide us.


Imbolc in nature

Round here, the snowdrops and catkins come out typically a week or two before the calendar date for Imbolc. So, if you go with the date, these seasonal markers aren’t the ones to focus on. If there are pregnant or lactating sheep in area, I don’t get to see them.

What does appear reliably at this time of year, are elf caps. These are a small, red fungi (see the video below for examples!). They have a much longer season over all, but where I live, they are absolutely something that shows up for the start of February.

The relationship between what the rest of nature is doing, and the calendar date varies according to where you live. Druidry can be a bit generic about seasonal celebration, which I think is a real weakness. We need to dig in with whatever we’ve got where we live, and make that the focus, or shift our dates so they match what the season means to us.