Tag Archives: summer

Michaelmas Daisies Are Confusing

Apparently Michaelmas daisies aren’t native to the UK, but were introduced from America in the 1700s! They grow enthusiastically at this time of year, and the bees and butterflies like them.

To further confuse matters, this isn’t Michaelmas – that’s in September.

But here they are anyway, cheerfully flowering in a green space near the centre of town. I see them a lot on roadsides. They are an iconic summer plant for me.

Although for further confusion, since I first posted this blog it’s been pointed out to me that these may not be Michaelmas daises at all, but Oxeye daisies, and I still have no idea (having looked at the internet) how you would tell them apart! It’s quite possibly the case that some of the other images for Michaelmas daisies online were actually oxeye daises and that there are different schools of daisy naming and that it isn’t just me!


Singing at the end of summer

Seasons seldom end in clear cut ways in the UK. We move from summer towards autumn and some parts of the day are significantly more autumnal than others. I noted recently about the way early mornings feel like autumn long before anything else does. Now the evenings are drawing in and the nights are colder, autumn is also here after dark.

In the daytime, it is still summery and can be quite hot. However, the days are much shorter than they were back in the summer, and this means we’ve reached the end of singing outside season. This has been an important part of summer for me both this year and last year. Amidst all the covid hazards and limitations, it’s been evident that meeting up outside is reasonably safe. I’ve run a singing circle in the park once a week.

When we started singing in 2020 the level of hazard presented by singing wasn’t clear, and there had been a lot of government restrictions on singing indoors. However, all the other evidence suggested that air flow seemed to be one of the biggest factors in people catching covid. In a well ventilated indoors space, the chances of catching it are low. A small group of people outside didn’t seem like a big risk, and we’re able to spread out and not sing into each other’s faces. We’ve all been covid-free around this.

Singing outside has been a major part of my social contact. It’s also not as demanding as socialising, because people can just bring the words for songs and take it in turns. Emerging from isolation, and most of us being either introverts or ominverts, it has been good to have that extra crutch and not need to figure out so much about how to talk to other people.

The evenings have been drawing in for some time. Darkness marks the end of the session, in part because the jackdaws come into roost and they aren’t quiet, and the key of jackdaw is challenging for human singers. Also it gets cold after dark. We’ve hit the point where this all happens too early in the evening to have a decent session, and it won’t be long before sitting out in the evenings is too cold anyway.

This autumn we may still be allowed to meet up inside. We may have some options for sheltered daytime singing sessions. I’m exploring the options. Singing has been a big part of how I’m sociable for a long time, and I hope I can keep it going through the winter without putting anyone at significant risk.


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.


Not a sun worshipper

I’m not great in the heat. I’m not the sort of person to rush enthusiastically into the blazing sun with the expectation of being able to do stuff. However, the sun and the summer are part of the natural world, and furthermore, I pledged some time ago that I would undertake to love the world as climate chaos manifests, and not in spite of it.

How does a Pagan who does not cope well with hot weather honour the sun while trying not to go out in it?

On some of the really hot days I’ve been unable to function at all in the afternoon. I’ve had to flop out, and this has meant being entirely focused on the conditions, as I could think of little else. It’s possible to be intensely involved with the sun and the heat without being directly exposed.

I’m outside more at twilight. For me, the summer evenings and the night time are central to how I experience summer, because I can safely go out and do stuff. Twilight is as much part of the summer as the sun is, and many creatures are abroad at this time who also avoid the heat of the day. As the air cools, I notice where the ground and the brickwork are still hot from the day. I experience the residual heat. There’s something magical about being able to feel cold at night when the day has felt like being in a furnace.

Experiencing the sun is very different if you are under trees. This landscape should be wooded. Most of our ancestors had far more access to trees than we do. I’m lucky in that there is a shady cycle path close to my home, and I can be out on it without overheating. You can experience the sun in nature without being directly under the sky.

Humans do some rather odd things in response to heat when you compare us to other mammals. That we work, and don’t normally change our sleeping and eating habits in response to the conditions is unusual. Most mammals aren’t active when it’s hot. Anyone wearing a fur coat is obliged to take things gently in hot conditions. Anyone who isn’t wearing a fur coat is at high risk of sunburn.

I spent some time with some pigs recently, and in the hot part of the day they just flopped out in the shade. Many of us are not cut out for sun worship, and there’s nothing unnatural or un-Pagan about that.


Heading towards the solstice

Recently I wrote about the limitations I’m facing around pilgrimage and my desire to see some of the specific seasonal plants. There are plants I become particularly obsessed with. However, there are seasonal plants outside my door. While my ideas about how I want to engage with the season have been thwarted, my actual ability to engage with the season isn’t really that compromised.

A very short distance from my home, the buttercups are flowering exuberantly. I don’t have to go far to see how glorious they are in the fields, even if I don’t get into the fields. The cranesbill is out, and the campions. There are foxgloves on one of my regular routes. They are glorious, and extravagant, and I am very fond of them as part of the summer.

I have a small pot garden, and a few wild seasonal plants have shown up there – granny bonnets, wood avens, ragged robin…  I’ve got small plants whose names I don’t know cheerfully blooming. The grass is full of daisies, and I’m also really appreciating the groundsman who doesn’t mow very often and lets things flower.

I may yearn for particular encounters with specific plants and landscapes, but the season is here. Summer is right outside my door. Seasonal expressions are all around me. It’s important not to lose track of that through focusing on what I can’t have.


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.


At the end of summer

It has been an odd summer to say the least. Climate change is very much with us and climate chaos is clearly our new, abnormal norm. There have been days of intense, unbearable heat. There have been many days of torrential rain. High winds have brought down trees. Some days have been so cold and grey that it’s felt like late autumn.

For anyone whose spiritual life is connected to the wheel of the year, this is challenging stuff. Our stories about what the seasons mean aren’t going to hold up in face of climate chaos. The things we look for in the wild world won’t happen when we expect them to. It’s disorientating. To be a nature-worshipper with the natural world in a state of wounded disorder, is to also feel that woundedness.

The sun cycles are dependable – the nights are drawing in, and the dawns are a little later. The quality of light when I first wake has changed, feeling less like summer and more like autumn. But, what does autumn mean this year? We could have a late burst of summer weather – it’s happened before. We could be plunged further into cold, damp darkness under heavy cloud and relentless rain. Harvests are already suffering. It will not be a season of bounty.

I’ve taken a decision in recent weeks that is going to influence how I do my Druidry. I am alarmed and distressed by what’s happening, and the reasons for it, and the lack of political will to deal with the harm we do. But I also know I can’t live like that. Climate chaos is probably here to stay. I have to be able to make sense of my days, and I do not want to feel radically out of kilter with the wild world around me. So I have taken the decision to love the excess. I’m going to love the wild, lashing rain, the flash floods and the challenges they bring me. I’m going to love the high winds, no matter what damage they do. I am going to love the extremes of temperature even when I have to also hide from it. I am going to open my heart to all these things and make room for them and live with them.

Wounded beings lash out, even when you try to help them. This is no different. A being I love – this living planet – is wounded, and lashing out. I will undertake to love her anyway.


Flowers, margins and trees

Where I live, we’re now at the point in the year when the summer flowering has begun in earnest. Many of the spring flowers appear in the woodlands – getting in before the canopies closer over. The summer flowers can generally be found at the margins – woodland edges, alongside hedges and on road verges. My locality is blessed with some large open commons where orchids and cowslips bloom in profusion at this time of year. We also have a lot of fields that are rich in wildflowers.

There’s been a great deal of intense growth in recent weeks. The cowparsley now comes up to my waist. The cleavers are, where they can lean on anything, about the same height. Ragged Robins, campions, great hairy willowherb, tall grasses and all manner of other wild flowers abound. Beautiful to look at, sometimes challenging for the nose and eyes!

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Margins tend to be the places with most biodiversity. The edges of woodlands are especially lively places. What ideally we need are large woodlands with plenty of room for open glades, thus maximising the scope for life. Butterflies especially like this kind of habitat. One of the reasons cutting small areas of woodland in cycles is good, is that you open up more margins.

Of course to many people this seems unnatural – humans manipulating nature. However, you have to consider what is no longer in most of our woods. We don’t have wild cows, let alone giant aurochs. We don’t have wild boar in most woods, or wild horses or ponies or anything else that might clear out areas of low growth. We used to have these larger mammals. We also used to have beavers.  It is their activity, in the past, that would have created clearings, and in the case of beavers, would have created pools as well.

The other major mechanism for naturally creating clearings is the death of old, massive trees. For this, you have to have a steady supply of massive ancient trees. We don’t have those. There are no giants whose falling will open up a large area – certainly not in most smaller woodlands. We’ve got hundreds of years of work to do if we want to restore them.

Our woodland ecosystems are damaged. If we want the best woodland we can have – and by best I mean most diverse and able to support the most life – we have to help. At least for now. Perhaps one day we’ll have enough woodland to have room to support the boar again. Perhaps the European program to recreate aurochs from what’s left in the DNA of domestic herds will work out… perhaps we’ll have our beavers back to manage water systems and thin out trees. If we get there, we won’t need people to do the work, but in the meantime, people are needed to make up for what’s missing. We have to compensate for the mistakes our ancestors made.

The image in this blog came from The Woodland Trust (with permission) and you can find out more about how The Woodland Trust takes care of woods here – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/why-is-ancient-woodland-special/ 


Summer trees and Druid wanderings

Sometimes the great British summer produces hot days. I’m one of the many people whose body is invariably startled by this. I find in hot weather that being under trees is really the only way of being comfortably outside in the daytime.

Walk through woodland on a scorching hot day, and you’ll be in balmy conditions with a little dampness in the atmosphere and pretty much no risk of sunburn. The bright light that can leave you squinting, and for the long term, more at risk of cataracts doesn’t reach through. Intense sunlight filtered through leaves becomes something gentle, joyful and habitable.

I can’t walk in direct sunlight for any significant time without a hat, and even with a hat, the risk of headaches and queasiness remains high. In woods, I can be out all day in high summer and this just isn’t a problem. I don’t dehydrate as quickly, I don’t feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

In the absence of trees to wander beneath, the shade of a tree in park or garden is always a blessed relief in the height of summer.

There are plenty of reasons to connect the idea of ancient Druidry with the idea of tree lore and tree wisdom. From the Roman reports of Druids meeting in sacred groves to possible etymologies relating the word Druid to names for oak, I am inclined to think of Druids as tree people. The simplest and most powerful tree lore for high summer is that to experience the sun filtered through leaves is kinder and safer than to be under its direct glare.

Many spiritual paths are keen to use light as a metaphor for goodness – ‘enlightenment’ when you think about it, is a word with light in it. At the same time we tend to associate darkness with evil, and these habits of thought are deeply ingrained in our culture. Trees do not offer us light, but gentle and friendly shade, with patterns of shifting light and darkness. Too much light will hurt you, blind you and burn you. Our bodies do not thrive when overexposed to sunlight. We benefit from places of ambiguous light, softer light, and cool shadow.