We are very close to the midwinter solstice and the shortest day. Physical darkness predominates at this time of year – often during the daylight hours as well. We frequently encounter grey, overcast skies. What a delight it is when we see the winter sun, or perhaps an occasional rainbow.
Even the sight of the full moon’s brightness brings joy.
We yearn for the light in winter and as advent advances, I find myself more and more enjoying not only the warmth of the fire, but also the heart-warming orange glow of the embers.
Irrespective of our religious beliefs, this time of year is very often a time of preparation, and perhaps also reflection. For me, certain activities enhance the sense of anticipation – the printing of a Christmas card in Studio Hundy or cutting greenery from the garden for a garland or door wreath; these are all part of what makes the lead up to Christmas special.
The earth feels as if it is somehow “slumbering” now, but there is still a lot of activity in nature, particularly amongst the many birds that visit our garden.
What a fantastic treat I had earlier in the week when I was refilling the feeder on the tall birch tree. Just before I came down from the ladder, a Long-tailed-tit perched itself on a branch just inches away. A few minutes later a “flock” of 8 to 10 of these beautiful birds arrived. The message was out!
Such synchronicity, given the lino-cut print I had prepared earlier in the month as my Christmas card!
September is well underway. Harvested golden fields shine out across the landscape. Early morning mists and dew fall on cobwebs like glistening jewels.
Bird song has changed – the robin and the blue-tit seem to sing a different tone; or perhaps I’m just noticing them more? An occasional skein of geese fly over our house, with their evocative calls, echoing in the still cool air. And the fruiting process in our garden abounds.
The abundance of summer is gradually drawing to a close – so wonderfully depicted in Keats’ poem:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees,
And fill all fruits with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.
Verse 1 of 3
John Keats 1819
Rowans are often stripped of their berries by this time of year, but those that remain “glow” against the gradually turning foliage.
And the late flowering Rudbekia shines out in the darkening evening light.
For me autumn flowers bring a sense of hope and promise of the Spring to come, as the days grow short and the earth prepares to “close down” inwardly for winter.
The new beginnings associated with Easter are always accompanied in April/May by a sense of anticipation in nature; awaiting the sighting of the first House Martins or Swallows. I say sighting, but sometimes it is the awareness of their excitable “chatter”. It never fails to bring a feeling of jubilance, in the knowledge that these migrants have returned to build or re-build their homes for the summer.
It is a profound feeling that resonates deeply. This year it was on Good Friday that I was aware the blue sky had received those welcome dark shadows, flying rapidly in apparent purposeful endeavour. The depth of this event is, for me, beautifully encapsulated in the poem by Mary Webb published in 1928.
The swallows pass in restless companies.
Against the pink-flowered may, one shining breast
Throbs momentary music – then, possessed
With motion, sweeps on some new enterprise.
Unquiet in heart, I hear their eager cries
And see them dart to their nests beneath the eaves;
Within my spirit is a voice that grieves,
Reminding me of empty autumn skies.
Nor can we rest in Nature’s dear delight:
June droops to winter, and the sun droops west.
Flight is our life. We build our crumbling nest
Beneath the dark eaves of the infinite,
We sing our song in beauty’s fading tree,
And flash forth, migrant, into mystery.
by Mary Webb
Reference: Webb, M. (1930) The collected works of Mary Webb. Poems and The Spring of Joy. London: Jonathon Cape, 1928.
Three and a half weeks on from the Spring Equinox, the clocks have changed and the light is gradually increasing. Signs of new life are abundant and buds in all shapes and forms are beginning to “blow”. An old English word:
blow3 /bləυ/v. & n. archaic. v.intr. burst into or be in flower. n. blossoming, bloom (in full blow). [OE blõwan f. Gmc]
Whilst not often found today, this word – for me – encapsulates nature at this time of year (Photo-gallery: Buds in Spring).
I came across its use in a song at our regular Thursday a capella singing group:
You have to believe that buds will blow,Believe in grass in days of snow,That’s the reason a bird can sing,On its darkest day it believes in spring
As spring unfolds and buds burst into bloom, bird song also brings the joy of new beginnings.
A sound recording I made in our local valley in 2017 brings something of that joyous spring calling to life.
With the gentle sound of the Eden water flowing in the background, the light was slowly fading and the various songs being sung resonated, as if in preparation for another new day.
After Candlemas the first two weeks of February saw the skies clear, the sun bring warmth and the crocuses bloom.
Primroses, that had started to flower even in January, shone brightly in their profusion.
The icy scenes we’d seen on the Eden water on 1st and 2nd of February (Photo-gallery: Ice on Eden water) melted away in a moment and it seemed the reluctant winter had been pushed away – Spring had arrived. Even the bumble bees agreed!
Not the case; early March has seen the return of cold, windy and wintery weather. Not like 2018, with heavy falls of snow and drifts 6ft deep in places, but the temperatures have dropped dramatically and today light wet snow is falling from a grey sky.
Our seasons are fickle these days and keep us guessing what may arrive next.
In the mid-point of Winter, when the ground is often under a layer of frost, there is a very gradual stirring of nature’s activity. Snowdrops appear, greeting us with their bright white petals; a promise of the new light of Spring to come.
On Saturday evening (2nd February) we celebrated Candlemas in our garden, bringing forward some of that promised light to the apparently dormant earth. A spiral of candles, laid on the crisp ground, symbolised the potential that the earth has to offer as winter gradually fades into spring.
Our fire bowl kept us warm, heated a delicious squash & chestnut soup and created the link that Candlemas has to the ancient Celtic festival of Imbolc – the first fire festival of the year.
A clear dark sky was flooded with stars. Sirius, bright and clearly visible below Orion’s “belt”, twinkling in colours ranging from blue to red.