Tag Archives: seasons

Greeting the sun

Druidry often has a strong solar component to it, and I’m aware of a number of Druids for whom greeting the sun in the morning is definitely a thing.

Like most people, I’ve spent most of my life obliged to live by clock time while ignoring my natural rhythms. However, in the last few years I’ve had much more opportunity to live without alarms in the morning and it’s given me the chance to find out what my body does when left to its own devices.

It turns out that this is a highly seasonal thing for me. I’ve always hated getting up in the dark during the winter. Being able to wake with the light means that I also tend to stay up much later at this point in the year than at any other. During the spring, I wake with the dawn, and that process becomes ever less viable as the hours of light in the day increase. At some point – probably in May, I stop waking with the dawn, and during the summer my sleep patterns tend to be erratic – heat doesn’t help with that. Then as autumn progresses, I start waking with the dawn again.

Now that I’ve had more than a year to think about it, I find it makes perfect sense that I don’t have a fixed relationship with the sun. I’m greatly affected by seasonal shifts, so my body does very different things at different times of year. No doubt other people would respond in different ways. 

I’m also not surprised to find that I’m far more comfortable when I can sleep and wake according to my own needs. Clock time really hasn’t been good for me. I’m fortunate in being in a situation where I can honour my own needs and nature, and I wonder how much human health is impacted by not being able to do that.


Seasonal Walking

It wasn’t so many years ago that I used to do long walks as part of how I connected with the seasons. For the last 18 months or so I’ve been so relentlessly ill that my walking range has dramatically reduced. On a good day now I can go about a mile before I need a serious rest. That’s a hell of a lot more than many people have, and far less than I used to have.

I used to depend on the length of time I spent outside, and on the distance travelled for my feelings of connection to the wild world. I can’t do that now. I have to focus on details and in many ways that’s been good for me. I have to pay more attention and make the most of the time I get outside.

Today I saw that the garlic leaves are emerging from the soil. There are flowers on some of the wild fruit trees. I saw dogs’ mercury, which also has flowers on it. The small birds are very active, and there were also a few crows around where I am not used to seeing crows, so that was interesting. I also saw a heron in flight.

I’m fortunate in where I live. There are trees, fields and waterways right on my doorstep. I don’t have to be able to walk far to encounter some other living being.


Nature at Imbolc

Here in the UK, snowdrops are strongly associated with Imbolc. I saw my first flowers a few days ago, where they have emerged through last year’s dead leaves. A perfect visual metaphor for the year turning.

It’s also a time of year when locally, the elf caps tend to appear, and I’ve seen a few of those in recent days.

Spring also means catkins. Some are open now, but some, like these, are not.


First Frosts

While the first frosts can come a lot earlier in the autumn than they have this year, they are always a sign of the winter to come. For me, they never feel like a good sign. Granted, there is a kind of sharp beauty and clarity that also tends to come with the frosts. Frosty mornings tend to be bright and crisp, and can feature some intensely blue skies. However, cold weather tends to hurt.

My body doesn’t handle the cold well. I get stiff more readily, and I hurt more. I’m never going to appreciate the prettiness of frost with uncomplicated feelings of joy. At the moment I’m enjoying a life where I don’t have to head out on frosty mornings. It’s easier to enjoy the light and the sparkles while not being out there dealing with slippery surfaces. I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to afford to keep my home warm enough not to suffer at the arrival of frosts.

Being able to enjoy the winter tends to involve privilege. Enough money for heating and a body that isn’t threatened by the conditions are key. For some people, the reduced amount of sunlight causes depression. For many, winter is isolating. If you can enjoy the season, that’s lovely and you should do so. But please remember not to berate or shame people who express difficulty. And yes, while it’s true that there are no bad weather conditions, only unsuitable clothing, it is also true that you have to be able to afford that clothing, and not everyone can. A winter without a substantial coat is tough. I’ve been there. 

If it gets cold enough, you can’t wear enough jumpers to make up for not being able to afford to heat your home. If your home is a van, or a boat, if you sleep in your car, or are living in a tent or rough sleeping, winter is a very hard season. You can’t always tell by looking who is dealing with such issues. There are working people in the UK who live in cars and tents and hide it well. Please be gentle with the people who find winter difficult.


Nature at Samhain

Some twenty years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between modern Druid festivals and the wheel of the year as it turns where I live. The solstices and equinoxes make total sense because of their relationship with the length of the day and night and all the impact that has on the rest of nature.

Imbolc is traditionally associated with sheep lactating and with snowdrops. Lammas (which is at the same time as Lugnasadh) is associated with the first of the grain harvests. While lambs don’t reliably appear in the fields this early, we have some obvious markers for these two festivals. Gathering May blossom is traditionally associated with Beltain, and it’s also the time of year when bluebells come out, and when it’s warm enough to be barefoot outside (or to have sex outside, but barefoot is probably more inclusive!). 

I spent a long time considering Samhain. The pumpkin harvest may seem obvious, but pumpkins are from the Americas and not part of UK tradition. If you’re growing them, it may well make sense to take them as a key seasonal marker. Twenty years ago is struck me that the leaves are usually down from the trees by Samhain.

Climate change is impacting on the wheel of the year. How we relate festivals to seasons may need serious consideration in light of this. Do we stay with the ancestral dates? Or do we adapt based on what those dates mean to us? I suspect the answers will be individual. For many people around the world, those ‘Celtic’ dates have never related much to a lived experience of the local seasons anyway.

It is Halloween. Most of the trees in my area still have all their leaves. Many are barely beginning to turn yellow, and there’s a lot of greenery present. There is no sense of the dying year, not yet. It’s still warm enough to be outside without a coat during the day. Grazing animals are still out in the fields. If your focus for Halloween is the idea of bringing animals in and choosing which ones will live, then we aren’t at that point in the year yet, either.


Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.


Signs of summer’s end

For me, the first signs of summer’s end appear last thing at night and first thing in the morning. We sing in a local park most weeks, and last week we had to stop because the jackdaws were coming in to roost, and they are not quiet. The sun is setting that much earlier, and so the end of our session coincides with the start of theirs. The evenings are colder now, and what I might wear for daytime activities really isn’t warm enough for the end of the evening.

The sense of autumn creeping in is strongest in the morning. I’m awake early, when the air is cold. It reminds me of those back-to-school September mornings of my childhood, and more recently, getting James to school. I’m glad not to be doing any of that this year.

I note that the local chestnut trees are doing a lot better this year. They’ve all had some kind of disease for some time now and most years it has meant autumn comes early for them. Their leaves start turning and falling about this time, normally. I think they’ve benefited from it being such a wet summer. There’s still green in their leaves, although they are starting to turn, and the leaves themselves seem a lot less disease-ridden than usual. It’s cheering to think there might be occasional benefits from the climate chaos – clearly not enough to offset the harm being done, but enough to create little pockets of hope.


Blossom on the branches

This is a wild plum that grows on the cycle path near my home. It’s a beautiful tree, and one of the first trees in the area to blossom in early spring. The plums that come from it are very small and tart, and I usually manage to eat one or two in the autumn.

Seeing this tree flower always lifts my spirits. It’s an important marker of the turning year, for me.

The odds are that the tree was planted by someone throwing away a plum stone. Fruit trees are generally propagated via cuttings and grafting because that’s the only way to guarantee what the fruit will be like. Anything that grows from a seed is unpredictable. Even if the fruit it came from wasn’t wild, I think the resulting tree always is, because it wasn’t created by human intent.


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.