Tag Archives: winter

Sky through branches

Most of the leaves are off the trees now in the area where I live. One of the more noticeable features of early winter, when there’s no weather drama, comes from this change. Winter is perhaps most easily noticed in terms of cold, storms, frost, snow and so forth, but British winters often aren’t that dramatic. Engaging with the season means noticing what else is going on.

With the leaves down, sky appears where, previously in the year I could not see much sky. The view from the window I sit in when working is dominated by trees. In the summer, my view is mostly leaves. However, I can now see a lot more sky. This can be especially good around sunsets, and sometimes I see the moon through the bare branches.

When I’m walking at this time of year, views become available to me that I just can’t see in summer. Seasonal shifts have a significant impact on my relationship with the land. In some ways, winter can be more expansive, with more sky, bigger horizons, more views into the distance. It’s curious because we tend to associate winter with drawing in, looking inwards and being more interior with spiritual practices. However, it is the time when we might most readily see further, and see more. The bones of the land appear without the leaves to cover them.

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Winds from the east

It is the winds from the east, and the north east, which bring winter where I live. Blowing in from Siberia and the Arctic, these winds also bring migrating swans. Bewick swans spend the summer on the Russian tundra, where they raise their young. They migrate to the UK for the winter, flying at night, using the stars for guidance. Young swans make their first journey with parents so as to learn how to do it. There’s more information here – https://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/saving-wetlands-and-wildlife/saving-wildlife/science-and-action/uk-species/bewicks-swan/

For about three years, I lived in Slimbridge, and then on the canal in the vicinity of Slimbridge – the location of the first Wildlife and Wetland Trust site whose link I shared above. This site was established as a reserve by Peter Scott (son of Scott of the Antarctic) because of the migrating swans. They come to feed on the banks of the Severn during the winter.

While I was living in the village, an older neighbour told me how, when he was a child, the swans would come in incredible numbers and you’d see them flying round the church spire. Swan numbers, like pretty much everything else in the natural world, have been dwindling. It’s now rare to see a migrating swan coming in on a wind from the east early in the morning. It’s happened to me a few times now, and it’s an experience I feel deeply grateful for.

The coming of these winds marks a turn towards colder weather. When it happens varies – the first swan this year showed up in October. Most are coming in now. The colder the weather, the more swans come to Slimbridge – there are other sites migrating swans go to, but the harsher the winter, the further south they head.

Even though I no longer live in Slimbridge and no longer see the bewicks grazing in the fields, they are very much on my mind when the winds come. And this year, I’ve seen several pairs of swans coming in over the hills in the early morning, no doubt heading towards the river.


Season of denial

It turned cold this week. Properly cold, with heavy frost on the ground for my walk to work yesterday. I find myself reluctant to even blog about what’s going on seasonally. The point in the year when temperatures start falling to freezing is always a tough one for me. I can’t find much to enjoy in it. I mostly have to mitigate against it and try to get through.

This morning my hands are desperately sore, and this isn’t a coincidence. Most of me is stiff – there are a lot of things that can hurt in a body that will hurt more if cold.

There can of course be beauty in this season. The sparkle of sunlight on frost, the shapes of bare trees against the sky. Yesterday I saw a kingfisher, and last night the skeins of thin cloud racing past the moon – a few days shy of full – was a dramatic sight. I can find things to be moved, uplifted and filled with wonder by. I can be inspired. But even so, on the whole, I hate the cold and it takes a toll on me.

We had our first snow this week – a brief flurry of fat snowflakes that clearly weren’t going to stick. I worry about the people sleeping rough in this. I worry about the people struggling to stay warm inside their homes. I worry about how long the winter will last.

There are of course a whole array of natural responses to winter. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and wait it out. Bears, hedgehogs and others hibernate. Birds migrate to more hospitable environments. Dying back is normal. Frantically struggling for survival is normal. I can think of fewer examples of creatures who have fun with the snow – foxes play in it, certainly, and otters make slides, but on the whole, happy responses to the dark part of the year may be more of a human thing. Being happy and comfortable in winter tends to depend on accessing those resources and technologies we usually feel set us apart from the rest of nature.


How winter impacts on autumn

For most of my life, my experience of autumn has been coloured by what winter has meant for me. It’s been difficult to enjoy the many lovely things autumn offers, because of the threat of winter. Being cold radically increases my pain levels. I get chilblains. Everything domestic is that bit harder. Winters when there wasn’t enough money to be really warm, have been horrible. I can end up a lot more isolated in winter, and I hate walking on frosty and icy surfaces.

I’ve blogged in the past about how being able to enjoy the winter is a marker of privilege. It’s impossible to enjoy the lead-up to winter when winter itself is a grim prospect.

This year I find myself in a different sort of position. Despite the upheavals of summer, I’m on a really good footing financially. I’ve got the right technology in place to deal with some of winter’s practical issues. In my case that means a de-humidifier, and a really good spin drier. I’ve got good boots and a decent winter coat. I’m thinking about upgrading to an even more waterproof coat for walking in, if I can. Maybe a new pair of waterproof trousers as well. I feel very, very fortunate in all of this. I am aware that for many people, this winter will be as much of a nightmare as any of the winters before it, and for others, struggling in winter is a new problem which they don’t yet have the skills to deal with.

I’m going to make a point of writing about small seasonal shifts this year. Partly I’m doing this because I’m changing my relationship with the dark half of the year. Partly because it’s a good theme to write on. I feel that no longer struggling quite so much, I might be more comfortable talking about what’s hard in the darker months. Often it’s easier to write about something when I’m not living in it.


Winter Dawn Chorus

The dawn chorus is most often talked about as a summer thing, when it can be a dramatic to encounter. It still happens in the winter, but it’s much easier to miss. Birds tend to sing just before and as the sun is rising, and people are perhaps less likely to be outside at this time in winter hoping for bird song. I also have my windows shut, so I’ve got be really alert to hear it.

The winter dawn chorus tends to be very short. This morning there were perhaps a handful of bird voices, a brief exchange of sound and then a falling away into silence. Singing takes energy, and there’s frost on the ground, birds don’t have so much to spare for singing.

To me it sounds like a check in with other birds in area. A quick interaction to see who survived the night, and a statement of having survived. Perhaps there is joy in it, for having got through the night without freezing to death or being eaten by an owl. Coming out of the darkness of a midwinter morning, it sounds to me like defiance and hope, as well. I’m probably projecting but I firmly believe that all living things have their own forms of thoughts and feelings.


Winning at winter

For the second year running, winter is not being the awful, miserable grind I have previously found it to be. Depression and anxiety are with me, but they are at bearable levels. Some of that is about progress I’ve made with my head. Rather a lot of it has an economic angle. Some of it has a social angle. So, here’s the list of things I’ve identified that are helping me win at winter rather than being crushed by it.

  • Better diet and hot food in the day as well as the evening meal.
  • Better heating.

Being cold, and not eating well enough have in the past made me tired, more vulnerable to winter bugs, and just grind me down. In the UK we have far too many people choosing between heating and eating and worse yet, able to do neither. The strain this puts people under is awful.

  • The dehumidifier. No more black mould – a problem of small and under-heated spaces without enough airflow – again this is a poverty issue and widespread. The dehumidifier cost money to buy and money to run, it isn’t an option everyone has. It has also removed the stress of winter laundry, which has been a nightmare for most of my adult life. It is cheaper to buy and run than a tumble drier, more eco-friendly and takes up less space.

Mould in homes causes illness. Damp in homes does properties no good at all, and people no good at all. Chilled, damp bedding does not make for a good night’s sleep. Being unable to keep your clothes clean because you can’t dry it does people no good at all.

  • A social life that doesn’t depend entirely on going out at night.

Winter can be especially isolating. It is physically harder to get out, more demanding and you need more gear – boots, coat, maybe a car. Being able to socialise in the daytime takes a lot of pressure off, as do earlier evening social activities.

  • Getting outside whenever there is sun.

This is good for vitamin D production, improving health and mental wellbeing. It’s also not an option if you have to work in the day or don’t have the outdoor clothes to make it feasible. One of the huge perks of being self employed is being able to structure my day as I please, to a fair degree.

Winning at winter costs money. You need the right gear to be comfortable and well. You need to be able to heat your home, and having hot food has a big impact on morale. There are low or no cost things that can be done with time, energy, ingenuity and a woodstove, but if you don’t have those, it isn’t easy. As winter comes round every year, government strategies that routinely leave the poor and vulnerable unable to deal with it well, are appalling and inexcusable.


No Seasonal Pagan Shaming

Winter. For some of us, it’s a bloody awful time of year. Every year, without fail I see at least one piece online (usually more) that talks about celebrating winter in a way that is not especially kind to people who can’t. There are a lot of people who can’t. If you can joyfully celebrate the cold and dark half of the year – lovely. Have fun with that. It’s important to remember that there are very good reasons why other people can’t – it’s not that we’re lazy, or not trying hard enough, or fair weather Pagans, or failing at Paganism.

The shorter, darker days can really pile it on for people who suffer depression. Gloom and loss of energy make it a lot harder to get out to things or to feel like dealing with people. We may need to hibernate, not celebrate. We may not want to bring our gloom to your celebration.

For those of us with issues around mobility and balance, the mud, ice and frost is a nightmare. Outside becomes a treacherous place. Not everyone can skip along the frosty pavements like Legolas on the side of a mountain. For some of us, the fear of falling includes the fear of damaging an already fragile body. For older and more delicate people, a broken hip can be the beginning of the end and is not something to take lightly.

Celebrating the warm snugness of home and hearth is all well and good, but not everyone can afford it. If winter means choosing between heating and eating, there is nothing much to celebrate, and no resource to spare for joining in with other people’s celebrations. Poverty isn’t always visible or self announcing, people won’t always tell you they can’t afford to have the lights on at night.

Celebrating outside requires warm winter clothes, decent boots, a waterproof coat. Not everyone has or can afford that kind of kit. Not everyone can drive to the wild places in their four by four to go communing with nature whilst wearing their ski gear. It’s really tough going outside and getting cold when you can’t come home and get warm and dry in a reliable way. It’s harder, too, if you’re not eating properly. Cold and hungry are not a good combination, and there’s nothing like being cold for making you hungry. Not everyone has the luxury of a spare pair of outdoor shoes to wear if they get a pair soaked in ritual.

Not everyone loves the winter. Not everyone can. Some of us won’t survive it, killed by the cold and by lack of good food, by illnesses we could not fight off. Some of us will be injured by the conditions and some of us may never get over that. So, if you see someone Pagan-shaming over how people respond to the winter remind them that not everyone has the luxury of being able to celebrate. Not everyone is privileged enough to find winter easy.


Catkins: One of January’s true joys

The Pagan myth that nature is all asleep and quiet now and everything kicks off at Imbolc, is rather brought into question by the beautiful January phenomena that is the catkin. Catkins are the reproductive parts of some trees, they form in late autumn, and flower from January onwards. Thus far this year I have seen open catkins on hazels and alder, while the pussywillow is just starting to open.

Hazel catkins

Hazel catkins

Catkins are small and subtle, you won’t see them unless you get fairly close to the tree and look. But if you do, there they are! They tend to be male and female, and wind pollinated. Male hazel catkins are quite colourful, pussywillow invites stroking (hence the name) and they add a bit of cheer. They are also the promise of life to come, of hazel nuts, new trees, and everything else getting going as we move towards spring.

alder catkins

alder catkins

Nature never really sleeps, something is always happening. The trick is to get past our simplistic notions about what ‘nature’ is doing at any point in the year, and see what’s actually going on around us.

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize...

Pussywillow aka grey willow, although goat willow can also be called pussywillow and willows like to hybridize…

I have an alternative wheel of the year column over at Sage Woman blogs, so if you’d like a monthly prompt for things to celebrate that aren’t a tidy match for the regular wheel of the year narrative, do wander over – http://witchesandpagans.com/sagewoman-blogs/nimue-s-wheel.html

Images in this blog post come from the Woodland Trust website, find out more about trees and tree protection here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/


Seasonal Blues

It is a perfectly reasonable, human thing to struggle with the winter. The shorter days, often with far less sunlight mean those of us in the northern part of the earth are short of vitamin D. Some of us suffer seasonal affective disorder. For some, the cold, the treacherous footing, and the dark nights are a downer. This is the first year in ages where those dark nights haven’t been a real barrier to me having a social life, and that’s in no small part because I’ve now frequently got things to do of a Sunday afternoon.

For anyone whose finances are tight, winter adds extra pressure – for some it means a choice between heating and eating, for some even that choice isn’t available. This is an unkind season, an isolating season, a killing season. Many people roll out of the festive period into the harsh reality of increased debt at the start of the New Year.

I often find there’s a backlash after midwinter festivity – yes, in theory the light is returning, but it seems a long way off, it still gets dark early, it’s still cold, there are a good two months of this to come… but now there’s nothing much to look forward to. The feeling that it should be getting easier can contribute to actually feeling worse about it.

I’m luckier than many people because there are viable solutions for me. I can add colour, warmth and light as needed. I do now have the resources – financial and energetic – to connect with people at this time of year. I have places I can go and things I can do. But I’ve also been on the other side of this, cut off, cold, stuck, and without the resources to change any of it. That’s not a good place to be. If you know someone who could be isolated by this time of year, drop them a line, call them, if it makes sense to show up, show up. It can be a lifeline – in a practical sense and also emotionally.


How to start the day

Back in the summer of 2016, I was ill. More ill than usual, and ill enough to be worried about it. Yet another round of burnout had left me plummeting into depression, but alongside this were increasing signs that my body just couldn’t take the strain any more. I realised that if I didn’t make some radical changes, I could get into serious trouble.

One of the things I did as part of a radical life shift, was to start walking first thing in the morning. Previously I’d been working at the computer by seven am most days. Instead, after the lad left the establishment for school I’d put in a half an hour walk, and hit the keyboard somewhere after eight. It soon became obvious that I was rolling in to work with a clearer head and better concentration, and that some of my ever longer hours had been down to the snail’s pace I’d previously been reduced to.

I promised myself that days would be less than ten hours and weeks would have 2 day weekends, and mostly I’ve stuck to that, and it has helped me enormously.

Walking first thing gets me outside and connected with the natural world. It gets the blood moving, and with my often-sluggish circulation, that’s a real plus. It means I don’t move from bed to workspace of a morning, but get something else in the mix.

It’s really hard, on the days when energy is in short supply, to prioritise walking. Going out first thing knowing I may be compromising my ability to work into the afternoon, is a challenge. Using the time on something for me goes against the grain a bit. But then, how I think about myself is one of the things I’ve had to change to enable me to make progress towards being more well. I had to stop being a resource for others to use, and start being a person. Through this process, I’ve put down a lot of unpaid work, and I’ve changed policy on that. I won’t run round after people who aren’t being nice to me. It’s amazing how much extra time and energy that move has liberated.

During the darkest part of the year, I stopped walking first thing – I hate getting up in the dark, I’m even less keen on going out then. However, there’s now predawn light at the right point in the day, and I’ve gone back to it. I feel good about the early morning walking. I’ll need a more cunning plan for next winter, but I’ve plenty of time to figure that out.