A Return To Wildflower Surveying

A first view of Thorpe Cloud, as approached from Thorpe village.

Years ago I used to do the ‘Common Plants Survey’ for Plantlife; the final year of the scheme (in 2014) I wrote about here. I enjoyed it and learned quite a bit, but several things changed including the survey and it felt like time for a break. Then a few weeks ago I decided I would like to take part again, so I looked to see what squares a surveyor was still needed for – and there was nothing anywhere near me at all. The new National Plant Monitoring Survey which replaced the original scheme has tried to distribute squares evenly across the country rather than just near where people live, so there are currently many squares needing surveyors in Scotland with a scattering of empty spaces across the rest of the country, the majority of which are in the less populated areas… Then I thought why not choose a square I would like to visit?

Thorpe Cloud rising above the River Dove by the stepping stones.

Thorpe Cloud rising above the River Dove by the stepping stones.[/caption]My new square, which has the wonderfully palindromic number of 1551, is quite a long way from here, up to an hour’s drive depending on traffic, but what an amazing place I am getting to know! Derbyshire’s favourite rocky ‘mountain’, Thorpe Cloud, once a coral reef all of 287m high, rises above the river Dove where you can cross the stepping stones to Staffordshire if you wish. Ancient ash woodland lines the banks further along, and there is a stream that comes out of a cave at the foot of the Cloud.

Heath Bedstraw and wild Thyme

I don’t consider myself any kind of plant expert, I am simply a gardener who likes getting to know flowers, weeds… and now grasses. What I love the most is seeing how the same family adapts to surroundings. Galium for example, varies from the rather annoying Stickyweed / Cleavers / Goosegrass that invades my garden although makes a nice tea, to lady’s bedstraw that smelled sweet enough to be dried and used in the home, to the short, spreading Woodruff that carpets woodland floor, to truly tiny plants on top of mountains. Quite a lot of it grows on top of Thorpe Cloud along with wild thyme, saxifrages, sedums, tiny geraniums…

What I hadn’t anticipated was that surveying wildflowers would be any kind of spiritual experience or practice, yet it has proved to be so. I had planned to do the first visits with a friend who is an experienced and trained ecologist – who knows different plants from me and is more practiced in looking up oddities in a book. However, every time she was free, it rained. Plans were made, and cancelled repeatedly. I finally realised I should go for a reconnaissance visit by myself on a nearly-dry day, which proved very worthwhile in all sorts of ways.

Lin Spring emerging out of a cave at the foot of Thorpe Cloud

Lin Spring emerging out of a cave at the foot of Thorpe Cloud[/caption]Being by myself, I was able to do a blessing by the Spring and ask the mountain’s permission and support to survey this area of beautiful countryside. I then had a mini-pilgrimage to the top of the hill, where I had never been before, and had the summit to myself. It is a very beautiful ridge, and felt welcoming to me. Just as well after my sleepless night before – I seemed to know in advance this was going to be big for me.

I returned home, with a better idea of what plant groups to study in advance (my soil is acid clay so the flora is rather different) and see how unprepared I was the first time. I also had the oddest feeling that I was studying plants each night while I slept.

New plans were made with my friend, but no, I really was meant to do this by myself – the only day forecast to be dry was the only one she wasn’t free. However there were difficulties. I had to be back earlier than on the day we hoped to go, and there were roadworks and road closures, making for a longer route and busy roads getting there. I just had to trust I would be capable of doing the job, and that I had long enough there.

Thorpe Cloud summit looking North up Dovedale

I woke up early, not nervous this second time but excited and confident. On arrival I again asked the mountain’s permission and support. Remarkably I had whatever space I needed to carry out the survey, without winding a rope around anyone’s legs or lunch despite it being a much busier day, and somehow I got finished with just enough time to climb to the top again. Five areas surveyed, each exactly 25 square metres although some were square and some long, covering five different habitat types. I have a selection of photos to go through to complete more thorough plant identifications, not having time to look anything up and wanting eventually to know every plant that appears on my plots, but goodness I have a lot of work to do on grasses if I am ever to really understand and be able to identify them! As yet, knowing to the family name when they are in flower feels like an achievement, but it is apparently possible to know many of them even after the tops have been nibbled off by rabbits.

I look forward to many return visits.

Uplifting Energies

I have always used my hands to feel different energies, ever since I started playing with magnets and realised I could feel their pull on my hands. I have since learned to feel stone circle energies, or different tree energies. It has all been learning by doing; it is not something I have come across in my readings so my learning is quite slow, developing at the speed at which my sensitivity increases. (I share it now in case it inspires someone else to get there quicker!)

As I mentioned in my recent Dragon post, I was in Wales on holiday in April. There I had two different energy experiences that were totally unexpected and both quite magical.

The first was that of mountains, on one of Cadair Idris’s nine tops. A fairly pointy one. I struggled that day – it was hot, and my lungs were in a bad mood. I felt as proud of myself for having got to the top as a child might, so went right up to the highest point, to stand on top of an uneven bit of rock. And suddenly there was a rush of positive energy coming through me, making me feel euphoric. I could tell it was also affecting everyone around me to a greater or lesser degree. Then on to the highest top, pushing me to my limit, and possibly a bit past it. M, the youngest person on the mountain, had a long wait for me at the top! Yet when I got there, there was that uplifting energy again, magnified.

I wondered if it was just my feelings, or whether positive energy really does shoot off into the sky from the top of a pointed mountain. This is not something I have felt from a rounded hill, and it was not an energy I felt anywhere else on the mountain, just at the top of the ‘pointy-uppy’ bits. Spirit reaching upwards, while the lakes below drew downwards in stillness. The recent fire in Notre Dame Cathedral brought great discussions of how unique was its construction with very early flying buttresses to enable the building to reach as high into the sky as possible; many religions have temples that reach for the skies. It occurred to me that hill forts and castles being placed at the top of small hills may not be just strategic, but also command respect for the ‘high’ chief who rules there, and additionally give a positive boost of energies to all who live in that location.

A few days later, I had a chance to test this theory, on the top of Bird Rock near Llanfihangel. That time I managed the climb easily – it was neither as steep nor as long – so could discount any of my own euphoric feelings. There it was again, just in a very small area at the very top. Step away and I could no longer feel it, step back and there it was again, lifting upwards.

Some mountains are themselves regarded as sacred, with climbing even forbidden on occasion. I now regard any mountain as the same, Mother Earth and Father Sky joining together at the point.

Dolgoch stream, just above where I was feeling it.


My other energy experience was around water, and a mountain stream not far from Cadair Idris. I put my hands in several during the course of the week, as the days just got hotter. They varied in size and steepness, and temperature, but I didn’t think too much about it – until suddenly on the last day I realised I had put my hand in something really special. Fully of light, purity, happiness. Not a virgin stream, one that had been underground flowing through rocks and also above the ground dancing through waterfalls, yet kept pure and unpolluted. I did not know I was capable of learning all that just through my hands, despite using my hands to purify water at times.

Then I listened.

Last year I started singing or toning with different natural beings such as rocks, earth, water, trees etc. Here I did not even have to sing to hear its tune, it was complex and beautiful, harmonic, bell-like. I could hear how the great composers like Bach and Mozart were inspired; this had the same source.

I thought this would be the end of it, but I have now found myself singing through rituals, rather than reciting the words, and it is giving me a really deep connection to the elements when calling the quarters. I cannot possibly sing the same tune for fire as for air, or water as for fire, or earth as for water!

Happy Samhain!

I spent the day yesterday pumpkin carving, preparing for the festival of Samhain and having a really joyful celebration of the year gone and the year coming.

This was the first truly joint pumpkin I have carved with my daughter, as her design input was equal to mine. After explaining that we weren’t going to carve a scary face, because Samhain isn’t intended to be a scary time of year (more connecting and thanking the dead, our ancestors, those who have gone before rather than being scared by ghosts) we thought about what things we were thankful for. Fairies. Flowers. Trees. Frogs. We can use cookie cutters, she said.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past year going through the elements, so I decided to make my own thanks and celebration by organising them into four elemental groups, with three things for each one. We also had a five-pointed star for our lid, so that made a perfect 13 holes to be carved in the pumpkin.

My daughter’s washable pens were perfect for drawing the design on, especially as any traces can be easily removed afterwards, and where we had a suitable cutter she drew round them for me. Where we didn’t she found me a picture in one of her books to copy … luckily the pen can be rubbed out and corrections made!

I used a knife to cut the lid, then a melon baller has proved the most useful tool to cut through seed strings. This year I also used it to remove half the flesh from the inside so that the walls weren’t too thick to cut through, then cooked what I removed for pies later. Experience has taught me that a cookie cutter doesn’t cope with curved pumpkin skin very well, so after having drawn around them, I used a hacksaw blade taped to a piece of wood, which has been my trusty pumpkin carver for over a decade now. It turns corners better than a knife, although can leave edges ragged if not careful.

All four sides have holes in, making it hard to photograph, but right for us. Earth on the side that was on the ground, fire upwards to the sun, water and air in between. Some are animals, some, such as a musical note or the heart, are symbolic.

May you have bright blessings and a peaceful new year.

Elemental Pumpkin, showing Earth and Air, with Fire on the wall behind.

Inspiration from Darkness

We have a rather slow building project going on here, turning our L-shaped house into a square. This summer’s project has been to make a window in the outside wall of the bathroom… For the past 3-4 years the room has been a ‘black hole’, having no natural light or ventilation.

At first I was horrified by the idea that the old window would have to be bricked up before the new one could be fitted, and we tried to work it so that it shouldn’t take too long, but events and a lack of builder who wanted the job conspired against us. (We have done most of the work on the house ourselves, so no change there then!)

However, what I never anticipated was what a great meditation and journeying space a totally black room could create. In a reversal of what some people do, lighting candles around the bath, I found I could reach the pull cord to turn the light off and have total darkness – while being immersed in my favourite element, water. Combine this with a quiet house and it is almost like being in a sensory deprivation tank or a warm cave. No aches, no tiredness, no distractions. My body relaxes leaving my mind free to go wherever it wants. Different to drumming, but no less effective! The first time I tried it I was helped by a steady drip which was almost like a slightly slow drum beat, which made the transition into another way of working easier, but mostly all is quiet.

Once building work resumed, sadly the magic was gradually eroded away as more and more light seeped in from around the edges. Then last week we had the excitement of the window being finally fitted, opening up the space to daylight and views across fields, which for most times of the day is a huge improvement! Yet while I love the effect on our hallway (which has no windows of its own), and getting a blast of curtain-free daylight in the mornings, already I have needed to create a quick, temporary, darkening solution using a remnant of blackout fabric, three eyelets and three screws, to last until the plastering is done and I can make or fit a proper blind. In full light, the unfinished bathroom becomes just a mundane space, too bright and distracting to travel in. With the cloth in place, while not the total blackout I had previously, I can switch off to the world around me. I never imagined darkness would be something I would grow to love so much that I don’t want to lose it!

The Hidden Gifts of Drought

England is usually a damp country. I can expect it to rain at least once a week, very rarely do I even need to consider watering the plants outside. However, after a wet spring and snow in April, we had a dryish May and a totally dry June. July has so far managed one short shower, which showed little evidence in the empty water butts.

I usually feel very connected to our weather, and help to balance it in my area. However, this summer has been something I haven’t experienced before. A completely stuck weather system, that has no interest in moving anywhere. The only messages I have received are that it would rather we took note of what we are doing to the Earth and how we use the resources available to us, and doesn’t want to change until we notice.

This has raised many issues for me, both in terms of my connection to the weather and rainfall, and in how I use water myself.

First the weather, I always remind myself that I only ask, and while most of the time my requests are answered, sometimes they are not for various reasons. The main reason I have noticed my requests having no effect is when the weather pattern is much greater than my little area. A lack of wind can be tricky as well, although this can be built into any request. But I also noticed early on how hard it is to be single minded in wanting to change the weather when everyone around me is just enjoying the long sunny summer days and clear blue skies, and when there are all sorts of practical reasons such as house building work that the sun is aiding. It is also hard to want wind when it would only fan the flames of the various moorland fires that are raging further north in Derbyshire and nearby. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there are floods, as you might expect to bring balance to the Earth. As time goes on however, I just pray for rain with no reservations – and try to enjoy whatever weather arrives here.

The second aspect is my garden. I am aware that over the past few years, with having a pre-school child with me most of the time, I have had to simply let a lot go. This year I wanted to be much more proactive, sowing and re-sowing vegetable seeds, and watering the growing plants during dry periods.

First I appreciated ‘indicator’ plants like those pansies mentioned earlier being fast to wilt and letting me know that water was required. I duly watered the vegetables and the strawberries, plus the few flowers in pots – one with pansies and one with pelargoniums. After a while I grew bored of watering every day and considered getting a sprinkler that would cover just the area of my vegetables, four small raised beds. Then there was talk of water shortages. Instead I stopped watering the fruit, leaving it to finish, and just water the vegetables three times a week. They are not exactly thriving, but they are still growing and producing courgettes and lettuces and peas with tomatoes, beans, brassicas and sweetcorn well on their way. But as each area comes to a finish, I shall cease watering and not plant anything else until the weather changes.

What amazes me however, is how much I have learned about my garden by doing this, and some of the other small changes I have made recently. To thoroughly inspect crops every day or every other day has been a valuable experience to see how they are growing, what is ready for picking, and what pests arrive and need dealing with. As is doing my hip physio while I stand with the hosepipe! Fruit has been very early and small, yet the strawberries scarcely got eaten and the raspberries had a massive crop given there was no rain damage to the smaller fruit. Alpine strawberries are very small, yet are still going much longer than usual – so many tiny fruits I made a pot of jam from them. Flowers have few leaves and haven’t filled their usual spaces, but many are managing a great display, and there are a lot more seeds than usual. Even if they don’t all survive, I’m hoping I will be able to replace them from fresh stock – after all, plants die in hard winters, this is just a hard summer. There are far fewer weeds, although there is no way I can do weeding in our solid clay soil. The pond still has water in it and is going down slower than I might have anticipated – it may need some kind of a top-up soon although I am resisting for as long as possible and just watching to see how it does. All the sunshine is of course helping the waterlilies to their best display ever. Meanwhile our grass is about the greenest of any around which has really puzzled me. I can only put this down to more shade than in other gardens nearby, and a more suitable variety of grass since I deliberately went for ‘hardwearing’ rather than the more beautiful lawn options. And the clover is still green!

Finally, an interesting ‘message’ I got this Spring about my front garden was that the gravel we had inherited in the area wasn’t doing it any good – too sterile, and too reflective of light and heat combined with the bare brick house. It faces due south, and gets very warm – or else I wouldn’t be able to grow sweetcorn there! So after much thought, I decided to leave any low growing ‘weeds’ in the gravel, and see how it developed from there. The main one is self-heal, with yarrow, pink geraniums, lavender, centranthus, sisyrinchiums and lots of early chionodoxa all having seeded themselves. Just the grass, dandelions, American willowherb and spurge I still try and weed out, when it isn’t baked too solid. Not only am I happier with it now, but so are the other plants.

Water Unfrozen

Through the centre of Ambleside, like many Lake District towns and villages, runs a stream. When wet, it can be quite a torrent as it runs over a series of ledges; Stock Ghyll once powered so many mills in the town that it had the nickname of Rattle Ghyll. However, it took me several years to realise that just a short walk upstream is something far more dramatic.

Stock Ghyll tributary running under the footpath.
(Click to enlarge)

Just outside the town there is a rather lovely circular path through woodland alongside the stream that was engineered by the Victorians. The first photo shows where a small tributary stream is crossed early on in the walk. The bridge is almost invisible from the main path, most people seeing it only on the return journey if the arrows are followed. (I prefer going sunwise as I am perverse, and also it is prettier if I am not planning to return directly to Ambleside.) Below the bridge are some stepping stones, from where you get a wonderful view of this beautifully built gateway into another realm – as well as the easiest place to dip a hand in the water.

Continuing upwards, whichever side of the river you walk there are several different viewpoints from where you can see the main waterfall, the 70 foot high Stock Ghyll Force. Some of these still have the Victorian ironwork in place; others are very muddy and are less protected.

Stock Ghyll Force
(Click to enlarge)


I have seen the falls at lower water levels, when most of the water falls river left (ie the right hand side as in the photo), but what I liked on this occasion was the near perfect balance of the two falls, which then come together to make one. It always feels a good place for me to connect with falling water, especially going sunwise so crossing above the falls (the wooden bridge is just visible) before following with the water in the direction it is flowing in order to see them in their entirety.

These pictures were actually taken in February, when the previous snowmelt was underway. I had every intention of posting them on our return – and then the snow arrived. I just couldn’t connect with running water! Now the snow has melted again here, I finally felt ready to edit the photos (as the colours didn’t come out the way I saw them) and to write about the waterfall, however briefly. So I learned something about myself at the same time, and how I live in ‘now’, at least as far as weather is concerned!

Candles for Rituals

Candles have apparently formed a part of ceremony and ritual for around 5000 years. A ritual without a candle (or a fire) burning, no matter what other offerings or symbols are on an altar or equivalent, to me is just a meditation. It might be very meaningful in itself, but there is no uplift. No Fire in its pure elemental form to create a transformation in my subconscious.

Now that M is at school, I find I have time and space to do more full rituals again – and having not managed much for a few years it is a good opportunity for me to re-examine what I do and why. (Oh the joy, and effort, of being a solitary!) However, I have been encountering two problems. Paraffin wax, which the majority of candles are made from, smells awful to me and gives me breathing difficulties even without any scents being added. Alternatively beeswax candles, a beautiful smelling natural product, are expensive especially as easily available nightlights don’t burn properly in the time a solo ritual generally takes. Unless a candle burns to its edges before being blown out, it will form a hole in the centre, making it difficult to relight. So for my typical 30 minute or so burn time, 2cm is probably the largest candle size to use. (Several years ago I bought some beeswax “birthday candles” for which I was kindly made a wooden pentacle holder, but these only burn 10-15 minutes each. Great for a spell or focused meditation, but simply too short for a ritual.)

Pagans luckily have an answer to this problem, I have recently discovered, in the form of Spell Candles. Usually around 1-1.5cm across and 10cm tall, many are made of beeswax and come in a variety of colours. Burn time varies from an hour to 90 minutes, depending on size and if they are rolled or solid. Prices vary with some people charging a premium, while others charge in proportion to the amount of wax required to make each candle. (Yes there are now many electronic effect nightlight candles around, and yes it does take fire elementals to create electricity so they would be present, but this isn’t my first choice if there is a natural and sustainable alternative available.)

So having finally established that there are suitable candles for me to buy, I then start considering candle holders. Not many are this small, and they will need to be sized fairly specifically to which candles I choose to buy. Sticking one in melted wax on a plate is basic but tempting! But there is also the question of how many candles to have, given candle holders often come in pairs.

One candle seems to me to be adequate for a ceremony, to be lit at the start, before any circle is cast, and extinguished at the end. It can represent anything and everything, and ultimately symbolises that all is one. Connected through the centre which is everywhere. However, many witches have candles for the God and Goddess, possibly in addition to a central or carried candle (which may also be used represent Fire on the altar), making two or three candles per ceremony. Some witches also like to light candles in each quarter, coloured for each element, giving a possibility of seven candles. (I am assuming any candles lit as part of a spell or a working are extras.)

At this point I spent some time in meditation. I asked, what does my ideal altar look like for use indoors?

The picture that came into my mind was this one:

Two candles at the back. That was a surprise because it isn’t what I usually do. They are equal, yet apart. Goddess and God, Mother Earth and Father Sky, female and male, dark and light, above and below, within and without, manifested and unmanifested. I realised we live in a world of duality and what I seek is balance. Then on the right side of my altar, an apple Wand (I wonder why apple? I’ll come back to this when I know… ), ready to pick up and use, while on the left, a silver (pewter) cup bearing water. In the centre at the front, my working area where I can place anything specific to that ritual, ideally on a pentagram disk of some kind, completing the five-pointed arrangement. Underneath is my portable table covered by a bright green cotton cloth. Behind on the wall is a beautiful fabric picture of a tree.

I share this because it is considerably more basic and simple than most witches use – and in fact than I normally use! Yet although I was then shown how it could be added to, the athame next to the wand, a bowl for salt next to the cup, Goddess and God statues behind the two candles, other items specific to the ritual such as gemstones, flowers, amulets, pictures, carvings etc, I realised it is perfection in its simplicity, with each item being hand made and beautiful in itself. Both male and female are present, as are all four elements, as is an ancestor connection. If my altar represents me in the higher planes, then I seem to be calm, peaceful, simple and uncluttered inside.

A permanent altar with lots of things on it is not something that feels right to me because I live with non-Pagans who would have no use for such a thing and not treat my tools as sacred; when I am not using them, they (bell, athame, swan feather, cups, offering plates, etc) are safe inside my desk, along with all the other sacred objects, talismans, divination aids, space clearing tools etc that I possess. Our ‘seasonal displays’ on the mantleshelf act as a permanent focus with the various quilt tops I have made changing for each sabbat – they are based around the pagan year, which is of course the solar year so easily understood by all including visitors to the house. Our two dining candles live there when not in use, creating a parallel with my altar. I also have various locations in the house where there are power items that are left out all the time, and a place where I leave offerings in the garden. So after a bit of thought and experimentation, I find a really simple altar inside gives me the freedom to set it up quickly and easily when I want it (and dismantle it again before collecting M from school), and I have the flexibility to add any statues or symbols or flowers etc that are befitting to the ritual.

The loss of some tools does, however, feel like I am breaking a lot of rules! I clear space before casting a circle, so these tools are kept nearby, but I won’t now be putting them on my alter after use. My wooden athame I made has not seen much use, and it was interesting while exploring altars and candles to read other people’s comments that they don’t use an athame outside for fear of upsetting elementals – any blade is objectionable, not just an iron one. (I wondered if some witches used knives originally so that they had one to hand in case protection is needed. Also I suspect only rich witches in times past would have had a spare knife for magical purposes! Another area to come back to…) Incense I don’t use because I can’t cope with smoke – but I do sometimes use natural sprays while cleansing the space so I’ll have to find a way to work these in. Also my apple wand will need consecrating when I have made it, so I’ll have to find a way of doing this that doesn’t involve smoke!

I am amused that I started out just trying to work out what candles to buy, and have ended up redesigning my altar, and probably the whole way I celebrate. Sometimes all it takes is a small thing for us to make the big changes that we simply couldn’t see before.

Reflections

Janus looks both ways, forwards and backwards, reminding me that both matter. So as the new year begins, I am reflecting back on how much is different to what I had imagined. I have written already about my tendon injury. While it continues to heal, I have changed. I am no longer dreaming of all the physical things I hope to achieve; instead I am grateful for each thing or outdoor experience that does happen. Possibly this is self-defence, in that I don’t want to get my hopes up again. Yet I have found an inner peace and happiness in just being. I no longer feel there is always more I could or should be doing.

My rhythms are constantly changing, dictated to me by outside forces. A year ago I promised to meditate more; had I not managed this I would be lost. Yet within that there are times when I have plenty of meditation space, and other days or weeks that feel crowded by activity. Somehow everything gets done, even if never in the way I plan it.

Writing is something I have long dreamed of spending more time doing, and yet when I had three weeks of enforced hip rest and no interruptions I quickly ran out of things to say. Staring at a blank page of fiction suddenly felt self-indulgent and I realised my family needed me. I no longer need to prove to myself that I am ‘somebody’ because I write; I have a job as a homemaker, decorator, gardener, seamstress, cook, mother, lover … and am loved and valued for it. Even my blog has taken second place at times – if I didn’t have something to say that fits the very broad definition of either pagan or crafting, then I decided to ease up on myself. Once or twice a month is sometimes what I can manage, if I am concentrating on other things.

Looking back, there are two things that have changed me. One was realising my happiness depended on what stories I told myself. I had the power to be happy or not in any situation, depending on how I interpreted it for my conscious self. (See my comments about happiness under Samhain Quilt in October 2017.) The second was some recent journeying experiences of being some kind of woodland elf. Most people have had past lives, to which windows are sometimes opened, usually revealing a previous human existence or series of existences. Mine, so far, are not. They are of living as an advanced elemental in freshwater, or in woodland, the two environments I am most at home in, that give healing to me just by being there. (Unlike the ‘seaside / blue skies’ pictures or holiday places generally recommended to get healing and calm.) I do not fully understand these memories / experiences yet so haven’t written much about them (the first was 2-3 years ago, most were 2-3 months ago), but I am wondering if this life I am now in is about learning to be a human being. I often feel myself in this life as a hazel tree going off in all directions with no strong central trunk, but all weaving together to build a strong support. I would often prefer to be single minded, an expert at something, yet this is never the way things work out and it doesn’t seem to matter. Believing what I now do it makes some kind of sense and also deepens my love and respect for the Great Spirit that is in everything and knows all.

So looking forwards, I have no plans, and no strong desires. I will simply trust that everything comes in its own time, and that there is more to come.
If there is one challenge to set myself this year, it is to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside. In other words, be a good human being.

Tadpole update

Mass of emerged tadpoles

I thought anyone who follows my blog might like to know that the tadpoles are all wriggling about the pond…

The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!

Tadpole off exploring

Frog Spawn

Frog spawn apparently ‘appears’ between January and February or March, in any pond where there are frogs. I have had various people asking if we had any over the past few weeks, but had to keep saying no, the pond was less than a year old and I didn’t know if we would this first year.

Frogspawn

First Frogspawn, a few hours old. (Click to enlarge.)

And then to our great excitement a large clump of spawn appeared last Sunday.

Given it was full moon that day, I spent some time in the garden in the evening and for the first time in my life had the joy of listening to the gentle sound of frogs croaking. After about 20 minutes there was a splash, then silence. A second clump of frogspawn had appeared – so close to the first I almost missed it in the dark.

Two clumps of frogspawn. (Click to enlarge.)

So now I am keeping an eye for changes, and making sure nothing damages the spawn. However, I was fascinated one morning to discover just how well it looks after itself. Some beech leaves had blown in from the nearby hedge, which I remove most days at this time of year, and one had landed on the spawn. I was surprised to find it was slightly stuck to the spawn and then worried about damaging them as I pulled it off – until I realised that it had a series of circular holes and arcs cut into it. (Afterwards I wished I had kept hold of the leaf, as I couldn’t find it again later to take a photograph.) I can only assume that the coating on the spawn had dissolved the leaf wherever it touched, so that it was no longer blocking the light. This seems to me some feat to achieve in less than a day on a crispy tough beech leaf!

Frogspawn photographed from underwater

Meanwhile my photography took a new turn as I began writing this post, as I managed to find the waterproof case we used to use with our old camera when canoeing. I have a lot to learn still about lighting and focal distances underwater – I obviously cannot see what is in the viewfinder, nor can I check the resulting images very well while they are in the waterproof case, and it needs to dry before I can open it giving little chance for a repeat attempt.

7 day old frogspawn, photographed from underwater.


Surprisingly for a camera that is rubbish at macro, it was the closest pictures that came out most in focus, just showing the start of tails developing. Hopefully with this knowledge and a bit more time to experiment, I will improve before the tadpoles emerge!

A Woodland Spring

There is a very lovely woodland spring near to me, which I had the opportunity to revisit this week. It is shown on maps as “Ben’s Well”, near to “Ben’s Farm”, and lies within “Booth’s Wood”. I have not as yet been able to find out anything about who Ben was – do comment below if you can enlighten me!

Ben's Well as it emerges from the ground.

Ben’s Well as it emerges from the ground with the root bridge in the foreground.
(Click to enlarge.)

The spring is one of several nearby, but the only one that never seems to be muddy. It comes straight out of the muddy bank and flows beautifully pure and clear, making nice drinking. I was reminded on tasting it of some of Victor Schauberger’s work on streams following their natural course through woodland, running all year and never flooding or jamming up if they are not interfered with by man. The temperature stays far more constant with the tree’s shading, and it is very pleasant there even on a hot day.

Root bridge at Ben's Well.

Root bridge at Ben’s Well. (Click to enlarge)

There is, however, an extra feature that attracts me to this stream. Within a few feet of the spring is a path, which at one time had a stone wall built along each side of it. This can be seen higher up in the wood, with the occasional stone gatepost still standing. However where it crosses the stream, the main evidence of the wall is where a tree root has used it to advantage to make a natural bridge. This root has become the crossing point itself. A special place.

Root Bridge and Wood Sorrel

Root Bridge at Ben’s Well, Derbyshire. Wood Sorrel grows on the upstream side.

Wild Swimming in Yorkshire

One of my long-term dreams, mentioned previously on this blog, is to swim in the river Duddon at Birks Bridge, preferably on a nice sunny day when it looks like it does in the pictures… I always said when I gave up canoeing, it was because I wanted to spend more time walking and swimming. Well finally I have swum in a river, even if not one I had ever heard of before.

Thomason's Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

Thomason’s Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

This is Thomason’s Foss on the Eller Beck, which runs North and West through Goathland before flowing into the Murk Esk. The steam railway roughly follows the river, and can occasionally be seen high above the waterfall through the trees.

When I visited there was a fallen tree across the outflow from the pool that had clearly been there for some time and which, with the large rocks there, could form some interesting strainers in higher water conditions. However at this level it felt like a magical entrance archway that had to be passed under to reveal the full glory of the pool beyond.

It was cold. The pool was very deep, and shaded by trees. It was also very dark from the peat in the water so my feet disappeared when at only knee depth and rocks had to be found by touch. I stood for a long time, and then explored around the edges – most of my swimming in recent years was either in a dry suit or in a wetsuit in warmer waters! Today I had neither.

Eventually I asked the water for help. Remarkably it worked. I swam, and didn’t freeze. It felt beautiful.

Climbing out safely onto the awkward rocks, I paused for a moment, before having another go and swimming as close to the waterfall as I was comfortable before returning to a flattish rock. I thanked the water for helping me. I then had a third go, and seemed to find the full effects of the cold. Definitely bracing!

Water Meditations

I am in water, I am nearly part of the water. I am wishing I could come back not as a human but as a water elemental. Oh to be a drop of rain, falling through the sky, then trickling through vegetation into a stream. To be a part of that, part of a river, the sea. Waves, or deep water. The feeling is so powerful, it catches me by surprise.

Could I simply do that?

Then I see a problem. Water elementals are formed and unformed when they are needed and not needed. They live, but then disappear as the water evaporates, taking no memory with them.*

A human has memory, too much sometimes. I feel weighed down. I want to be free. Tears run down my face.

But then I remember that as a human I can follow the water with my mind. I can go into the tree with my mind, up out of the leaves. I can play in a huge stopper at the bottom of a pourover, or just drift lazily down a summer stream where ducks make their way back and forth. And I can keep the memory of each exploration, bring it into my own life – along with so many other things as well. I make a vow to go swimming again.

* On further reflection I realise this probably isn’t true. Elementals can be themselves again when they reform, or even a more developed, further advanced version of themselves, just as we are in essence ourselves again in each lifetime. Spirit, in all its forms, is conscious. But it may be just as well I didn’t consider this at the time…

——

It is two weeks later. I journey astrally to meet the elemental of the swimming pool where I have been going. I tried to make contact when physically at the pool, but just had the impression of colourful swirls of energy, the colours associated with swimming pools, of blues and whites, strangely the blues nearly the same as what I was wearing.

In my journey I was able to see her much more clearly. She is far more advanced than the simple elementals, more like a mermaid in form. I shall call her a Deva, as that is how she seemed to me. Her main colours were indeed swirls of light blue and white, with the occasional streak of dark blue. She had long blond hair, and overall looked like an Art Nouveau image of a graceful woman, but with her form unfixed and ever changing. I was surprised that when she came out of the pool to talk to me, she had legs, but they disappeared again as soon as she re-entered the water. She was young, and as bright and clear as the water. (Which is the nicest public swimming pool water I can ever remember being in.)

As the pool suddenly became busy, she excused herself and said she had to go. I watched her guiding several people to avoid collisions, and supporting anyone learning to swim – one girl of about six or seven in particular was getting a lot of help from her to float gently.

I then left the pool and came to my own garden, to try and meet the Deva of our pond. She was completely different in looks and character, swirls of greens, lots of browns, a dash of pink and red from the waterlily, dark hair, more frog-like. She had no time to stop, so busy was she trying to keep the balance of this very young pond. I thanked her for her efforts and told her how beautiful it was looking. I then returned the way I had come, for once not feeling bereft as I re-entered ordinary reality.

Frogs in the Rain Pond

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond. (Click to enlarge)

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond.
(Click to enlarge)

This is the first week that a frog has been spotted in our pond. Swimming, and looking happy.

There were two animals I really hoped to attract when building the pond – one was frogs, the other was dragonflies. From all I have read, importing animals or frogspawn is a bad idea; nature will usually turn up when conditions are right.

I have not written here about planting the pond, beyond designing a pot lifter to move the pots around in deep water. (See ‘Planting the Rain Pond’, 17 April 2016.) It has been an interesting learning curve for me, starting with the basics of understanding water plants, how many and what types are needed, what depths they like, and how to actually plant them when they arrive as bare-rooted specimens. General advice I could find was to avoid anything remotely invasive, put in more plants than you might expect, and allow time for a balance to be reached.

So I dowsed with my trusty pendulum to find out which plants would like to be in my pond, bought one of everything that said it would, three of each of the oxygenating plants that get planted in bunches, and then spent the best part of a day fitting the whole lot into pots. The weather promptly turned cold with snow, growth was at a minimum, and virtually nothing happened. It then got hot, algae grew and, with virtually no plant cover on the surface yet, the pond needed frequent topping up from water butts. Algae continued to grow, and most of the plants disappeared from view, and I feared would never be seen again…

There are probably more plants that absolutely necessary, but it has been fascinating to me to watch how they all grow so differently. Forgetmenots and brooklime have sprawled all over the place and leave trailing roots through the water that I suspect will attempt to invade their neighbours. Irises just sit there looking small. But the water hawthorn sent up flower stems very shortly after being planted, giving hope. Now all of the various plants seem to have recovered and are growing and flowering; even my waterlily, which I feared drowned for some months due to its disappearance into the depths, has sent up a flower bud. And the water soldiers have risen like a bunch of pineapples as the water suddenly cleared a couple of weeks ago.

So now I have a frog. I can’t help wondering if the fact I went swimming two days before for the first time in a few years, making new, deep connections with water and water elementals, had something to do with its arrival. I wanted to take a photograph of it, and of course couldn’t find it. Best evidence was rustling in some plants the other end of the garden, where frogs have occasionally been spotted before. I went back later at a similar time of day to when I had seen it before, mid to late afternoon, looked again in the branches of the scruffiest plant there, and this time found not one but two frogs in the pond! I guess the brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) will be staying…

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

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.

Planting the Rain Pond

We finally finished the pond at the beginning of this month: emptied all the tap water out, (two hose siphons and a lot of buckets, which M loved helping with!) cemented the edging in place, and refilled the pond using rain water as far as possible over a few wet days, cleaning out a water butt in the process. So I ordered a whole list of plants online, which duly arrived this week as bare-rooted specimens ready for potting up.

It really was a joyful experience, spending the best part of a day planting everything out and seeing all the exciting new water-loving plants I was able to add to my garden. The mesh pots were filled with soil that came out of the pond (best growing media for ponds apparently, far better than expensive ‘aquatic compost’! Only wish someone had told me this before I spread most of the soil around the garden as I would have set aside a neat pile of it.) Then followed the process of working out which end of each plant was root (not always obvious this early in the season) and trying to spread them out in the soil, plunging the pots into a tub of water, and then adding stones to fill the space created. Finally putting the pots in the water at the required depth, trying to assign each plant to a shelf of the right depth. Twenty times and I got a good work out!

How to get a newly planted pot into the bottom of the pond without spilling it was something I gave quite a bit of thought to. Eventually I came up with the idea that if all the pots were the square plastic type with a lip, it should be possible to design a flat wide hook that would fit under the lip and a flat bit to stop it pivoting. (Round pots wouldn’t work as the diameters would vary.)

Pot lifter, close up view

Pot lifter, close up view

Pot lifter in action.

Pot lifter in action.

So here it is. My amazing pot lifter, made (not by me) entirely from metal scraps we already had and riveted together. The top plate has a spacer so that it tucks neatly under the lip, the odd shaped slot in the centre is to fit various size pots with webbing under the lip. I won’t say it is easy guiding a heavy 10L pot full of soil into position, but it worked, and I know I can now move pots if I need to. Hopefully they won’t need too much attention: at least this is one type of pot that will never need watering…

The Rain Pond – Part 2

The rain pond is now a pond at last… just! By doing the work slowly over a few weeks it has meant we have had plenty of thinking and reading time as plans have needed adjusting.

Rain Pond Levels

Rain Pond Levels


Here is the hole at its most visible, which has various levels for planting as well as some deep water and a shallow concrete area we plan to cover with cobbles. The concrete path luckily turned out to be not as thick or hard as feared, although being laid on top of concrete pavement slabs meant that it broke where the joints were rather than exactly where we planned. There was more concrete at a depth of 2’6”, which we considered leaving in place; however after a few days of looking at it, I decided the hole was not deep enough so a hole was punched through part of it leaving a small shelf for deep plants or for standing on if needing to climb out of the pond.

I did not plan to have the shelf along the side, wanting a greater volume of water if possible, but after reading suggestions that marginal plants would cope better with a pumped pond than deep water plants, I left the soil in place. Not as large a shelf as I first made it – again, time played a role in allowing me to feel where it was right and where more soil removal was needed. (The pump won’t be installed until a second pond is in place further up the garden.)

Many books seem to suggest that it is very hard to dig a pond and the hire of a digger is almost an essential tool for the job. I didn’t want to use a digger, I wanted to do it myself. Besides the damage a digger would cause to the surrounding garden would take months to restore. As it was, the digging turned out to be the easy bit, whereas carting bucket after bucket after bucket of soil to spread in the garden, and finding enough places to put it where I was only covering weeds not valued plants, proved a far bigger challenge!

All the soil dug out was eventually transferred to other areas of the garden. You may be able to see by the colour of the sides that most of it is good, usable topsoil. However at one end of the pond we were into stones and clay; the stones have been kept for later use while the remaining clay and gravel was spread by the side of the garage where it unlikely to support too many weeds.

Yesterday we spent the day leveling the edges, spreading sand on flat areas and smoothing out some of the lumps and bumps,laying out the underlay and finally lining the pond and filling it with water. A canoeing drysuit came in useful as the many pleats in the liner needed easing into flatness! So the pond is now ready for some edging stones, and then I finally get to put some plants in, by which time the water should have de-chlorinated itself. All future top-ups should be rainwater, either directly from the sky or via roofs and waterbutts.

The Rain Pond – Part 1

I have mentioned a few times here that I have great plans for bringing water into the garden. This weekend has finally seen the first of two ponds started…

It is impossible (for me anyway!) to make accurate plans for our garden. Every thing is curved, or at a funny angle, or non-definite in its placement such as the hedge boundaries. Instead I sketch out ideas roughly to scale, and then try to translate them onto what looks right on the ground by laying ropes on the grass. So it was with the pond. We now have an outline of the bed it will sit in, an outline of the water area, and some kind of a plan for depths. However it is only with a lot of head-scratching that we have managed the last part.

The first test trench was dug about a month ago, straight across the middle of where we thought we wanted the pond, which will be roughly kidney-shaped. It was dug a spade’s width at the top, down to two foot six or so which I understand is the minimum depth for a wildlife pond. The good news was that it was topsoil all the way down, so it will be very easy to use what we dig out elsewhere in the garden. (Unexpected, given other areas are sandstone and clay within a spade’s depth or less; plants there will be glad of some more decent soil.) Also it has sufficient clay to hold the sides together even if they are cut steep – meaning we should be able to reach our required depth despite the small size. On the bad side however, digging was made easier by the extraction of eight or nine bricks at the bottom of the trench – the removal of which turned the hole into an old-fashioned lightbulb shape. Since we have already dug out 4,500 bricks in our garden, which is only the size of a singles tennis court, we really didn’t feel the need for any more! (They proved very useful for our extension as they match exactly…) Worse, we found the edge of an old path about a foot down, made of modern slippery pavers laid onto a very thick (8-10”) bed of concrete. Not so helpful when its line threatens to cut right across the proposed pond. It did, however, explain why the grass down the middle of the garden always went brown in summer.

This weekend the plan was to decide where the two ends of the pond would be within the ‘pond bed’, so that I could measure up and order such things as liner, edging, cobbles etc. Marking out with the aid of a rope laid on the ground, no problem even with M’s help. Second test hole to check the buried path, not so great. The path sloped upwards towards ground level, rapidly becoming too shallow to use as a marginals shelf at barely six inches below anticipated water level, and the concrete base turned out to be three foot wide. In four foot wide water this wasn’t too helpful.

So after some more thinking, we have finally decided to: use the first section of the path we discovered as a marginals shelf somewhere in the middle of the pond; make the far end of the pond deep instead of shallow; use the shallowest bit of concrete as base for the cobbled area; and cut a hole across the middle of the path where it really can’t be avoided in order to give a second deep area.

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

Exploratory trenches for rain pond

The photo shows the deep trench in the foreground with some of the bricks and other rubble we dug out, a row of pavers forming the edge of the path, and a wide area of concrete, pavers removed. There are a few bits of grass and soil left to remove within the pond area… Top right is the corner of the base for my new sanctuary space, from where I plan to watch the rain bouncing up from the surface of the pond, frogs diving amongst the plants, and a pourover gently keeping the pond topped up with rainwater.

Did I mention there will eventually be a stream running into this pond? Meaning that the water also needs to be deep enough at the top end for a pump for when it isn’t raining? Raising the pond would have been an alternative solution – but then it would be too high for the stream to actually flow into it!

I am continuing to trust that my crazy, ambitious plans are all capable of being realised and will work!

A Soggy Imbolc

I am feeling a bit of a theme to Sabbats at the moment – all of the recent ones seem determined to get me wet! However it was not from above that I got a soaking, but from below.

I like to make Brigid Crosses to honour the goddess at this time of year, and although I have used crocosmia stems from my garden successfully in the past, this year they were well past it and shredded for compost. So instead I went on a search for the traditional plant used, the common or field rush, Juncus effusus, being a good Brigid green all year.

Rushes are not a plant that grow in abundance where I live – which is on the top of a hill – even in this damp year we have been having. However a drainage ditch put in a few years ago alongside a minor road a short distance from me has been colonised by some very interesting flora, including rushes. So on Sunday afternoon, once the rain had stopped, we had a family walk returning by way of the ditch so that I could cut a few stems.

This year the timing of the verge cutting left no rushes growing out of the top of the ditch. The only plants with leaves long enough to cut where those growing low down near the water level, out of the sides of the gabions from which the ditch is constructed. It wasn’t deep, I had wellies on, so I jumped in next to the first likely looking plant – and yes was able to cut several stems that were suitable. But not enough for a cross, unless I left the poor plant with nothing left to grow from. (There is not an abundance of rushes here!) So I asked for a hand out of the ditch, and then stepped down again at the next place where there were three rush plants growing close together. All good, until I tried to climb out again.

Having moved downstream, the layer of mud in the bottom of the concrete-lined ditch was about twice as deep as my first place. Wellie was not released by said mud, and instead bent over at the top and filled with water. Result: one very wet foot. The rushes were exacting their payment. Brigid was anointing me with her water. And I was laughing too hard to do anything.

The strange thing is since that event, I have felt her presence very strongly back in my life, guiding me forward. I have been exploring other directions a little over the winter, and become very aware of Elen of the Ways, the only horned goddess, amongst others. I realise that each year I seem to experience a different goddess in Winter when Brigid is less present, Danu and Hecate both having been strong forces in recent years. Yet now Spring has returned it is Brigid again, with her crafting skills in particular. It is a familiar, comforting and relaxing feeling to return to what I know. However, she has been showing me how I can use my own crafting skills to bring more love into the world thus taking what I know to a new level, as well as how I can work with water, Earth’s “living love”, to honour the Earth and help bring healing. I will of course be writing as much as I am able here, fulfilling the third of Brigid’s three aspects…

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.

Creating a Circle

Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

I am really excited to have a new circle space in the garden, done in time for Samhain last weekend. It is 13′ across, and has four access paths positioned North, South, East and West.

It looks a little unfinished at the moment – I haven’t actually planned shape of the pond yet, just where it is going to go (about where I am standing), so I simply dug out the final side of the circle to mark the edge. I now need to do some measuring, thinking and drawing before any more digging, but I have been really pleased to get this far. Having a break for a couple weeks will hopefully allow the shifted ground to settle enough so I can see where to put the soil from the pond. Then in another month or two I can start moving those plants that are in the middle of the “East” path (to the left in the picture, a very large and very lovely Geranium ‘Patricia’) – giving easier access to the hedge on that side. Eventually the plants should signify the four elements: Windflowers already grow in the East for Air (those tall floppy Anemone hupehensis var. japonica plants), hot colours to the South for Fire, there will be Water in the West, so it is only Earth in the North that will need careful consideration.

There is no permanent marker for the centre of my circle of grass, but at present the paint mark is just visible. I would put a flat stone there, which would serve many purposes, but if anyone ever wants to camp in that space it might be a little uncomfortable! At some point in the future I hope to create a bulb spiral which will also mark the centre (leaving a space), but with my present record on doing anything with spirals I’m not rushing anything!

Spirals

I have been making a skirt this week – it has all of five pieces, and yet I have been having more problems with it than any other piece of sewing I have done for years. I shouldn’t really have been surprised though, because it has a spiral design.

It has been suggested that the spiral, in the form of a vortex, is the basis for all life. Out of vortices of energy come mass. This happens at the micro particle level, but is reflected upwards and outwards into DNA, water flows, shells, horns, plant growth, clouds, and right out to the spin of our solar system. Whatever scale we choose, we can find spirals. I have felt them trying to spin me physically when standing over energy nodes such as inside longbarrows. I have carved them in wood, in pumpkins, in peeling apples. They connect us with all life, always growing, changing, developing. Never static.

A few years ago, when I was quite ill, my father made me a woodcarving. Its adventures in trying to reach me would fill a book, with one episode after another including a trip by itself to Northern Ireland and back. I asked if it had a spiral design – sure enough it did. It seemed to me nothing else would have led it such a merry dance.

So when it came to sewing my skirt, to have to recut pieces and resew seams was probably just to be expected. Frustrating some of the time, but also amusing and entertaining. And I managed to turn the wrongly cut pieces into a dress for M so very little was wasted and a lot was learned…

Rain

Welsh poppy, Papaver cambrica, in the rain

Welsh poppy, Papaver cambrica, in the rain

Today it has been raining hard, for the first time in over a month. The sky is grey, the hills are obscured by cloud, and everything is wet. I am cocooned in my warm house, feeling cosy as I watch rivulets running down the windows.

I am intrigued at the various reactions I display to rain, even over the space of half an hour of watching it. There is my initial, slightly disappointed feeling of it’s cold and wet, the sun isn’t shining like it has so often recently. Then there is the enjoyment of all the greens in the garden, the awareness of the plants and the soil soaking up the wetness with relief and I realise again just how little they have had recently. Finally I watch the spray, hear the sound of raindrops, and think about how nice it was listening to rain in a tent or under a shelter, rather than from inside brick walls. A trip outside in the garden reminds me I rather like rain, it is only the attitudes of others colouring my views. Heavy rain can be exciting to watch, and provided I’m not going to be in cold wet clothes all day, even more exhilarating to be out in. Gentle rain brings me closer to nature. I feel part of things, alive, refreshed, cleansed.

I have a whole tray of lupin seedlings on my windowsill, to fill in the gaps in the flowerbeds where I have been weeding. I used to grow them, but they have gradually disappeared while untended as the spot was too shady. I may start a rain-plant area, as they look so stunning catching water droplets in their leaves. Other favourites for rain include alchemillas with their furry leaves turning water drops to quicksilver, and Dicentra spectabile with raindrops hanging from each flower. Bulbs like tulips just close their petals for protection, and then carry on as before. Peony leaves sparkle, although their flowers are less able to cope. But the unexpected star of the show is for me Solomon’s seal, its graceful, arching stems being as fluid as the water itself.