Tag Archives: spring

Spring in the microclimates

Stroud has a lot of microclimates. The folds of the land, and how they catch the sun at this time of year produces little spots that are not only a bit different in climate when you enter them, but can even have different relationships with the seasons.

Over the weekend I found a south facing bank, protected from the wind. On it there were violets and wood anemones, in bloom. It’ll be some weeks before those show up at some other spots around here. Wood anemones usually bloom with the garlic and bluebells, in early May.

The shape of the land in relation to the sun equally creates places that are darker for longer, where frost and snow linger after everything else has melted.

The process of winter turning into spring, from Imbolc to the spring equinox, is complex. It doesn’t all move at the same speed even over a small geographical area. The seasons are not events, but a day by day shifting of warmth, light, growth and life. If we focus too much on the seasons, or on specific Pagan festivals, we can easily miss the details. It is all about the details really – our arbitrary divisions of the year into four seasons and eight festivals is misleading and can take us away from the everyday nature of seasonal change.

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Early Spring

This is a small film I made a few week ago – the season has moved on so this is out of date, but I’m sharing it anyway!

 

I made this film for my Patreon channel – they got it the week it was filmed. I’m interested in what I can do combining basic camera footage, words, natural soundscapes… the physical relationship between my body and the technology and the differences between how the technology experiences my moving through a space, and how I do.


Signs of spring

Where I live, there have been many signs of spring during the last week. It would be normal to see celandines, catkins and snowdrops by this time in any year. Some of the fruit trees blossoming don’t seem too early either, but I’m seeing other signs of spring that I wouldn’t normally expect before March, and sometimes later.

There are leaves unfurling. I found a hawthorn tree with quite a lot of leaves on it. Willows are starting to come out and other plants as well. These are early.

The cleavers are up – again, late February doesn’t seem like quite the right time for this, but here they are. The garlic is also starting to show leaf tips emerging. That’s very early.

Yesterday I went walking and at several points was down to bare arms because I was too hot. On this occasion, my bare skin cannot be ascribed to a hot flush. It was warm enough that Tom took off his jumper. Tom is the sort of person to wear three layers of jumpers in the winter. He definitely isn’t having hot flushes.

This, I suppose, is one of the kinder faces climate change can wear. Being warm and enjoying the sunlight is so nice, that it is easy to overlook what’s causing it. A bit warmer in February is pleasant. A bit warmer in July – as with last July, can be overwhelming and lethal.

We had a frost overnight. That’s considerably more normal than warm sun and bare arms.

We all know there’s a climate crisis. And yet, all around me I see people carrying on absolutely as normal. The roads are chocked with cars at busy times. Perhaps everyone is waiting for someone else to sort it out.


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.