A couple of weeks ago, on the 17th January, I shared a Wassail greeting on Instagram to celebrate the start of a new growing year. I also have had messages from friends commenting on the current monotony of the seemingly endless lockdown and both got me thinking about finding new, or in fact ancient ways of finding a sense of progress or at least movement through what might feel like groundhog day. In this post I’ve shared a few ways in which I find anchors or milestones in nature that I hope might help or perhaps inspire you too.
I’m not suggesting wishing life away by always living in anticipation, nor the opposite feeling of watching a kettle that never boils – Will spring EVER come?! – but learning to observe and appreciate the small changes that give life variety that we can’t currently find in going out to watch a new release at the cinema, or eating at a restaurant we haven’t been to before.
Growing food and eating seasonally
Growing your own food, or eating more seasonally requires active participation in each stage of growth or actively researching and learning which foods are in season. Right now there isn’t much around compared with summer time, but I find that it makes my homegrown kale and purple sprouting broccoli all the more exciting. There’s always something coming into season as you harvest the last of something else, and right now there are seeds to be sown for my tomatoes and chillies which will slowly grow and produce fruit in the summer – that makes it not seem so far away. Personally, I have also found writing this blog and creating the recipes to be a really good way of observing how the seasons progress, and it’s interesting to look back to a year ago when this blog first started!
Being a forager and getting myself out into nature means always being an active observer of the seasonal cycles by asking “what can I see today?” Notice I don’t ask “what can I gather today?” Seeing when the wild garlic shoots are starting to appear isn’t the same as finding wild garlic that is ready to pick, but I find it gives me a steady sense of a journey through the year rather than singular moments. If there’s something ready and abundant enough for me to gather, then that’s a bonus!
The Cycle of the Year and Seasonal Festivals
As well as traditions like Wassailing, acknowledging the solstices and equinoxes can help us to observe how the seasons are changing. The seasons themselves will always have a level of variability, but the astronomical calendar can give us some structure and consistency. Our planet is always moving, journeying, and I find that sense of journey by observing certain events through the year. Before you think I’ve gone full pagan on you, I’m not suggesting we all immediately convert to Wicca, but these anchors in the calendar can give us opportunities to pause and reflect on what the earth is doing. The Winter Solstice in late December might feel like a low point as it is the shortest day of the year, but it can also be a moment to reflect on the hope that each lengthening day gives us from that point on. The next anchor will be the Spring Equinox at the end of March, and is often celebrated as the beginning of Spring. Equinox literally means “equal night” and so I feel it is a perfect time to meditate on the theme of balance and all things living in harmony in nature as we look forward to the joys of Spring.
If the Spring equinox feels a long way off, the mid-points between the solstices and equinoxes have long been observed in Celtic/Gaelic traditional festivals. You may be familiar with Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Imbolc is actually this coming Monday, and traditions include a good old spring clean, visiting a well or stream, and lighting candles to symbolise the lengthening of the days and the increasing warmth from the sun. Imbolc has also been associated with the beginning of seed sowing, so I’m going to sow my first seeds of the year on Monday as my own little ritual.
I’ll admit to being fairly new to the practice of observing lunar cycles, but it’s a popular and perhaps useful way of finding milestones throughout the month as well as the year as a whole. Observing the lunar cycle can provide a much more regular pulse than some of the other methods I’ve shared, which some people find really helpful. Biodynamic farming often uses lunar cycles to structure when to sow, plant out and harvest certain things, and whilst I don’t know that there’s a scientific evidence basis for growing this way, I’m going to be using the principles in order to help me structure my sowing schedule a bit more this year so I can stay on top of my allotment and feel a bit more organised.
I’ve put together a short list of books that I have found useful in following the cycle of the year and to live more seasonally. Each has a different approach, and some might speak to you more than others, but all have inspired me in some way.
- The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2021 by Lia Leendertz – I used Lia Leendertz’s almanac in 2020, and I think her 2021 edition is even better. Each month has a beautiful cover illustration by Helen Cann, and lists festivals from a number of cultures, key lunar dates and times, tide timetables, garden jobs, things to forage, as well as songs and recipes.
- Everyday Nature by Andy Beer – This book has an entry for each day of the year with a short vignette about something in nature that you can look out for whether a bird, plant or something about the weather. I’m really enjoying reading the little snippets every day, especially in the city.
- Root Stem Leaf Flower by Gill Meller – I have mentioned this cookbook in previous posts and it’s still my absolute favourite. The recipes centre around the seasons and produce that you can grow or find readily in the UK. It’s perfect for anyone who wants more seasonal recipe inspiration, and is also a beautiful book and a joy to look at!
- Earth Wisdom by Glennie Kindred – This book is perfect if you don’t mind a bit of woo-woo interwoven with explanations of each of the solstices, equinoxes and Celtic traditional festivals as well as suggestions of how you might observe them. I love how the author intersperses each chapter with details of the folklore surrounding a certain type of tree.
- Lunar Living: Working with the Magic of the Moon Cycles by Kirsty Gallagher – I have to admit I haven’t read this yet, but it’s on my (very long) to-read list. If you’re interested in astrology and the impact the lunar cycles might have on you, then you might find this book useful. I personally find it useful to have a theme around which I can structure and set intentions for my work and life.
I hope that gives you some inspiration for some ways of incorporating the seasons into your life in a way that brings a feeling of progress, hope and things to look forward to, and to help us lift out of these feelings of stagnation and monotony that I know we’re all struggling not to feel right now.
As well as my weekly seasonally-themed blog posts, I also share a monthly email newsletter with thoughts and inspiration for the month and seasonal recipes. I hope to bring the same sense of seasonality that I’ve talked about here that can help to anchor you to the time of year and celebrate it! You can sign up below if you’d like to receive it.
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