Mabon Quilt

Quilt for the Autumn Equinox / Mabon.

Here is my quilt for Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox. This quilt is about harvest, not just in its ripe fruit colours but in the fabrics themselves, for which I think I counted 19 in total. Some are from previous quilting projects, such as the three tree series I made, giving a nice link to the harvest of tree fruits (apples and plums in particular). Several squares were cut from scraps leftover from dressmaking, some of them clothes I made for M which are now too small for her but also one of mine which I still wear. And finally the music fabric, leftover from a ‘baby quilt’ and saved for quite a long time because these small pieces were all that was left. It represents another joy in my life right now, to play with the morris dancing group. Again, nothing has been bought new. So to look at this quilt brings happy memories. (To me, it is all the more remarkable because the difficulties I had actually sewing it were beyond anything I have done recently, as since August I have been suffering from a very sore hip and leg and at times can barely sit or stand. Sewing was done in very short bursts, left-footed. But that is a story for another time.)

Since both equinoxes are all about balance, I have also been testing an urban myth that has been puzzling me since I discovered it last Spring. There is a much repeated story on the internet that it is possible to balance an egg on its end at the equinox. I tried this, and failed. Then I read it was at the moment of equinox. I have no idea if the Earth is acutely aware of the moment of equinox or not, as with the moment of solstices. There is however a moment when the tides turn, which are of course affected by sun and moon so I didn’t just dismiss it out of hand. So since I missed the right time last time, and it was quite a convenient time this time, I thought I would have a go in the spirit of scientific enquiry. This time I also invited company.

What we proved is: some people can balance eggs. Duck eggs, chicken eggs, they will apparently all stand on their ends for as long as is required of them. The equinox makes no difference to those capable of balancing an egg, as the trick was quite happily repeated the next day. I, however, am still incapable of balancing an egg on a smooth, hard surface, no matter what time of day. Although I can have fairly good results if I use a non-flat surface…

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Finding Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are one of my favourite foods to forage. At first I see nothing. Then little nuggets of gold seem to appear on the ground. Not many, and frequently hidden by long grass and brambles, but walk back and forth over an area by a nut tree and more seem to emerge from the undergrowth until before I know it, I have managed to fill a pocket. A few days later I will do it again.

The timing seems to be critical with hazels, and some years I have missed them altogether. Early falls are hollow, rejects by the tree. Later ones get eaten or lost within a day or two of falling. Reaching them for picking directly from the tree is rarely possible; the trees near me grow tall and nuts form at the extremities, so the only way is to watch and wait, and keep visiting the same trees every few days. In small ways I am lucky however, as the three trees I mostly pick from are in a line along a field boundary between a cow field and a playground and I can walk along both sides of two of the trees. Also they ripen in succession so if I miss the first tree I may get the second or third. And thanks to their open location few squirrels seem to have found them – the other trees around my village rarely produce any nuts without holes and trying to find uneaten ones amongst the debris of empty shells is a frustrating task.

Freshly picked hazelnuts

Freshly picked hazelnuts

The photo shows one day’s picking. So far, a six out of six success rate for finding nuts inside … but given the pale colour of some released still with their calyxes attached it is unlikely that I will get 100% fill rate. I never do. But I enjoy eating the nuts fresh, or shelling a batch and toasting them so they may be stored, for sprinkling over my breakfast or just nibbling for a snack. The difficulties in getting hazelnuts at least doubles the appreciation, and reminds me why they cost so much more than almonds.

It also amazes me every autumn how the catkins are already forming on the trees, ready for winter and then next year’s flowers and fruit. As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, ready to start the cycle again, the hazel tree is already there ahead of me.

Growing Uncommercial Fruit

At this time of year I frequently feel very lucky to have a garden for it is filled with ripe fruit, there for the picking. But what I really love is the fact that most of what I can pick is not available in shops.

Victoria plums are for some reason dismissed by many gardeners as being not worth the effort or the space. I really don’t understand this; our plum fan takes little of either, apart from being sure to pick them every day when in season for they do not hang around. Their keeping time is short, only two or three days to be at their best, but the flavour and texture is so much better than any other plum I have tasted with the possible exception of a good greengage.

Apples start in my garden in August as well, with the smallest Sunset eating apples usually coming first along with Bountiful cookers. Arthur Turner follows on promptly, but goes on for longer. However there is another, unnamed, tree growing in our hedge from a core discarded many years ago that produces the most amazing cooking apples. If only they kept for more than a week it would be a great commercial proposition, but they don’t. I like to make chunky apple sauce that can be frozen and then turned into crumble or Eve’s pudding or applesauce and chocolate cakes. I wouldn’t bother with an apple that keeps for weeks and that I could buy in the shops whenever I wanted it, yet because the season is so short I find myself going to extra efforts.

As for various berries in their reds, blacks, or blues, a few at a time, they are delicious for breakfast and so different from watered down commercial equivalents. Luckily they won’t keep either, unless frozen or turned into jam. We just have to eat them.

Moon Cycles

There was a beautiful full moon here on Wednesday evening, round and fat, rising orange before turning yellow and then silvery white as it ascended into the clouds. We took turns going up the stairs to view it while also trying to cook dinner. A time of intense energy, I was feeling so alive the next morning that I found it hard to settle – tricky when our regular activities saw me at a group where most people sit and chat!

I keep being assailed by incorrect illustrations or descriptions of the moon at the moment. Children’s books love to picture the moon, but will frequently have a quarter moon rising at sunset, and then in the same place several hours later, or even in the same place facing the other way in the morning! Even books written for older people, such as teenagers or adults, will have moons rising at the wrong time of day for their shape, or in the wrong direction relative to the sun. An impossible moonrise spoils, for me, whatever illusion has been built up.

For those confused about what to expect from the moon, in rises roughly in the East and sets in the West much as the sun does. However, the Full moon is seen at night while the New moon is occasionally seen during the day as a shadow eclipsing the sun. To move between the two extremes, as the month progresses the moon rises about an hour later each day – so a waxing moon is often seen in the afternoon and a waning moon seen in the morning.

There is another aspect however, which is that sometimes referred to as ‘wobble’. This means that although the moon rises roughly in the East, like the sun it moves back and forth along the horizon a little. It does this over a period of around 27 days, rather than approx 29.5 of the full moons or 365.25 of the sun’s seasons, so doesn’t coincide with anything very well – although it does make for exciting eclipses, as well as Metonic calendars of nineteen years (or only slightly less accurately, eight and eleven years. I have recently discovered that biodynamic gardening calendars take this wobble movement very much into account, even more so than which constellation the moon is moving through. The ascending, Spring-like path is far more dynamic for growing things, for example, than the descending, Autumn path when pruning or weedkilling might be done. When I have enough gardening time to guarantee being free on the right days for the right type of plants to be cultivated, I will try and work with this… I look forward to it!

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!

Trees and Rocks

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

Trees growing out of the rock near Cromford, Derbyshire

It always amazes me how a tree can grow out of a rock, somehow getting a root in through a crack far enough to reach moisture and nutrients. I sometimes feel there is a lesson for me in the determination and will to survive! These pictures were taken yesterday near Cromford in Derbyshire, a mixture of silver birches and beech trees. Some may at first glance appear to be growing on a shelf in some soil, but on closer inspection are actually coming straight out of the rock. The moss seems to be a later addition.
Beech tree roots finding a hold.

Beech tree roots finding a hold.

Autumn Equinox

This week was the Equinox, when day and night equalise briefly as the sun passes over the equator. Here in the Northern hemisphere we have now entered the ‘dark’ time of the year. M and I held a ceremony at the time of the equinox, conveniently 9.22 on Wednesday morning when we were at home, so we lit candles, rang bells, and I sang some songs celebrating the turning of the Earth. At the moment of the equinox we paused, and then had the rather awe inspiring sight of the candle flames dipping down very small for several seconds, before growing back to full size again. Her delight that something had actually happened was very touching.

For me the equinox was time to call in a new way of being. I could feel many cycles coming to an end in the month preceding the equinox, but nothing new really happening yet. Impatient as ever, I have been finding this frustrating. There are things I want to do, to achieve, and I need to look after me a bit more since I am down to one pair of trousers that fits, the other having worn out last week. (M now has a full autumn wardrobe…)

However I also have to remember what autumn is all about. Getting the harvest in for the winter, making sure it is safely stored away so that we will not starve in the months ahead. Animals retreat into hibernation, plants retreat below ground. They are busy resting, building, growing in ways that we cannot see but that will bear fruit in the light half of the year. I need to look after myself more, sleep more, keep warmer and eat more sustaining or starchy foods than I do in summer – root vegetables instead of salads. This should be a time for dreams. Dreams need time, and even dark to grow, before they can manifest in their full glory.

Luckily there is one cycle I began during the summer months which has reached the active stage this week – that of my garden redesign. As the grass ceases its growth, it is time to mark out the new paths so that digging may commence. That will be a great job to do in winter!

Tree Stories 7 – Larch

Autumn larch at woodland edge (Shotover Estate, Oxfordshire)

Autumn larch at woodland edge
(Shotover Estate, Oxfordshire)


Larch story is now published on its own page, please follow the links above.

Larch is one of those trees which goes unnoticed by me for much of the year, and then, thanks to its deciduous nature, suddenly announces its presence in Spring or Autumn when it is a completely different colour to all the trees around it. Its needles are some of the softest to stroke of all conifers, and the most cheerful bright green that I always love seeing them. They do grow in Derbyshire, although not locally to me, but the place where I will always remember them in in Glen Nevis. I had two days to myself in the area one April about ten years ago, and spent the first walking up Ben Nevis. It was a hot sunny day, views were spectacular, and the last thousand feet had deep snow underfoot. The next day I was feeling a little tired and stiff, so I planned a shorter walk in the opposite direction, over Cow hill to drop down into Fort William and then back along the river Nevis. Struggling up the hill I came to a group of larches with their first leaves of Spring just opening, and felt the most wonderful, uplifting freshness that carried me onwards and through the rest of my walk.

Introduced to Britain in the seventeenth century for its knot free, virtually waterproof timber, larch is commonly used for yachts, buildings, roof shingles and interior panelling, fences and posts, and also coffins. Venice was built almost exclusively of larch wood. They often grow on the south side of a plantation as they like much more open sunny conditions than most pine trees. They also act as a firebreak, thanks to their thick bark and very hard wood. However their natural home is in the mountains, where they are also likely to find the clear air they prefer being fairly intolerant of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide.

Larch was traditionally worn or burned to protect against enchantments or evil spirits. It was used to help with fertility issues, childless women believing that spending the night under a Larch would help them conceive a baby, and the timber was used for babies cradles. With this in mind, the story given to me to write by larch was somewhat unexpected, but it does tie in surprisingly well with the Bach remedy of using larch for people who feel that they are not as competent as others, lack confidence in their ability to do things well, or even assume they will fail so don’t bother to try.

As I write this, larch trees are leaving Britain. Along with several other tree species, the time has come that they are no longer able to grow healthily in the climate and conditions we have created for them. In this particular case, it is the fungal disease Phytophthora ramorum providing the symptoms of their “dis-ease”, which is that it has become too wet and earthy for what is essentially an airy sort of tree. Also known as sudden oak death, P. ramorum spreads rapidly through weakened trees and has in the past few years invaded many of the plantations in the south west of England, Wales and Scotland. The “cure” is apparently to remove all the trees, not just the infected ones, so millions have been cut down in the last few years, with many more facing the same fate, destroying the work already done and leaving the land and the watercourses in a poor state for at least another generation. This is supposedly to save the infection from spreading, and getting into oak trees.

I like to try and find something positive in a situation, no matter how bleak it might at first appear, so here is how I see it. The Earth will survive whatever happens. Spirit is timeless and endless and will not be destroyed by us, but take new forms. As humans however, we have an opportunity to become more aware of how we are treating our planet and the other living beings which inhabit it, and to make the necessary changes. On a personal level, I see it as an opportunity to learn how to connect with trees and the earth closer. I am starting to find where or how I can help, and to develop the skills needed with the guidance and encouragement of my spirit friends. Like my work with weather, the first step is to create balance in my local area, and then expand outwards when I am ready. I would love to hear from others doing this type of work in their area.

Autumn larch tree, 4-sailed windmill in background.  (Shotover Estate, Oxfordshire)

Autumn larch tree, 4-sailed windmill in background.
(Shotover Estate, Oxfordshire)

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia glass door

Rudbeckia glass door

I am feeling excited this week because my glass work bench has come out of storage and been re-erected for the first time since M was born. Even before I get a chance to use it, the very fact of its being there again gives me hope.

I love working with glass. Designing it, cutting the glass, fitting the lead around each piece, soldering, even cementing the panel to make it waterproof is a process I have come to enjoy doing and take my time over. Little has changed in the manufacture of a stained glass panel since Mediaeval times, as most of the tools are fairly basic. The richness of the colours in the glass still come from natural metal oxides, and even when not made by hand, it still sings when light comes through it.

My first task will be to draw out full size cartoons for our front door, as first mentioned back in April. I also have another door design and a window to draw out; these I should be able to do with M having her own pencil and paper set up next to me. Then early next year I will source supplies, put my order in and start cutting glass – for an hour a day when supervision is available!

Meanwhile here is a previous project I wanted to share. It was created for my neighbour, who after she had her Edwardian 4-panel doors stripped down, discovered that one of them had hardboard in the upper panels instead of wood. Apologies for the slightly flat image – I have some learning to do to get good pictures of glass!

I was also thinking about Rudbeckia flowers, known as Black Eyed Susan, because there are some still in flower in a garden where we walk regularly. They look stunning, the deep yellow feeling autumnal and yet at the same time happy. A last hurrah before brown, dead seedheads take over. Colour therapy at its best. Rudbeckia has the same healing properties as the distantly related purple coneflower, the Echinacea, yet is apparently more effective. It certainly grows stronger and healthier – Echinacea is to me one of the great gardening disappointments since it looks stunning in photos but experience has taught me that it doesn’t grow well around here. Even the books describe it as a short-lived perennial. But the Rudbeckia just grows and smiles.