Blackthorn Weatherforecasting

Blackthorn Blossom

For the past two weeks, almost since the March equinox, the Blackthorn has been increasingly floriforous around here. It is a ghostly presence in the hedges, with its white flowers growing along the smaller branches and tops of Prunus spinosa trees, leaving their black trunks bare underneath – almost like the child dressing up at Samhain with black leggings and a white sheet over their heads. Yet the hawthorn which makes up the bulk of the hedges around here is now glowing green with fresh young leaves, creating a patchwork effect.

The old saying for this time of year was “Beware the Blackthorn Winter.” With high pressure dominating and the weather having turned beautifully sunny and warm for much of the country, I have felt that Spring has finally sprung – yes there is the occasional nightly frost, but nothing particularly long lasting since most days it has gone within an hour of sunrise. So I have been puzzled as to why Blackthorn blossom should suggest a return to winter, and decided to investigate further.

Patchwork of white Blackthorn and green Hawthorn

It turns out that normally the blackthorn flowers at the middle to end of April – when there is very often an unexpected cold period. This year winter has been mild, and the weather seems to be continuing that way, so I am thinking this has caused the blackthorn to be particularly early. It is not alone; bluebells have been flowering since the beginning of April around here, 3-4 weeks earlier than normal. But the result of this is that the Blackthorn is not coinciding with a cold spell as it usually does; MET office forecasts are currently predicting ‘rain or showers, turning wintery’ ie snow for next weekend…

I now await confirmation from another tree for my planting out, using that other favourite saying “Ne’er cast a clout ’till May be out.” It refers to the hawthorn blossom, which is usually in flower in mid-May around here – and has generally proved a reliable guide to the last frosts (provided I wait for my own hedge to flower rather than those in more sheltered locations). It already has flower buds, but as I have seen before, the tree is happy to keep its flowers in bud if necessary until the cold weather is over. Wise old trees!

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Wind

Storm ‘Doris’ blew through here this week with gale force winds at times – unusual for Derbyshire as we are about as far from the sea as you can get. It is not often a county known for severe weather! What really surprised me though was the strong reactions of various people towards the wind. Several described it as horrible weather, with a shudder – when I was thinking how mild it was as the rain eased to some bright sunshine. Cats often become skittish and unsettled in high winds, as do children, but some people are enlivened by it. A kite flier, windsurfer or sailor will delight in its power – although knowing their limits of what they can actually sail in. So it got me thinking about Wind, and the Air element.

I have written before here about working with the weather, in particular rain, but I have noticed how it is very difficult to change the weather if there is no wind to move clouds. A slight breeze, and much is possible, but on a still day you are generally stuck with what you have.

Above all, I believe wind brings change. Air is the element of ideas – which some suggest are floating around the ether ready for anyone to pluck out and make use of. Wind blows the ether around and helps to spread ideas across the globe. Wind is or was used for divination in many cultures around the world, watching for the direction it blows in for what it may bring, positive or negative.

Our resistance to wind may symbolise how we feel about change in general. Young trees are flexible, they bend and allow the wind to shape them, and grow stronger as a result. Old trees, especially those hollow with age, may stand firm, withstanding whatever comes. Those constantly buffeted and battered are shaped by the wind, and develop their own unique form which has its own grace and beauty. But those that have been spared the lighter winds may be knocked flat as soon as they feel the effects of a gale. They have no ability to grow into it, no experience of change and growing new ways of being.

I chose to walk in an exposed place two days after the storm. Still windy, it felt like ‘blowing the cobwebs away’. I felt energised, clear headed, laughing to be blown sideways at times. The power of nature stronger than me.

And finally when the winds have blown through, all becomes calm again. We have a chance to take stock of what has happened around us, clear up the mess, breathe, and set out on a new path, strengthened by what has just been.

Cycling in the Nearly Rain

I don’t usually take M cycling in the rain. I don’t mind for myself, but I do like to get warm and dry afterwards. So it was unfortunate that the first opportunity we have had to go for an actual cycle ride, somewhere new, rather than just ‘transport’ on our regular route, it drizzled the whole time. Luckily M is still of a size to have a onesie rainsuit to fit her…

Since May we have upgraded the bike trailer for a Weehoo. For those unfamiliar with this relatively new tagalong, it features pedals but also a strap-in armchair seat, so is suitable from age 2-9 for children over three feet tall. The fact that M is not yet a pedal bike rider herself makes it exciting from her point of view, to be able to pedal and signal and have her own bell to ring, but I have found it rather challenging to pull!

The two-wheeled trailer we had acted as a big dead weight behind me, steadying out any wobbles from either of us, especially mine when in bottom gear uphill. The Weehoo, by contrast, amplifies every slightest error and is therefore subject to some interesting passenger-affected manoeuvres. However having only the one wheel, and the potential for passenger help up the hills (this is Derbyshire!), after a bit of practice I am finding it easier to pull despite being virtually the same weight overall.

The other big difference between the trailer and the Weehoo is starting and stopping. I have found a kickstand to be an essential piece of kit as, while I can just about manage to straddle the trailer bar to do up the straps for M, turning around without dropping my bike requires a level of gymnastic ability that I no longer possess. It also requires a very flat and stable area of ground. Luckily undoing the straps is easy and something she can almost do by herself before climbing out of the seat – provided she is awake! I have returned more than once with a sleeping passenger and have been sorry I could not simply leave her where she was, like I could with the trailer!

So for our first leisure ride, we had the opportunity to cycle the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire’s Peak District. I have walked a few sections, but a few years ago the six tunnels were reopened and cyclists have been able to ride a 8.5 mile stretch from near Bakewell to the railway junction outside Buxton, where trains still run. It is a slow ride! It can be pretty busy, even on a damp day, and the Weehoo makes fast changes in direction tricky; even with the flag flying it was pretty invisible to walkers who assumed a nimble solo rider on a touring bike could get round them easily. Also starting from the Bakewell end, the trail is gently uphill almost the whole way, with a fairly rough surface – but even on the return journey there were too many people to go at more than about 10mph. The Buxton end has a different surface, which sprayed mud and surface water a lot more – the crud-catcher on the Weehoo, which always scratches or digs into my legs when holding the bike upright, remained completely clean thanks to my mudguard, yet the pedal area and passenger still managed to get a good coating. The Weehoo’s wheel could also do with a mudguard, as it flicks mud all over the place including the back of the seat up to the passenger’s head, and onto the tiny panniers that fit it. Yet another thing to sort out for next time!

There are several potential places to stop along the trail, with benches or even picnic tables, facilities and ice creams, but sadly the weather was not conducive to us taking advantage. Instead we enjoyed walking through one of the tunnels and eating an emergency rations chocolate bar in the dry.

I would love to say M’s verdict was big smiles, and that is what she gives me most of the time, but on this occasion I had a contented sleeper for the last three miles instead – and memories of rain. I guess we will have to go back and do it again when it is sunny!

Smelling Rain

I have recently discovered that I can smell approaching rain, when I am outside, sometimes to the point of being able to work out how far away it is. This comes as a great surprise to me not least because my sense of smell is at best undeveloped, and frequently non-existent.

Thanks to my nose and lung problems over the years, I am frequently unable to even breathe through my nose. I can often smell in reverse by taking a deep breath and blowing out through my nose, or blowing my nose after drinking a good wine or eating chocolate, but smelling things through my nose is pretty variable. If I need to check the milk is okay, I get a second opinion! However maybe thanks to the work I have been doing with rain, I have discovered I can actually smell it before it arrives. So I have started to try and understand this process.

There are three possible things I could be smelling. One is from the Air above us, Ozone, particularly associated with thunderstorms. This is because lightning can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules to form small amounts of nitric oxide – which then re-reacts to form ozone. These ozone molecules, smelling similar to chlorine, may then be blown on the winds that precede a storm. That assumes a storm is present however, which I’m not sure is always the case!

The second and third scents come from the Earth and are Petrichor, the oils released from rocks formed from a variety of plant and animal sources, plus the compound geosmin, which is created by soil-dwelling bacteria. Most investigations have focused on the fact that these scents are released when rain drops hit the soil or rocks, sending spores and oils into the air and giving that fresh, earthy smell so many people love after it has rained. But this doesn’t explain why I should smell anything before it rains – especially as I have never smelt anything particular afterwards, just noticed the change in the feel of the air. A more recent theory says that as the humidity increases, the petrichor is released from pores in the rocks or soil, thus preceding the rainfall. This may be possible, and it has been suggested it is the cause for cattle becoming restless before rain. However, I don’t get the ‘smell’ of rain on a humid day! I only get the ‘smell’ shortly before actual rain.

Then last year researchers from MIT managed to film water drops landing on different surfaces and replay it in slow motion – and found that the Petrichor effervesces like champagne from porous surfaces, when the rain is light. These aerosols can then be carried on the winds in front of the rain for long distances. When you consider that a front is not just the mile or so wide it seems to us on the ground where the weather is, but often hundreds of miles wide all the way up through the atmosphere, then it makes sense to be smelling approaching rain before we can see it. It would also explain how other bacteria become airborne and cause certain diseases to spread.

However, I still can’t help wondering, given how poor my sense of smell actually is, whether there is some intuition or other sense at work rather than simply smelling. Many animals are aware of approaching rain – and from an evolutionary perspective this is a useful thing as following the smell back would lead to where it had rained and food will be growing. (Camels finding oases is one suggested example.) It helps us know to find shelter, or to put out pots for harvesting rainwater. In my own life, living in a modern world with waterproof clothes, houses, and taps I can turn on and off at will, I don’t often need these skills – and yet as the Earth becomes more unbalanced these may become the skills of the future.

Ice Crystals

Ice over Stones

Ice over Stones
(Sleeping bear?)

We finally had the first icy puddles of the ‘winter’ this week, complete with beautiful swirling patterns of air bubbles as the water disappears from underneath. Such fun to crack with the most amazing and varied sounds.

Best of all, the mud has been frozen into submission for a few days so that I may walk in my garden again!

Ice crystals on farmland

Ice crystals on farmland

I am reminded of a story, that may or may not be true, of making apple brandy from cider in the winter. Apparently people used to put a barrel of cider outside in a covered area, and then every time the top froze the ice would be removed. By the end of the winter most of the water would be gone, leaving only the apple and the alcohol. Winters must have been a lot harder in years gone by!

Icy Puddle

Icy Puddle Face

A Soggy Solstice

Rain seems to be a theme of this winter – one I should be used to by now! I spent last week in the Lake District with family, where given the forecast we did well to manage a number of sunny walks and had high enough cloud cover to get a view from both of the hills we managed to walk up. Mainly we explored the valleys though, to see waterfalls. However, after a beautiful sunrise on 21st December, it was still disappointing to have a very soggy dark morning on the 22nd.

For the solstice itself, I like to have a special dinner the preceding evening, Celtic festivals usually being celebrated from sundown to sundown, then wake up for the sunrise (easier than the exact solstice moment which this year was around ten to five am UK time), followed by breakfast and sharing presents. This year with us being in the North, and waking up early, we had breakfast first and then a walk up the hill behind the house we were staying in to try and see the sunrise. It was raining, the ground was waterlogged, the sky was grey. A slight lightening in the South East was all the evidence we could see of day breaking. The next day there was of course a beautiful sunrise again…

However I learned some things on our extended walk in the rain that morning that have stayed with me. There was yet another storm, Eva, forecast for the Christmas weekend. As a follow on from my weather post of two weeks ago, I can report that I have managed to increase my consciousness from a five to a ten mile radius circle of where I am, although I am finding it incredibly difficult to go beyond that – or to know how large changes to weather systems can be made such as seems to be needed at present. But I did manage to journey one morning and had a brief conversation with the approaching storm.

I asked if it could tell me what its purpose and intention was, and if there was some way the effects could be mitigated. The answer I received was to promote cooperation! I couldn’t see how that fitted in with anything a storm might do, until I looked around me. I was staying in a village that had been badly flooded by Storm Desmond, several businesses suffering millions of pounds worth of damage, one road bridge remaining out of action with a two mile diversion in place, two other road bridges and a footbridge now reopened but with damage clearly visible. But as more rain threatened, everyone was actively clearing drains, putting up boards and sandbags, and yes, working together. I asked this latest storm if it could avoid causing more damage to those who had already suffered. On my return, this appears to be largely the case, only there is massive flooding and damage in Lancashire and Yorkshire instead – yes promoting cooperative working and huge levels of assistance, but also creating much personal tragedy at the same time. As I have said before, it needs more people than me to work with the weather, probably many more people, and some rituals and offerings to change the cycle of weather that has been created. It may take time and effort, but what is cooperation if not working together and working with our planet Earth and her weather systems, with love?

So that was the message of my solstice – we can expect more rain, and need to work together at all levels if we want to see more balanced weather returning.

Flooding

Once upon a time the land flooded. Luckily Noah and his family built an ark to take two of each kind of animal, and after forty days of floodwaters the dove managed to return with an olive branch. A rainbow symbolised that God would never flood the land again. That is roughly the story I was taught at school, and in recent years I have come to realise that most of it is true overlooking a few minor details. Except the story misses out one vital part – that we had to look after the Earth in order for ‘God’ to keep his or her part of the promise.

I have been feeling the shock of the devastation in the Lake District this week. It is an area I know well as a walker and canoeist, and in the past I have paddled many rivers when they are above ‘normal’ levels. Some rivers are only paddleable in ‘spate’ conditions, particularly higher up in the hills. But there comes a limit when nature takes over and reminds us of our insignificance. Trees are uprooted, whole sides of hills are washed down into the valleys. Man and all his construction efforts are simply swept aside. A few inches of rain spread over a wide area are usually enough to fill a river, but with Storm Desmond records were broken – 13.5” of rain in Honister Pass in 24 hours, or 16” in Thirlmere over 48 hours, after a cloud simply got stuck in one place. This is after minor floods just three weeks earlier when 6” inches of rain fell in Cumbria.

We can bemoan the fact that houses and tarmac cover too much land with most of the run-off going straight into our overworked drains. That there is deforestation at every level from the tops of the hills to the bottoms of the valleys. That the natural flows of our rivers have been interfered with to enable building on flood plains. That flood defences built in an effort to ‘cure’ the ‘problem’ of flooding meet with variable success – the water has to go somewhere, and the further downstream it gets before spilling onto the land, the worse the damage tends to be. But moaning cures nothing; these will take years to correct, even if we start today.

However these floods have been a wake-up call to me personally because there is one thing left we can do, and that is to consciously work with the weather. For over a year now, (since September 2014, see blog post on Weather, October 2014) I have not sought to change the weather for any personal desires, but tried to work with the rainfall to keep a balance. (Water being the element I am closest to; I am rather less successful at working with fire!) As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there have been no droughts and no floods in my area since that date. But when I was first asked to do this work, I was also told to gradually expand my consciousness. I haven’t done that yet – and for that I feel responsible.

Could I have averted these floods? Can I even expand as far as Cumbria, or Northumberland, or East Anglia, or Wales, or Somerset, or other places around this small island I live on, that are so out of balance devastating floods occur at regular intervals? I’m not ‘God’ in any traditional sense, I only work with the weather as a co-creator. If floods are needed for some reason, there is nothing that I alone could do to prevent them. But I can try. And by writing this I hope to encourage other people to work with the weather as well. Find your element. Winds can move storms. Fire can change rain to snow and back again. Earth can move mountains, or hold firm as needed. And if you need any reason for doing it, then I can report that it is the best cure for homesickness that I have found.

A Light Dusting of Snow

Snow on the Grass

Snow on the Grass

Winter has arrived this weekend. I was woken in the night by the change of weather, feeling unsettled, with the wind howling around the house and through the trees. Then in the morning, bright sunshine, and a dusting of snow on the ground.

This year nature seems to have worked as if there is a plan. The autumn has been wet at times, but around here there have been no floods, or even significant mud. Just a good balance between wet days and dry days. There have also been no frosts signalling a premature end to the crops in the garden. Then just as all the trees have finished removing their waste substances into the leaves and discarding them, the winds pick up. A week earlier, and there would have been trees down, but now with their bare branches free to flex, they are okay.

Finally, as if everything is ready and the timing is perfect, we have snow and frost. Winter is here, it is time to gather stores, hibernate, and curl up by the fireside. Make plans for Yule. With luck, there will be enough cold days this winter to ensure next year’s fruit crops.

But for me, there was an extra dimension to the snow. I have commented before how I like the extra light it brings in the middle of the dark time; well this snow fall coincided not with dark climate but dark energies, brought by some visitors that were stuck in a downward spiral. I was struggling to protect myself from it and was feeling brought down, until I tuned into the energy of the snow. Dazzling white in the sunshine. It was amazing how effective it was at transmuting and transforming energies and bringing light back into me, and into my home.

So this is just my simple thank you to the weather!

Communing with the Ancestors

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

This is the third and final blog post relating to my recent holiday in Northumberland, and needs a bit of background.

Before I went on holiday, I sent out a request for what I wanted to get out of the experience. Good family time, range of activities, good food, balanced weather, all predictable sort of stuff for holiday enjoyment but by stating what I wanted I helped it to happen. Then I considered something else I don’t normally do – how good a holiday I wanted. I’m sure you are wondering: could I really make a request like that? Well I had never tried before and wasn’t sure if it was possible, but it felt right. I looked at it in terms of a scale I use frequently when pendulum dowsing, for example buying (or usually not buying) books or other items online. The scale runs from 0-7 and I have learnt to interpret it as follows:
1 – useless
2 – passable
3 – okay
4 – good
5 – very good, worthwhile
6 – brilliant
7 – life changing

So for this holiday I thought I wanted a 5 or 6 … until the day before I left. Then I started to wonder why I was shying away from accepting something that might be life-changing.

At the back of my mind may have been the book ‘Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns’ by Tanis Helliwell, in which she takes a group of people around Ireland on a pilgrimage that doesn’t exactly go to plan but gives people what they need so as to be potentially life changing for each individual. Sometimes something ‘bad’ might have to happen in order to make the positive change needed – like a broken leg, or illness, and this was what I was shying away from. Having recognised what I was scared of however, I decided to accept ‘life-changing’ for myself and trust that it would lead to something positive.

I had quite a good activity plan for the week in my mind, having learned by past experience that the more research I do before a holiday the better. I included such things as beaches, castles, Alnwick gardens, etc, with flexibility to suit people and weather. One day, towards the end of the week, had a somewhat vague plan, starting at Etal village market and exploring the various ‘attractions’ there and in the twin village of Ford. For various reasons my ideas didn’t work out, and we found ourselves both with an unplanned afternoon and needing to find a shop to buy food for the next two days. Suddenly a new plan emerged. To find a supermarket in Berwick, going via the Chain Bridge Honey Farm and also the Duddo Stones which I had really wanted to visit but couldn’t see a way to fit them in sensibly. The holiday had just taken on its life-changing dimension.

I hadn’t been sure how to get to the stones, and my directions to the driver would have been wrong – but a sign was spotted that led us the right way. It was then a short walk across fields to the stones, on the top of a slight rise, growing ever larger as we approached. And when I got there, like at Bamburgh beach, I realised I had been there before many centuries ago.

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

The dialogue I had with the stones was fairly simple, after all I wasn’t alone, but I made a promise to work with my ancestors to do whatever healing was needed. I did not have any idea what I was promising at that stage, just an amplification of a feeling I have had for some time that healing was needed, and trust that I would be guided in what and how to do this. I also didn’t know what ancestors, how long ago they had lived, or how they related to me – but I was fairly sure they had more to do with racial memory than blood or family ties. I then sealed my promise with the gift of a seashell I had planned to keep.

Later, back at home, I did some journeying to find out what the ancestors wanted me to do. It actually took two journeys, the first I lacked focus and clarity about what I was journeying for and also lacked a drum (not wishing to disturb others) and I found the Duddo stones covered in a blanket of snow. I was with my power animal, who seemed unimpressed by me, met a person dressed in simple dark brown clothing who I was unable to communicate with, and a snow and ice dragon who, as always, had a much simpler and more direct message for me. Use the drum. So two days later I did that, and was shown the Duddo stones as they had looked when I was there previously; they were in a large clearing but surrounded by woodland. My power animal was now in her element, leaping through the woods, running, playing, splashing through streams or small rivers. Returning to the stones, there were many people there, and they had a strong message for me. They had started the removal of the trees, and that was what was wrong and why I hadn’t recognised the stones until the last moment. The countryside was now almost bare of trees. And the land was suffering as a result. All the work I and others do with weather to help keep it in balance is much needed, but until we plant more trees and enough of the land is wooded once more there will never be true balance. I need to use my writing to spread the message, need to do far more than the short tree stories I am currently writing. I also need to learn how to drum at or near power sites, such as stone circles or waterfalls in woodlands to spread healing.

I still have a lot of work to do to fully understand this message, especially the last part! and to really make a difference. I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the responsibility being asked of me, but if every journey starts with the first step, my first step is to be brave enough to post this. Thus my commitment to trees (and to dragons, but more of them later) is sealed. Will this be life changing? Well in one sense it simply feels like the logical next step on a journey I’m already on – I just hadn’t seen it yet. However, it also feels like it needs to be bigger than anything I’ve done before. Time will be the judge.

Trust

Rosa 'Graham Thomas' in the snow

Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ in the snow


The snowstorms have continued, giving me an interesting lesson in trust this week. I was one of a group of parents and toddlers looking out at the snow falling while we ate our lunch. The really big, soft flakes that don’t take long to cover the ground – although in this instance the temperature was still above freezing so it was only dry and raised areas that were turning properly white. However I was struck by the contrast in attitudes between the various people present.

Two mothers spent the whole of lunch checking their mobiles at increasingly short intervals, getting more and more worried about the snow. One then received a photo showing a white house, and they both left in opposite directions as quickly as they could get their children dressed – trying hard to persuade another couple to do the same. The rest of us stayed (the couple, one other mother and myself), enjoyed our lunch and the singing / storytime that followed, and then drove home not in the snowstorm but in glorious sunshine. The roads were completely clear, the verges and countryside covered by a fresh white blanket, and it was beautiful out.

An obvious answer to why we made different choices might be that the two who left lived in places that were more likely to get blocked up by snow. Protective instinct for our children also has a large part to play. I am not criticising those who left – if instinct tells you to get home, then that is what you should do. (Although distinguishing between fear and instinct can take some practice.) What I am more interested in is why some of us stayed, and what it came down to was two things – flexibility and trust. Flexibility to make alternative arrangements if necessary, such as parking somewhere safe and walking a short distance, and trust in ourselves that we could cope with a problem and with life not going quite to plan. This seemed to me a good way of being, that those of us remaining all had a belief in ourselves and in general followed life’s flow without thinking too hard about it.

As an animist pagan, I see everything being connected through spirit and everything being divine as a result of containing spirit, and that includes us. The first step for many might be to put faith in some source outside themselves – as indeed it was for me several years ago when it was suggested I let Brigid drive my car. (I don’t enjoy driving and was getting very stressed by the traffic.) Somehow I found the faith to try it, and had little whisperings all the way home down the motorway, when to change lanes and when not to. But later when I saw the divine in everything, I realised the divine was in me equally, and I have learned to have faith and trust in myself.

I had one additional area of trust however. I have written before about my workings with weather, and how I was asked to help keep the balance for my local area. After more snow was forecast this week, and hurricane Juno was threatening New York, I did a meditation on what the weather was up to locally and whether any action or changes were required. I came to understand that the cold and the snow were very much both needed, but with my communications it felt gentler. I felt that I was now working with the weather to a small degree, co-creating as it were, and I could trust it not to put me or my family in danger just like I could trust myself not to put me deliberately in a situation I wasn’t comfortable with.