Tag Archives: weather

Druidry, language, the good and the bad

How we label things has a great deal of power. What do we name as desirable, attractive, appealing? What do we tell ourselves is rubbish, useless, second rate? That winter holiday in the sun is generally framed as ‘good’ along with long dry spells in summer. What would happen if we stopped calling long sunny spells ‘beautiful’ and started calling them ‘droughts’?

In the context of climate change, how we talk about the weather is ever more important. Firstly because we are causing weather extremes, and secondly because how we respond to those, can add to the problem. Jetting off in search of winter sun is a case in point here. I grant you, it’s no fun being cold, but if you can afford to fly, you can probably afford fluffy socks and sufficient heating.

Air conditioning with its hydrofluorocarbons and electricity use is a response to hot weather that adds to the climate change fuelling the hot weather. No one enjoys being hot but the question of when to start using energy to cool down, and how much energy to use is an important one.

Extreme heat and cold both kill people, and other living beings too. If we’re increasing the problem when we try to improve our own comfort, we really aren’t winning here.

To be a Druid means, in part to be in service to the land and the wild world. How exactly you phrase that and express it will vary, but this is nature based religion and we have a duty of care to the natural world. It’s also at this point a matter of enlightened self interest – if it was your personal home that could easily end up either on fire, or frozen, you would act to avoid that.

One of the ways in which Druidry, and Paganism as a whole is well placed to help people rethink climate change responses, is through the language of cycles. Accepting the wheel of the year, the seasons and the natural changes in weather makes us better able to live with them. If you are honouring the seasons, it gives you a better basis for working with how things are. Rather than seeing good and bad weather, we can just see weather and look for appropriate responses. We can reframe good weather as weather we can live with, and bad weather as extreme weather that can kill us. If we talk about the dramatic weather climate change is causing, that alone helps. So many people are still in denial about both our role in this and our power to change it.

It’s worth exploring how you talk about climate, and where you describe things as good or bad, problematic or desirable. It’s well worth looking at how our feelings about the weather then translate into our choices about technology we use, and carbon we release into the atmosphere.

Blackbird magic

Photo by Andreas Trepte, http://www.photo-natur.de

Blackbirds sing the sun down, as well as singing it up. To my mind, this makes them threshold guardians for the passage between night and day. In quiet surroundings with a fair density of blackbirds, it’s possible to hear them exchanging fragments of melody. They have huge repertoires.

Being modestly sized garden birds, and birds of the wood and hedge, they can turn up pretty much anywhere that worms might be available.

I am entirely convinced that blackbirds also sing about the weather. Between dusk and dawn, they call individually – alarm cries when there are predators about, the odd moment of song, unless a storm is coming. They can get it wrong but on the whole their weather sense is far ahead of mine. I’ve found this reliable enough that hearing a blackbird rainsong will cause me to bring in the laundry even if I’d thought the sky was ok. They’re usually right.

When the rain, or hail, or snow has stopped, they’ll sing again for a little while.

The photo shows a male blackbird – females are brown and do not do as much singing.

Weather, emotion and pathetic fallacies

‘Pathetic Fallacy’ is one of those terms you run into sooner or later if you study literature. Proper definition here http://literarydevices.net/pathetic-fallacy/ but the gist of it is the mapping of human emotions onto non-human things to get the point across. The classic example would be a story with rain at a funeral. The trouble with funerals in stories is that a bit of them has to happen outside, and therefore there has to be weather, and it impacts on the experience. I remember the weather at every funeral I’ve attended, and as they were all in England, grey and damp has been the norm. The one in torrential rain was interesting because the woman we were burying loved the rain. It felt more like a blessing than an expression of grief, as a consequence. I have a lot of problems with how we put weather into stories, so bear with me while I grumble because how we relate weather and emotion is, I think, rather important.

I type this on a cold, wet day in late July. I’m of somewhat depressed mood. I do not mention the weather because it conveniently expresses something about my feelings, but because it’s influencing them. If today was sunny and dry and I could sit out for a few hours reading and watching the birds, I would be happier. Not as a poetic device, but as a direct consequence of being cheered up by sitting in the sun. It’s not a human foible, this. Most mammals are cheery when they can lounge about and be warm, and sad when they are cold and wet.

There’s a big cause and effect issue here, and a lot depends on which you think causes what. Do we only notice the weather when it speaks to us of ourselves? For me, the weather is a big contributor to mood. Too many wet grey days in a row and I’ve no chance. My being depressed can be wholly separate from the weather, but isn’t immune to it – the sun lifts me, no matter what else is going on.

Inevitably there’s an overlap, because most of us aren’t trained in the use of precise meteorological language, and so are unlikely to talk about low fronts, wind speeds, and the number of centimetres of rain falling in a month. If the weather impacts on us, it does so as an immediate experience. I think because it’s emotionally affecting, we are more likely to frame it in emotional language. Thus a fast wind can seem angry, vengeful, violent simply because of what it does (tearing things and throwing them about) and how it affects us. I do not need to be experiencing inner rage or violence to find the wind threatening simply because of what it can do. If it drops a tree on me, I’m in trouble.

Warm, sunny days seem benevolent, and again I don’t think that’s about imposing a human sentiment onto the world. Sun powers the growth of plants and is the driving force of most ecosystems and life on earth. It seems reasonable to experience it as something benevolent. Rain after drought can also seem benevolent – and is equally life restoring, while torrential rain and flooding are literal threats and easily represented by more aggressive language.

I spend a lot of time watching whirlwinds. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I live in a place that gets them regularly. Tiny whirlwinds a foot or two across that play with the leaf litter. I can see a dozen in a week and it not be unusual. They fascinate me, and regardless of my mood, I see them as playful. If I am full of misery and the world seems a cruel and hostile place, the sun is still benevolent, and the whirlwinds are still playful. My sense of their emotional impact has nothing to do with my inner state, which is a big part of why I question the logic of the pathetic fallacy. I think the deliberate use of, and the inferring of the pathetic fallacy can be about a dislocation from lived experiences of weather and a failure to recognise that all fictional characters need to inhabit places with climates in order to be fully functioning people. They are an opportunity to explore the impact of weather on the psyche, but doing so should not automatically cast weather as reflections of an inner life. It can be deliberately used that way, but I don’t like it as either a strategy or an inference.

(This is a slightly unusual blog post in that it is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, that started over an as-yet unpublished novel of mine, in which there is a lot of rain. The relationship between rain and the inner lives of the characters is important to me, but for me this is not about weather as reflection of inner landscape. John, as ever, thank you for the prompts to go further and think more about things.)

Is mould a climate change issue?

This recent article in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/27/damp-social-housing-residents-heating-energy-bills indicates that mould is a growing problem. Cold, damp houses are natural habitats for mould, which do not make for good air quality and add to respiratory diseases. Part of the problem here is unequivocally poverty – people cannot afford to heat their homes. But is that the whole story?

2000 was the wettest winter on record, with 2012 coming in a narrow second. There are no figures for 2013 yet, but it is moist out there. According to the Met office, “Looking at annual rainfall for the UK, we can see the country as a whole getting wetter in recent decades.” More of that here – http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2013/2012-weather-statistics.

We add moisture to the air in our homes every day. Breathing, washing, and cooking are the main culprits. If there is nowhere for that water to go, no amount of heating your home can keep it dry. If it is wet and humid outside, water will inevitably build up inside and no amount of heating can fight that off forever.

When I was a child, we used to air things. You’d expect to get windows open a few times during the winter, and air out rooms to combat the damp. Washing went outside often enough that you could get away with it. A tumble drier will go a long way to solving that, assuming you can afford to run one. Of course tumble driers use a lot of energy, and if the core problem is climate change, then a tumble drier is like opening the fridge door to tackle global warming.

Cold, damp homes are not healthy. We know that. If winters keep getting wetter, we cannot buy and heat our way out of the problem. We need solutions that do not add to climate change in the first place, as well. We’re brewing a real problem here, alongside all the other many real problems climate change is already causing. Politicians refuse to act, afraid of harming the economy by taking the decisions that would be needed to safeguard our future. They don’t mind ‘tough decisions’ when that means punishing the poor and cutting funds to the most vulnerable, but the economy is sacred and must not be hurt. Except apparently they haven’t figured out that climate change is going to be really bad news for economies, and countries that are not prepared for the flooding, the winds, the wet houses, and all the other technical problems, are not going to have thriving GDPs either. These things are connected.

Being a Druid, the idea that all things are connected comes very naturally to me. We are one big eco-system. What happens in one part affects all the others. It drives me mad that those in power are still clinging on to the magical beliefs of centuries past, that you can do what you like to the planet and it will all be fine. Perhaps they imagine God will put it all right for them? When are we going to let go of the collective fantasy that our actions do not have consequences, and start recognising that the rain, and the mould, and the flooding, and the high winds, the late springs and all the rest of it relate very directly to our activities as a species?

Meanwhile, there is an absolute deluge going on out there.

Wild Weather

by guest blogger Autumn Barlow

There’s a refrain in a song by Tom McRae where he’s chanting under a swell of orchestra. The storm is rising in me; the storm is rising in me; the blood is rising in me; the blood is rising in me.

They send a shiver through my bones, those lines. They swirl around me when the weather is rough – when the wind howls, the rain batters, and something calls me to run through wild places.

When it drizzles, or it’s cold, I’m like anyone else. I light a fire and curl up with a cup of tea, reading a book or listening to music. But when the weather is truly awful I am tugged outside by something deep and visceral.

Maybe it’s about extremes. The raw physicality of being a small, fleshy, fragile human in the grip of something large, impersonal and unpredictably violent is appealing – it reminds me I’m alive, and challenges me to survive. I’ve been caught in a red-hot dust storm on the Lincolnshire Fens, a frightening and unusual experience in theUK. There’s no shelter for miles on these expansive flat fields, and when the sirocco comes in, fromArabiathey say, it tears through your skin and leave behind a fine dust.

Once, I was walking with a friend to Dolgellau over the foothills of Cadair Idris inNorth Wales. This is an area that demands respect. I worked in the Youth Hostel nearby, and more than once the Mountain Rescue were called out for people who’d wanted to test the story that if you survived a night on Cadair Idris, you’d return a poet – or mad. As we reached the highest point of my journey, a sudden and torrential downpour opened up. We were instantly soaked, and found ourselves buffeted from rock to rock, and my friend launched into the most extraordinary one-man recital of King Lear. It seemed the most appropriate thing to do.

Maybe it’s about The Wild Hunt. When the clouds are being thrown across the sky in a boiling mass of shifting, forming, re-forming grey and black and white and yellow, it’s very easy to see the riders pass overhead, the hounds of Annwn with their red ears and eyes, Hereward – my local folk hero – riding with them.

Maybe it’s more mundane. It is true that I enjoy the storm because I know it will end. It’s a safe danger, for all I talk of violence and mortality. I’m not too likely to be hit by lightning or swept up into the clouds to ride with Arawn. I know that there’s only so wet a person can get, and within a few hours I’ll be at home, bathed, warmed, snug and secure.

Right now the storm is rising in me, and I’m putting my fell-running shoes on.

The song I quote is called a & b. Check it out on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0Xtk5BzVpw. More of my day to day blog at http://autumnbarlow.wordpress.com