Tag Archives: spring

Bird song and signs of spring

Over the last few weeks (pausing for snow) there’s been a notable increase in bird song. This is because birds are establishing and asserting territories and looking for mates, or pair bonding in established relationships. Any time I’ve been outside in the daylight, the increased sun has been apparent. It’s a reminder that, while it is still cold out there, the wheel of the year turns towards spring.

Much of winter is not spent sleeping and waiting. What the birds are doing now is part of the preparation for the nesting to come. Spring does not happen magically out of nowhere.

One of the surprise consequences of being alert to bird song, was stepping outside a few days ago and hearing a call I was pretty sure I’d never heard before. The light conditions were poor, and although I could see the three birds making the sounds, I could pick out no identifying features. Tom went online and described what we’d head ‘as if angry insects were making a dial tone’.

They were corncrakes. We’ve since listened to recordings online, and confirmed it. They aren’t supposed to be here this early in the year, but the friend who identified them has had multiple encounters with what are likely the same birds, just a few miles further away.

My first thought is that climate change is shifting patterns of weather and behaviour. A few years ago I had a very clear sighting of a flock of waxwings, only to be told on Twitter that it was far too late in the year and I couldn’t possibly have seen them… My second thought is that I doubt the research into the precise habits of birds is as detailed as it could be. Any pattern of behaviour will produce a set of averages, but how much we know about the less-average behaviour, I’m not sure.

There are also biases in how we collect data. For example, most of the material I’ve read on otters describes a large territory and a roaming pattern of feeding within it. This is actually the pattern for dog otters and it turns out we don’t know so much about what females, and females with cubs actually do.

This is one of the reasons it is so important to engage personally and directly with what’s around you. The notions about what a species does are general, not specific, and what happens where you live may buck the trend.

More about corncrakes – including a video of the insect telephone noise here – https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/corncrake/


Feeling and listening to the spring

Yesterday’s post was very much about the visual side of the season, so, for balance, some more thoughts about experiencing the season with your body.

It is of course the point in the year when windows can more reliably be open. So long as you don’t fill your home with artificial noise, you can let the sounds of spring in. The birds are singing a lot more now than they were a few weeks ago – lots of territorial cries, alarm calls to protect nests, and communication between mates. Blackbirds singing the sun down is one of the great things about summer, for me, and they’re getting into that now.

With the windows open after dark, I can often hear owls. Sometimes I hear foxes and badgers at night. There’s a lot to be gained by listening to the spring from inside your own home. If you can get out, then the sound of wind in leaves is now a possibility while the undergrowth is lively with birds and rodents. There’s the hum of insects, and the prospect of that increasing in coming months.

I experience a distinct shift when I can go outside in the daytime without a coat, and a second such shift when I can be out at night without one. Not needing gloves changes how I experience the world around me. Able to shift from my heavy walking boots to lighter summer shoes means I feel more of the ground. Lighter clothing allows sun and breezes access to my skin. On drier days I can sit on the ground for short periods, and feel the earth with my body and the plants touching me.

With more growing, there’s more to sniff, and more to eat. I like nibbling from hedgerows – it’s something I’ve written about before, along with the sniffing. It creates a powerful and immediate connection with a place. It is important to know what you can safely put in your mouth.

If we just look at nature, we place ourselves on the outside, as observers viewing the scenery. To be participants, we need to bring our whole bodies into play and use all the senses at our disposal. Looking at nature isn’t the only way of connecting with it, and not being able to look at it need not be a barrier to connection.

Leaves and sky

One of the things to love about this time of year is the beauty of bright new leaves framed by bright blue skies. While the leaves have been unfurling in my locality for weeks, we’ve now got to the point where most trees have at least something going on. More importantly for me, the beech leaves are out.

I live in an area dominated by beeches – the hanging beech woods of the Cotswolds helped shape my childhood. I feel less homesick when I’m away in places that also have beeches. Around beech trees, I feel more rooted and connected. When beech trees first open their leaves, they are an incredible, radiant green. This will slowly darken over the summer, but right now, it’s wild and vibrant. Look up at a beech tree with its stunning new leaves glowing against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, and for me, that’s pure magic. It fills me with feelings of wonder and delight.

Copper beeches are also a thing. Usually, chlorophyll is green, but it can also be red, and it’s the red chlorophyll that gives us the copper beeches. As their leaves first open, they look like they’re on fire. I’m blessed with two copper beeches close to home.

Experiences of wonder and beauty are as much about how we look at the world as what’s around us. Every day has scope for beauty in it if you’re willing to take a little time and look.

Return of the green

Greenness has been returning to my local landscape for weeks now. The slow unfurling of buds, the return of undergrowth, the shift in colour. The re-greening of spring is a long process, not an event. As I get outside every day in the normal scheme of things, I engage with this aspect of spring on a daily basis. I can heartily recommend it.

There have been years when I’ve failed to engage with the spring – mental health issues have been a big part of that. Experiencing it not as a daily development but as a dramatic moment is easier when you aren’t properly paying attention. That in turn is disorientating and has, in some years, left me with a profound sense of dislocation from the season.

‘Out into nature’ doesn’t have to be a big or difficult project. If there is anything non-human living where you do, then there’s scope to engage. Grass changes colour with the spring, becoming much more lush as it starts growing again. Flowers and small plants, even saplings will grow in the least promising of places. Any neglected ‘wasteland’ is soon reclaimed. Nature is not away, somewhere pristine and free from human meddling. Nature is with us all the time. Street trees do not consider themselves inferior to forest growth. The sparrows roosting in the street trees do not consider the trees to be anything other than their proper home.

When I was out yesterday, it felt like the greenery had reached a critical point. It no longer felt like it was getting started, and now feels like it is all under way out there. The green has returned. Small, opening leaves are everywhere. From a distance, the trees can look pretty bare, but up close, the unfurling is obvious. It’s also the smaller trees that leaf first – taking advantage of the light before taller trees get going – so to see what’s going on, you can’t view the wood as a whole thing from a distance.

For me, connecting with the plants is one of the easiest ways to connect with spring energy. Even if I’m not feeling so lively myself, I can delight in watching everything grow.

A sudden spring

Last Friday when we walked through the wood it was all much as it had been through the winter. There were buds fattening, but that was all. We walked through the same wood two days later, and everything had changed. The brown of dead leaves covering the ground had been replaced by green as the wild garlic had come through. Elder leaves were unfurling in earnest – they always are early in that spot. The wild plum had produced its first flowers.

This is a route I usually walk several times over a week, so I know its habits well and watch it for seasonal changes. Going from brown to green so quickly startled me. But then, the Friday had been warm enough to be without a coat and this had clearly affected the soil.

I read once that as trees feel the approach of spring and gear up, they put out heat – not a vast amount, but enough to give any plants at their base a head start, too.

Last week I blogged about spring walking, and the uncertainties of planning long wanders early in the season. I worried about the cold. What happened instead was that I was stripped down to bare arms at one point in the walk, with too much sun an unexpected issue. I’m not sure if it’s sun stroke or heat stroke that gets me, but I’ve never had to think about either in February before. March yes, but not February.

There were kingcups in flower, the celandines are out and I found some amazing snowdrop patches. I didn’t have a camera, but I plan to change that. I don’t want to spend my time looking at the world through one, but I would like to collect more images of plants through the seasons. More of that as it happens.

The courtship of birds

It’s not something I’ve ever really noticed before, but this year I am seeing the birds courting. They’ve done it all through January. They turn up and forage in pairs, and I’ve been treated to some amazing displays of close flying – small songbirds nipping through the undergrowth, turning and dodging together, a matter of inches apart. No doubt this happens every year at this time, the only change is in my noticing.

In the last few years I’ve become more conscious of other ways in which the essence of spring is distilled in the depths of winter. All the trees have leaf buds on them right now – locked tight against the frosts, but ready nonetheless. The catkins hang, tight and dark, equally ready. On the woodland floor, the bluebells and garlic is already putting up the tips of green shoots. It’s still icy out there, still bitterly cold and with heavy frosts, but the makings of spring are well under way.

This year I have been much more aware of the return of the light, seeing the day increase from one evening to the next. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention in previous years, more that I couldn’t see what was happening. I’m not a winter person, but it isn’t always easy to leave. I’ve come into far too many spring seasons with such a deep chill in my bones, and so much darkness in my mind that I found it hard to make an emotional connection with the shift into spring. I found the journey into winter easier this year, and I am experiencing the journey back out without feeling lost or disconnected.

This isn’t especially about my Druidic work of engaging with the seasons, it’s about an entirely separate emotional journey that does not plug neatly into ideas of the wheel of the year. There’s often a profound disconnect between personal cycles and journeys, and the wheel of the year narrative and that can create a lot of tensions for the dedicated Druid. When life is peaceful and all is well then it can be quite easy to go with the flow of the seasons. However, the challenges of life and the baggage we carry can entirely preclude that. It can be hard to form a relationship with the seasons as you experience them when your own life rhythms are very different. Harder still to engage with the seasonal narrative, which isn’t always the same as what’s happening in your climate.

Depression and winter are a dreadful combination for me. I do not enjoy the darkness or the cold, or the extra challenges the season brings. I struggle with low energy and I entirely get how our ancestors could have wondered about whether the light would ever return. I wonder that – literally and metaphorically, when I am depressed. Being less depressed, I am less affected by all of these things, and curiously more able to recognise the changes for the better. I can feel the year turning. In winters of deep depression, I could not feel it, even when the spring came. Winters of the spirit can alienate us from the actual return of light.

This is not to say that working with the seasons will cure you from depression. It may do the opposite, making it more painfully clear that are not experiencing spring or any kind of return of light. However, overcoming depression undoubtedly makes it easier to work with the seasons.

The Greening

The coming of spring is a very location specific thing. Even across a few miles, sheltered and exposed spots have slightly different seasons. Through March, I’ve watched the greening. The first shoots poking up through the soil have now arrived fully, opening out into garlic leaves, particularly. The elders have unfurled their leaves already, with the hawthorn not far behind. I’m seeing the chestnuts opening, although the black buds of the ash trees seem tightly shut still. I think the beeches will open soon, and the oaks of course always tend to be a bit later.

This time of year brings a rush of new life and colour and that can be uplifting. I was outside yesterday, enjoying the sun, and more especially, the colour. One of the things I really struggle with in winter, can be the loss of colour. Yes, granted grey is a colour, but apparently lots of grey doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s the lack of strong differences. Perhaps it’s the washed out quality of winter colours. I do better when there are bright, cold winter days with blue skies and more intense dark shades for contrast.

I have an emotional dependence on colour. When my environment has very little colour in it, I tend to get melancholy. The relentless beige and magnolia of the hospital where I gave birth really got to me. I’ve struggled with the white walls of this flat, although we’ve inserted what colour we can by other means. January is the time of year I am most motivated to decorate. It’s also the time of year I’m likely to want a mad, psychedelic colour scheme, which isn’t always optimal.

However, painted colours are no substitute for sky and plant colours, and the colours of spring, the yellows of daffodils and primroses are a real joy. I’ve been comforting myself with a chilli plant, and the bright red peppers are cheery, but do not have the same effect as the white of the first blackthorn flowers or the snowdrops. I don’t think it’s simply because of that rush of new life or promise of longer days, either. After the grey days, white is a colour that impacts on me too (in flowers but not in wall colours, I am not sure why!), the vibrancy of white against a washed out winter background, can be startling. The presence of flowers is a thing in its own right.

Green is a wonderful, soulful colour. It is, for me, the colour of life. The green of chlorophyll in plants is a parallel to the blood in human bodies. It is the essence of the plant world, and a key part of most food chains. Green is life, health and hope. Once again, we survived the winter. We did not freeze to death, or starve, and perhaps there’s something very fundamental, ancestral in me which responds to this. The seasons turn, and the greening promises reasons for optimism.

The turning of the year

Somewhere in the last few days there was a shift from tail end of winter to definite spring – the sort of spring that could eventually turn into summer, if we’re lucky. The birds are gathering nesting materials, the blackbirds are singing down the sun with enthusiasm, and there’s a greening in the hedgerows. Buds fatten and the hawthorn is in leaf.

In previous years I’ve been wary of that whole ‘tie your psychological processes to the cycle of the seasons’ malarkey. There are many ways in which it doesn’t work. Winter is a hard and busy time for me, the realities of life are demanding, I do not do the peaceful sleep of the dark time of the year. Mostly it depresses me. However, the practical shift into spring, with longer days, more light, more warmth makes a difference. All the jobs become easier, laundry dries outside, the stove doesn’t need keeping in through the day, and I have more energy to use elsewhere.

My ancestors would have been ploughing and sowing – I can see the work in the fields. They would have had new livestock to care for, so being released from the work of winter would simply have made the work of spring easier for them. Not a time of birthing new plans, but a time of reacting to what the season demands, historically speaking.

I don’t do the rush towards midsummer, but I do have a shift at this time of year. More light means more available working time. Sat in the duvet at 6.30 am I wrote some verses. I wake earlier thanks to the light, too. If the weather is fair, such that regular jobs become easier, then there will be more energy to give to other work. If the evenings are good I can also go back to strolling around sunset, which opens me up to different experiences. This is the time of year when I become less devoted to the radio. There will be more people about walking in the evenings too, so it becomes more sociable. Winter nights on the towpath are quiet.

Nature is not something we have to make a considered, intellectual response to. It’s not a case of noticing spring and recognising it’s time to get those winter-dreamed plans under way. We are nature. We are natural. All we have to do is give ourselves enough space to do what we do and find out what it is. We’ll all have our own cycles and rhythms. The hibernating hedgehog is not more or less right than the migrating swan or the labouring duck. We do what we do. If life requires us to live in ways that are at odds with our natures, we suffer. Most of modern life is arranged so that the majority of us do not have scope to live naturally. I can’t imagine this does us any good. However much time and space you have to be your natural self, embrace it, for this is precious. Don’t do any more than you must to reinforce the unnatural systems we’ve locked ourselves into. A little quiet rebellion goes a long way!

The sun returns

In my memory at least, aside from one week in February and another in April, last year was grey. It rained a shocking amount, and there was nothing even slightly resembling a summer. Well, we have a bit of sun now, and I can only hope that’s not last year’s pattern playing out again.

I didn’t used to be much of a sun worshipper, but have come to appreciate it, in its absence. The good weather for drying washing, the option of having a window open, the not wading through mud or flood on a regular basis. Rural life is not easy in bad weather, especially if you don’t have a car, but in the sun, it’s pure joy. We did quite a long cycle ride today, needing to sort things further afield, and the pleasure of pedalling along (on the downhill bits) was considerable. Being outside on a day like today is a delight, and I feel much more cheerful and alive for the experience.

Come rain, hail or snow I go out most days – unless I’m really ill. There are things to do that cannot be done on the boat – the school run in particular. I can’t claim I always like encountering nature in the raw. Nature can be cold and wet, and not especially forgiving. But when there’s a beautiful sunrise over the misty canal (today) or I’m greeted by a succession of wildlife – yesterday we had a buzzard, heron and kingfisher – that’s inspiring and cheering.

There’s something about colour. I may wear a lot of dark and subtle hues, but I love having colour in my environment. I struggle in the winter with the lack of colour at least as much as with the shortage of light. Today the sky is the most vivid shade of blue, and this makes me happy. The sunsets have been rich and brilliant this week, also wonderful. Soon there will be leaves on the trees again and even in the rain, the world will not be quite so grey. If there’s enough light to show up the fabulous blue iridescence of the kingfisher, so much the better.

I’m hoping for a good sort of year. One with plenty of blue skies in it. One full of opportunity and reasons to smile. We’ve got some fairly epic challenges ahead, as a family, some major upheavals in the offing. The small one changes school and we’ll be moving, and who knows what else? Hopefully these things will be more like adventures and less like stress-fests. But today the sky is blue, and I feel optimistic.

The season of rebirth

There have been springs when I knew I wasn’t feeling it, so much of my life innately wintery that emotionally I couldn’t engage with the return of light and life. Emotional winters are a lot easier when the rest of nature reaffirms them, but once all the nest building and sap rising gets going, it can be hard not feeling like a part of that. This winter has been deep and dark for me. I’ve been really bodily ill, I’ve gone through yet another round of awful depression, I’ve had a real intellectual crisis around my work, and some kind of emotional meltdown to boot.

The sun is out today, the snowdrops are up, and Imbolc approaches. The time of seasonal rebirth is upon us. This year I’m not feeling a barrier between myself and the season. I can go with it. I’ve had some profound revelations about the changes I need to make in my work. Opportunities have opened up, and my body is healing. I have a long legacy of fear and distress to deal with and a pressing need to rediscover myself and figure out who I am. That’s all a part of the rebirthing process, some of it may hurt, but, so be it.

I’m aware of how much my upheavals and dramas impact on the people around me, how they can be interpreted and understood. I’ve been told that, having found the person I claim as my soul mate, I ought to be able to get on with living happily ever after. I think there are times when Tom feels he ought to be able to magically fix everything for me. Of course that’s rubbish, and the love of other people is never going to save anyone. Support, comfort, friendship, patience and encouragement are incredibly valuable, but you cannot forcibly love someone out of depression or personal crisis. You can just keep holding them and reminding them how to keep going. Rebirth is not the same as birth – no one else can do it for you, or to you.

That said love has always been an essential part of life for me. Love where what you give is returned, is a healing and inspiring experience. Love that seems one sided, that becomes an excuse to cause pain, love that is all about demand, and ownership, and control, is only love in name, and what it does, day after day is to make it harder to give and to care. I’m starting to recognise how shut down I’ve become, how unwilling to share my heart. It’s not just a fear of rejection, it’s a fear that I am somehow an affront to other people. That’s my history speaking. I’ve been told how destructive and hurtful my love can be, but I don’t have to believe that any more.

The sap is rising, and by slow degrees I can feel my heart opening up again. Tragic news stories make me want to cry. But that’s okay, and perhaps as it should be. Depression is a non-feeling state, a defensive retreat from painful excess. I don’t want to be there anymore. I do want to care, and feel, and open my heart and give more freely of myself. I know that birth is a messy, visceral, dangerous and painful sort of process. Without birth, you don’t get life. Time to come out of the darkness and learn how to love again. How to love life, and people and places. Also, how to love myself, which has always been beyond me. That needs to change.

I’ll end with some lovely words from a February song by Jehanne Meta

I’ll not expect this year to bring
A fortune then, or anything
But love, and just the chance to sing
All these new songs in my pocket.

I’m working on the new songs, too.