Fire and Rhubarb

I mentioned last week, in Happy Samhain, that I have been working quite a bit with the elements over the past year. Not for the first time, in fact the third, but I seem to go deeper and take longer each time. On this occasion I stayed with each element, exploring through meditation, ritual, appropriate outdoor activities and music, for around 6-8 weeks, and then mostly had a quick end when I realised I was going too far out of balance. Earth I gradually became ‘stuck in the mud’ and lethargic, not getting anything done. I also had molehills appear all over the place, in the middle of winter when I wasn’t otherwise digging the ground, forcing me to connect directly with the soil more than just walking. Water saw me crying a lot, and it raining a lot. The washing machine broke two pumps and flooded the kitchen on more than one occasion. My daughter suddenly decided she was ready to visit the swimming pool at last, enabling me to go too. Air saw strong winds and many ideas, if often impractical or challenging intellectually. The fence blew down. Fire saw drought and moorland fires, but I was being scared of it and in hindsight didn’t really open up to its teachings.

I ask myself, was I just more aware of each of these things because I am thinking about their element? No, I haven’t mentioned all of the occurrences, and there were way too many coincidences for it to simply be awareness, but that is part of being with the element too. I can say that within the year just gone they were the most extreme periods for each type of weather. But as I said, I didn’t really do Fire. I remember feeling relieved that I got through unscathed, no burning the house down or major temper outbursts, because I was deliberately keeping it in balance with the other elements.

However, I am now realising that fire is determined to teach me. The fire is relit within me and new projects are taking off – but I need to direct my energies better. In two weeks I have managed to burn an oven mitt, a pillowcase, a wooden spatula, and yesterday a pan that boiled dry. Finally I recognise what I am being shown. So having got the message at last, now I need to sort it out. Make my connection to Fire in a positive way, and use it to not only be creative but follow things through. To take action where action is needed.

Meanwhile, the totally blackened pan won’t scrub clean, so I look online for ideas. Vinegar and baking soda. Bio washing liquid. Well each did get it a bit better, but not so you’d notice if you hadn’t seen how it started out. Rhubarb, I thought. Was there any left? Despite the recent frosts there were four thin stems still with colour on them. I picked two, and boiled them in the pan. A bit of scrubbing, mainly with the burnt spatula, and I can see silver again. Fighting fire with fire.

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Autumn Flowers

Late October Cranesbill Geraniums

It is hard to believe that Samhain is next week when my garden is full of flowers that normally bloom in May or June.

Potentilla Miss Willmott still going

Several died back to ground level during the drought, put on growth in the rains of August, and the Campanulas started flowering again in September. They were joined by a Leucanthemum, giant scabious, candytuft, sweet cicely, sweet rocket, and now even the geraniums which I thought I had lost are having a good go. Along with the usual autumn flowers of course!

Sweet Cicely enjoying a second flush of flowers

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ still flowering in late October

Hazelnuts were so early that I missed most of them. Yet the Eucryphia tree in our garden which usually flowers in August did so at the normal time, and has carried on, and on…

Unfortunately the recent warm spell also brought a new generation of pests, including many flies which get in my face while cycling and whiteflies which have invaded my kale. I am sending the lacewings out from sheltering in my bedroom windows (not a very sensible place for the winter, I open them too often) on the next warm day to have a feast.

And one that flowered at the normal time, a Paeonia mlokoseiwitschii I grew from seed and now producing the first of the next generation. The flies seem to like this too.

Celebrating the Harvest

It was the Autumn Equinox last Sunday, a time of harvest celebrations. But what a strange year this has been! A late winter with snow in April, then drought in May, June and July, before a wet and chilly August.

The apples loved it. The extra cold helped them create more flower buds, they survived the drought, losing excess fruit without me having to thin them out, and then the rain came just in time to help the fruit swell. The first fruits were ready at the start of August, two weeks early even for our early trees, and carried on into September with larger fruit. I spent the days before we went on holiday (late August) madly making apple sauce to freeze, as this early fruit doesn’t keep and we were overflowing with apples on every counter.

Plums came at their normal time, but suffered from being eaten more than normal. The apples also had lots of wasps early on which I’ve never seen before, I assume there just wasn’t much else for them in the drought.

Blackberries came a month early – but with the cold weather finished early as well. Yet my strawberries have had a second crop and been a really delicious treat – they are still going. The raspberries cropped well in the drought but didn’t make new canes, so the autumn crop and also next summer’s are greatly reduced, even though there is plenty of rain now.

In the vegetable garden, the sweetcorn drank all the water offered so underplantings (mainly nasturtiums) all died. I had a crazy plant with a cob growing around a male flower, but it proved edible and we managed a small crop of good cobs as well. The climbing French beans were so prolific that eventually the wind blew them over. The edging and supports will all need replacing over the winter. Similarly the tomatoes grew so well in the heat I actually had to stop them at the top of their six foot stakes!

Finally, one crop I harvested but didn’t grow was barley. I promised myself last year that I would as so many Lughnasadh rituals are based around wheat – which I am allergic to, but barley is fine for me. Unfortunately I never found any small quantities of seed for sale. However, I did keep an eye on the fields around here, and spotted barley growing along a lane I sometimes cycle, with a footpath going conveniently along the edge of the field. With the drought it was harvested in mid-July, earlier than I have seen previously. So I parked up my bike, climbed the style which luckily wasn’t completely overgrown with nettles and brambles thanks to the drought, and walked along the field edge to see what had been left behind. Enough barley, and also some wheat for the rest of the family, to make a display and grind some into bread. A token amount – it takes a lot of grain for a loaf and barley I discovered is much harder to separate from the chaff than wheat, but somehow the inclusion of even a few grains of my own picked and winnowed barley seems worth it and makes the bread special. I have managed to be part of the wheel of the year and the turning of the seasons, not just an observer.

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.

Wands and Weather

Back in February when I was redesigning and simplifying my altar, I learned that I ‘had’ an apple wand. This made very little sense to me at the time for two reasons. First, that I have never used a wand finding my finger a pretty good tool for most things, and second because I had very little connection to apple as a wood. Since then I have made some progress in understanding these two difficulties, so am now ready to write a bit more.

A wand is always associated with witches and other magic workers in fiction, but in modern witchcraft rarely gets more than a passing mention. For those in a coven it may be obvious as to when a wand is employed, but for those like myself who read, experiment, meditate, and talk to dragons or other spirits, it seems of much less concern. Most books seem to promote the athame as the primary tool for casting a circle and directing energy, and for the great rite (although this has less relevance for a solitary witch!) But a wand is frequently the subject of a single paragraph, saying that it can be used to direct energy, without explaining how or when; and that it is usually associated with Fire as it represents Will, while the athame is Air and connects more to the mind. (Some say the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deliberately reversed these in order to keep occult practices secret. There is logic both ways, since a blade is forged by Fire while a tree branch grows through the Air, but I know it is my Will I am directing through my finger or a wand and not just my thoughts!)

However there were also good reasons for not using an athame as my primary tool: the intention of a blade is usually to cut, whereas my aim is usually to direct energy; elementals don’t like blades being used, iron or other materials, so if outside I would need an alternative; and finally, laws in this country make it very difficult to legally carry a knife anywhere outside the home. I couldn’t help wondering if witches did use knives for casting their circles in days gone by, whether this was for protection against being seen before the circle was complete, that the knife was then in heir hand ready for use. I also find it very hard to believe that the average witch could afford a knife that was used purely for witchcraft or circle casting; I think most were practical people who took whatever household items were most suited to their purpose and sometimes a knife was appropriate to have at hand.

So having accepted a wand as my tool, I realised that the wood Apple is generally associated with Air, the fey, and music. Now I was getting a hint of why Apple might be right for me! I have recently been trying to sing the songs suggested to me by stones or water, and finding each to have its own character and be unique. Different types of stones, soil, sand, pure water or polluted water, each expressed its character through the song I sang with it, and area I have been developing and want to do more with. But was that the only reason? I decided to ask Oak about it, and have now had several discussions with him and various other allies.

The first discussion – I already have apple trees in my garden who would like to be used, I don’t have my own oak tree! And apple will lend its gentle aid, being strong and unweilding but also add a loving, peaceful, sharing influence.

The second discussion, after more reading and still feeling very little connection with Apple – yes other woods will do, but get to know apple! Apple brings calm and peace to its work, along with maturity. Not fast like Rowan, or straight like hazel, but loving and giving. Different doorways to Oak. Female. Time to set the Eve story in its proper place.
I then cut a short length and whittled the corners off while fresh from the tree, and was overwhelmed by the amount of love coming from the tree. It now takes its place on my altar until I have finished making my wand.

The third discussion – following on from learning about trees dying, (see ‘When is a plant dead?’) a certain consciousness exists in any piece of wood, and how it works will depend on the original tree, where it is cut from the tree, what is carved in it, how I add to it and add my consciousness to it. (This is why no one should borrow a wand!) I should use it for sun circles, sabbat celebrations, casting circles, love, friendship, for myself spiritually eg gaining wisdom, knowledge, singing, meeting goddesses. One day I’ll want a moon wand for working outside at night, hazel, and a yew wand for different work. But Apple first and for now. (A few weeks later I realise that the three woods are all female to me, and represent maiden, mother and crone. I discover unexpectedly that I have recently fully embraced motherhood; not by having a daughter who I am slowly teaching independence to, but by taking in houseplants that will need nurturing care for their whole lives (see ‘Bringing Plants Indoors’) so this shift in me is why I must make the Apple wand first; then go back and make Hazel. I’m not quite a Crone yet, so Yew could be a few years off.)

There was nothing suitable I wanted to prune from any of my apple trees, so I investigated my collection of stored wood – and found four pieces of apple from our garden already cut and seasoned from previous prunings. However, none seemed ideal for a wand being either too small once the bark was removed, or too large.

Then finally, I use my wand, under the guidance of Dragon. Some weather working is needed, and I am told to use my wand to call a wind and shift the clouds that have brought persistent fog for days now. I try holding it, knowing by now how it needs to be carved, and feel its energy through my arm and hand. I direct energy with it, and feel how much more effective it is than just me. Later I go back to my pieces of wood and can feel exactly which one it is carved from. The clouds start to clear; the next day is bright sunshine. The weather forecast has apparently ‘changed’.

I use my wand again a week later, first holding it too tight, then realise my mistake. This wand is very exacting! I finally understand that I am needed for weatherworking because I am not attached to any particular weather; I am actually happiest with the variety England normally gets. In early March I had asked if I should shift the snow, but was told it was necessary to rebalance the world and for humans to start to become aware of how they are affecting their environment, and there would be another 3 weeks of cold. There was. This time I was told it was right to shift the fog, and later to rebalance again, and therefore felt confident in doing so. Ultimately I need to keep balance, because humans are out of balance with themselves, and with the weather, wanting only sunshine. The problem is a result of humans, therefore humans must be involved in its solution, if we want to continue to work with the Earth. I have worked locally for several years, (see previous posts) but now also sometimes nationally when my awareness is capable. I share because more people around the world are needed to do this work. I didn’t choose it or ask for it, but seem to have been given the responsibility for it.

I was reminded by Dragon to say again that it is not me changing the weather, I am simply doing the asking and providing the energy for it to happen. I need to be in tune with what is happening, and to always ask as I have done so far, and to find ways of directing and raising energy that suit me and are appropriate to the level needed. It can be ritual, or singing when I need more energy than is easy for me, but I also need to learn more about the various winds and which one to call up, as well as the trade winds. Apple is keen to help with this and to bring more abundance of fruits to the land.

And finally, I find myself working on a writing project with the fey. I can’t help wondering if Apple has provided the link!

Spring Equinox Quilt

Spring Equinox Quilt

This display quilt just got made in time! Mainly due to the fact that Winter returned with snow in early March closing all the schools… Instead of daffodils, often flowering here by the end of January, snowdrops are entering their fourth month of continuous flowering.

As this festival is about balance, I wanted to do a very square design. Most of the colours I had that were suitable were not patterned either, restricting my options. However I found that this added to the calm, balanced feel, even if the weather is being wild. Like at Imbolc and Yule, there is a more definite pattern to this quilt than some of the earlier ones, which I find I prefer.

The colours were based around what I normally see at this time of year, so lots of new fresh greens, daffodils, pink blossom, blue skies. At the moment, the purple crocuses are doing well, usually much earlier, and the only pink I have seen is my winter flowering Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Just before the equinox we had a very deliberate removal of anything ‘Wintery’ and changing to Spring, hoping to help draw it forth. So the display includes a woolly lamb we made in the Lake District (I’ll have to do some more for Imbolc next year so it doesn’t get lonely!) hares, flowers, fairies, and lots of eggs.

Fleeting Beauty

I enjoy the changing of the seasons, and with each season its special flowers. I have very few evergreen plants in my garden, even flowering types, because I find them stiff and dull for so much of the year – with never that promise of a fine show when it is their turn. Roses are great for flowering from June to November, but even they would be too familiar if they didn’t take a break from time to time between each flush of new flowers. However, there is one flower which the books don’t tell you about, which I am finding is testing my patience in the opposite direction: the waterlily.

Until digging the pond last year, I had little experience of any water plants, and relied on best advice from the books I found. It has mostly been a wonderful journey of discovery and excitement, with a whole range of different shaped leaves and flowers and some interesting growth habits, and I enjoy discovering which wildlife can be found on which plants. Most have grown well, and flowered well, except for the waterlily. Last year it produced a few leaves and one flower bud, which as far as I could tell, sat sticking just out of the water for days and days, then fell over and died. I was disappointed, but as a new water gardener, not too worried as I thought it just hadn’t established yet and the weather conditions were wrong and the balance in the pond hadn’t quite sorted itself out yet. After all, not all peony buds make flowers if the weather is wrong, but there are always enough giant blooms to give a good show for a few weeks.

Waterlily 4, barely open

This year I have therefore been pleased to see a succession of buds come to the surface on my waterlily, approximately one a week. This is the fourth in the photograph. You will however see it is only half open. And there lies the problem. After spending well over a week as a bud, the waterlily finally decides it is time for the flower to open. If it is a warm sunny day, the flower opens up like the pictures in the book and looks beautiful. Truly stunning. I saw one. But if the weather is miserable and cloudy, or worse actually raining, then it half opens for two days, like this, before giving up and falling over sideways for a few days before disappearing back into the depths. I really wanted to take some pictures of a beautiful open flower; I didn’t realise that first one was going to be the only one to fully open!

Waterlily 5, mostly open

Luckily for my peace of mind, flower number five followed just a day later and did finally get three-quarters of the way open briefly this afternoon. Even more luckily I was here to photograph it at the right moment. Normally it is earlier or later in the day that I am outside, not 3pm on a week day.

The waterlily is not, of course, the only flower to spend most of its life half-open, and only open fully when the sun is shining. Tulips do this all the time. Some even look quite odd on a sunny day, with their petals wide; they were clearly bred for a Northern European climate. The little species tulips that grow naturally further south look great opened out, because the interest is on the inside of their petals, but most hybrids are bred to look good and be photographed half closed. But my fluted tulips often last 5 weeks for each flower, and even the fussy ones and the species last 2-3 weeks, with sometimes more than one flower per stem. Tulips would never have become a garden classic if they lasted a mere day or two!

Daylily

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) illustrate the other side of the picture – they do just last a day. But then they get out of the way so as not to spoil the show for tomorrow’s flower. My plants may be more leaf than flower, but there are always several flowers to be seen each day in the summer.

In Lisa Beskow’s ‘The Flowers’ Festival‘ the Rose and the Waterlily are both queens of equal rank; all the other flowers are below them. But while the rose presides over the festival, the waterlily is fussy and does not leave the water. Everyone else comes: other water flowers such as reeds, rushes, Miss Calla, Yellow Flag and the yellow water lily; even the hothouse flowers like the Miss Pelargoniums, Mrs Myrtle and the grand Lady Fuchsia, once their fears about cold have been allayed. Says it all really!

I think I have a choice. I can enjoy the challenge of growing something so fussy, doing my best to contact its Deva and find out what it wants and then struggle to meet its needs in my windswept Derbyshire garden, or when I next rearrange plants in the pond, I can reconsider whether it is happy here. And yet I can’t help but feel disappointed. If it was something really rare, I would be proud of my occasional flowers. Instead it is like a Camellia plant I removed a year ago because every year it was full of promise, covered with buds, and then every year it got frost on it at some point so the flowers went brown and I would have to go round pulling them off because I hate the sight of a plant smothered in dead flowers. I replaced it with Camellia ‘Debbie’, which has been far more successful – the flower shape is slightly unusual with larger petals around the outside and smaller in the centre, so the centre never gets frosted because it is protected. And when each flower is finished it falls off by itself. Add to that it is a stunning rich pink.

Meanwhile I planted another rose last month, completely the wrong time for rose planting, just because I found a gap in a flower border and it looked pretty. (I also had a voucher to use up at the garden centre near the school M has just left and it was my favourite of everything they had in stock.) I’m glad to say it seems very happy and has sent out new leaves.

Blackthorn Weatherforecasting

Blackthorn Blossom

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

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

Patchwork of white Blackthorn and green Hawthorn

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

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

Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards

The Roman God Janus, who gave his name to January, has two faces so that he is able to look forwards and backwards at the same time. At the beginning of last year I wrote about the things that I hoped to achieve over the year – in the hopes that writing them down would give me the help I needed to make sure they happened. So now honesty compels me to find that list and see if I actually managed any of it… as well as looking forwards to work out where I want to go this year.

Sewing – well I did finish the quilt of Pooh’s map, and posted a photo of the completed quilt on my wall in April. I have managed quite a few other sewing projects besides, most of which don’t appear here! Somehow the more I manage to complete, the more projects seem to appear so I now seem to have a list of clothes to make as well as quilting projects for my new sanctuary space and altar that will keep me busy for the whole year and beyond at current rates of progress!

Stained Glass – er… I’m glad to say one window I made three years ago finally got fitted (Oak Sunrise, see December post), but no new work was started. Unfortunately I think I’m still a few months off, as this year’s priority is to finish the building work. So my glass tools will have to go back into storage again. But maybe I’ll manage something small towards the end of the year if all goes well.

Bodhran playing – I have made a start, and some osteopathy work early last year definitely freed up my shoulders and arms for better playing. I have started to get the feel of the instrument and what it can do, and find that the more bodhran practice I get in the easier it is to play a simple steady beat for journeying. (When M doesn’t want to join in, that is!) But I haven’t found a regular ‘practice slot’ yet and it shows! This is definitely on my list of things to do this year! As well as to drum some healing for the Earth in an outdoor location.

Working with elementals – well the garden is now completely replanned to bring in some water features, more flowers, and make it a fun, relaxing space for all. For this coming year I hope to establish a wildlife pond and get the building work finished, so that where there are currently piles of bricks I might be able to reclaim the space as garden. However, having dug six red bricks, a paver and a blue brick out of a small test hole for the pond this weekend, the brick piles are likely to get bigger rather than smaller in the short term! (So far we have dug 4,500 bricks out of our garden, which is about the size of a singles tennis court. They have proved very useful for the extension, but would have been better left in their original arrangement!) So I have felt inspired by elementals, and seem to get some good guidance in meditations about how to develop the garden. But as for working directly with them, I seem to spend my time focussing on weather rather than what is right here. Who knows what direction this will go.

Climbing the Wainwrights. Well I spent a week in Cumbria and managed precisely zero hills to tick off his list. The one new hill, two tops, were too low to be included, given that they were below the mist level and also within M’s capabilities. Interestingly however, the guidance I received on a journey was that it would be good exercise for me and help get me fit if I climbed them all, but it was more important for me to get to know the valleys and the streams. Well I did plenty of that!

Swimming in Dunnerdale – well I said it might take me eight years! Last year I managed a bit of stream and sea paddling in bare feet, maybe this year I’ll get as far as swimming somewhere…

And finally one to add to my list for this year, to make time and space for my writing, so that I can finish the tree stories I have started, and get back to writing longer stories without loosing the flow. With writing also comes reading, because for me the latter inspires the former. However while it was easy to read books when M was little and feeding all the time (provided they could be held in one hand); it is proving much harder to find the time to stop and read for myself as she gets older and more active, and as my ever growing list of things I want or need to do take priority!

I am reminded by looking at this list that there are only so many hours in a day, and at best only two of them are mine to do what I like with. But keeping that small part of me alive and focussed on the things I want to do gives me a sense of well-being and achievement – and writing it down like this helps me do that. However another theme has emerged for me from doing this list: I notice how for the first time every single item has a connection to the Earth in some way. I have over the past ten years experienced moments of acute homesickness for places which are most definitely not Earth as I currently know her, and at times I have found this quite hard to deal with. But this past year, I have also noticed how when I make strong connections not just with where I am but the Earth herself, her rivers and hills, her weather, I seem to find a stronger sense of purpose in me being in this life, here right now. That is something which will guide me going forwards, in what I do, and how I celebrate Sabbats.

A Soggy Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

Flooding

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

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

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

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

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

A Light Dusting of Snow

Snow on the Grass

Snow on the Grass

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

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

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

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

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

Communing with the Ancestors

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

Duddo Stones, Northumberland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

Single Duddo Stone, Northumberland

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

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

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

Planting out

Every year I fill the windowsills with pots of seedlings, which then need to be planted out in the garden when the weather is suitable. And at this point, it gets tricky!

The best advice is to ‘harden plants off’ gradually over a few days, so that they can adjust to the change of conditions, from potentially hot, dry windowsills to cold, frosty, windy, rainy outdoors. The light levels are also vastly different outside, especially in the ultraviolet spectrum. Unfortunately time and space will not allow me to do any of this. Instead, each year I try to first time the planting of my seeds so that the resulting plants will be just the right size to plant out successfully when the weather is also likely to be right, second I try to look for ‘weather windows’ when a few days are promised that are mild, overcast, and calm, and finally I give them what protection I can muster for the first few days – but this relies on their size being suitable!

Bottle Garden (for sweetcorn)

Bottle Garden (for sweetcorn)


Here is my ‘bottle garden’, the bottles now over ten years old but I have come to consider them vital for the successful establishment of sweetcorn. The grass mulch also helps to keep the moisture in. Experience tells me it takes four weeks from sowing seed to planting out – and around here ‘May is out’ (i.e. the Hawthorn is in flower) so I’m hoping they will do okay now!

My courgettes I was much more concerned about, as they are hard to protect. I always loose some plants to weather or slugs, so usually grow some extra and plant close, 18” intervals instead of the recommended 2′. This year, however, I asked for help on when to plant them. I was very surprised that the message came at around 8pm one evening, that it was the time to plant them out. However the forecast was for a mild night, and calm for the next few days, and the soil was nicely moist, so I thought I would give it a try. I also put copper rings around them to give a small bit of protection at ground level and from slugs – these were made from an ex-hot water tank. And the result? A few days on all five are growing strongly and looking really healthy, so much so that I would not know they had been moved had I not just planted them myself. If only the sweetcorn was doing as well!

Recently planted courgette plants

Recently planted courgette plants


I am reminded again how, when we accept that we do not and cannot know everything and so ask for help, and when we stay open to the answers in whatever form they come, they are sometimes unexpected. Nature knows best!

Spring Cleaning

It’s March, the sun is shining, for some reason I have a great need to be ‘doing’ things. I started in the garden, where the second priority (after planting the first seeds of the year) was the removal of last year’s dead stems as the new shoots start poking up out of the ground. I made a huge pile of stuff to shred, which yesterday was all turned into the first compost of the year in the tumbler. Then having got into ‘clearance mode’, enjoying all that space and potential and light that enters, I find myself looking at the house to see where the greatest need is for a major sort out and clearing. I’m not like Mole who says “Hang Spring cleaning!” and runs off to the river with Ratty – this is about the only time of year when I manage proper cleaning!

Spring Cleaning has a long history, with various commentators linking it to the Persian New Year, the Jewish Passover, Christian Lent, or even Scottish Hogmanay – although the latter feels a little early to me! For those with a very strong tradition of celebrating particular festivals then it is a great focus to get the work finished and decorate in honour of the event. I see Yule a bit like this, when I put up decorations, and then clear them away as the days lengthen – but other decorations tend to be rather lower key so Spring Cleaning is to me a seasonal exercise not a religious one.

There are of course the practical aspects as to why Spring Cleaning in particular is so widespread. It is good to clean when it is warm enough to open all the windows and doors and dry the inevitable mounds of washing, but not be into insect season yet. In days gone by the extra light may have brought to people’s attention the amount of mud that had been tracked in during the winter months, or blackness from the smoke from the tallow candles on the walls.

As a Pagan, cleaning acts as a cleansing, to clear out old, stale energies and make space for something new to happen. It happens on many levels – in an ideal world cleaning should be on the energetic and astral planes as well as the physical planes, as then real change can happen. By that I mean that not just the physical dust and dirt is removed, but any negative thought forms are left with no space to hide, and order is brought to whatever chaos resides in the area. A new mindset can be brought about as well, which leads to further positive changes in our lives.

This year a long-planned major house project has affected my sewing area – thanks to having to move things out in order to plaster the wall. (Hooray!) However, I am amazed at how many ‘useful’ scraps of fabric I seem to have accumulated in just a few months, all of which need to find homes before they become scrumpled and dusty. I found I had three bags of worn out clothing or sheets for making mock-ups for new patterns. Then I have to keep all those sharp pointy sewing tools out of M’s reach – and more rearrangement needed as the tall chest of drawers moves rooms. I of course always have far too much stuff and not enough space to store it, so sometimes I do actually have to get rid of things. I try to leave myself open to guidance here so that I will not get rid of anything I will want – and put the pile in another room for a week in case there is anything to retrieve before it goes in the dustbin or charity bags. (On this occasion most of the worn out clothes were seized upon and ripped up for oiling and polishing rags by a certain model engineer before they had even made it into another room…) And this year various other bags to be carefully labelled and put in the loft while we get the plastering done. It all takes time and involves washing, dusting, hoovering, sorting, and lots of hard physical work keeping me warm enough to throw the windows open.

And the net result? Old projects are properly packed away and laid to rest, and space for new ones has been made. I can find things, I have space to turn around and to breathe, and the whole area feels enlivened. My efforts feel worthwhile. Now can I please have a second chest of drawers to put the rest of my fabric in?

Trust

Rosa 'Graham Thomas' in the snow

Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ in the snow


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

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

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

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

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

Happy Snow

I like snow. The child in me delights in the play potential, slipping and sliding, or creating three dimensional figures like snowmen, cats, dogs, or igloos and caves. Catching a snowflake in your mouth is both silly and special. Returning from a walk covered in the stuff feels cold and wet, and yet it is the experience of sledging or floundering in drifts that I remember long after I have warmed up – or I would have more sense than to do it all over again the next year.

It is said that every snow crystal is unique, although in reality some types of crystals are more individualised than others depending on how they are formed and how complex their shapes. The snow we had at the end of last year was amazingly light and fluffy, and grew crystals upwards from undisturbed surfaces that were absolutely stunning. This week’s snow is wet slushy stuff and not anything like as pretty. Some snow squeaks when you walk on it, other times it turns icy making the pavements a no-go area. For a substance that is simply frozen water, its variability often amazes me.

Last winter we did not have any snow. While this was great from the point of view of walking with a little one in a carrier or pushchair, or driving or cycling to regular activities, it was not so great for the garden. The garden needs a season of cold, as this triggers many seeds into growth and shoots into producing flower buds. Without enough cold weather many of our favourite varieties will not grow well – hence why imported apples are different varieties than home grown ones. The cold also kills off many bugs that would eat the plants and multiply before the larger predators come out of hibernation. Snow is particularly good in the garden for adding a layer of insulation when the weather gets really cold and protecting those borderline-hardy plants, so some people deliberately heap it onto dormant flower beds. This also acts as ‘the poor man’s fertiliser’, adding small, easily absorbed levels of nitrogen to the soil and some much needed moisture. In some areas early or late falls of snow were dug into the ground to get maximum advantage from it.

However I also think that we need snow for the light it brings. Winter is a dark time, with the sunlight lacking in both strength and hours. Muddy ground and leaf-less trees do little to help this. But cover everything with a white blanket for a week, and the little available light is reflected upwards from each snow crystal bringing light into our inner core. A winter without snow feels a very long dark time indeed; a week of snow with the odd bit of sunshine makes all the difference to our happiness.

Weather

A friend of mine recently stated, as one of a number of fixed things in life, “you can’t change the weather.” I had to reply that actually we can. Weather is nothing like as fixed as we think it is, and we affect what it does without even realising it.

Weather helps keep the balance on the Earth, and is balanced within itself. If, for example, there is a lot of negativity in an area, a thunderstorm will help dispell it. If there is a flood in one part of the world, there will be a drought in another. If everyone asks for hot sunshine, and celebrates the sun that arrives, there is likely to be more hot sunshine continuing, potentially for weeks. Of course farmers may be asking for rain, so messages become confused and so will the weather.

I first started asking for specific weather on holidays a few years ago. We had a choice of times for a week’s camping, I asked to have a dry sunny week and dowsed for which week to go. We had a dry week. Next holiday I asked to experience all types of weather in a particular area. The first morning we went for a walk and got very wet in an unexpected torrential downpour. I thanked the rain, and then said that while I enjoyed it the rest of my family did not appreciate it, so would it be possible for me to see all kinds of weather but for us to stay dry? That is what happened, to the point that we twice watched downpours from half a mile away. Two different camping holidays I have asked not only for my family to stay dry, but also for it to be dry when we put the tent up and packed it away again. Sure enough, although I got wet once or twice no one else did, thunderstorms came late in the evening after it was dark, and a dry tent could be packed away on the final morning without the need to hang it out for days on our return. Only the groundsheet needed attention. I have also asked for ‘picnic weather’ for people’s birthdays and had the requests granted, and finally this year for a Lughnasa picnic lunch I asked for dry, not too hot, but maybe a thunderstorm at 3pm when we were all safely back home. Rain threatened early, which I put down to my lack of trust as it stopped immediately on reminding the weather of my request. It was then dry until exactly 3pm, at which point there was a torrential downpour for half an hour.

I had had enough examples to know that it wasn’t just luck or chance doing this, the weather really was responding to me. An awesome feeling, and completely intimidating. I knew I could never ask again, or even think again, or else I would be adversely affecting what weather was needed. With consciousness comes responsibility. Even though all my requests have included a request to keep the balance that was needed while at the same time keeping us dry, and that mostly I was asking for other people rather than myself, it did not feel right for me to go on asking for what I want in this way. I have nothing to prove any more and any further requests would, I felt, be selfish. I started to ask on journeys what I should be doing weather-wise that would be positive and for the good or all.

Why me? is one question that has been on my mind quite a lot. I do not fully know the answer to this. I have never done a ceremony to the weather, or danced or sang like shamans often do and like I have generally read is needed; I have simply asked if such and such could happen, and then thanked the weather when it invariably has. Finding something to enjoy in all weather and not being too attached to the outcome no doubt helps, but beyond that I am not able to help anyone else do the same. You will have to find your own way! However, I did gain a few answers on a journey following my Lughnasa experiences this year. Instead of my usual drumming CD, I took the opportunity of an undisturbed bath to do a journey – to the regular beat of a dripping overflow. (Now fixed!) One question I asked was: “Should I be working with the elements more, and were there particular elements that wanted me to work with them?” I asked for a sign if this was the case. Immediately the shower above me gushed out a whole load of cold water. I asked to know more, and it seems that thanks to all my swimming, and then canoeing, I do have (to use shamanic terminology) command of water. That was why the rain stopped when I asked it to, and why it poured down at 3pm. However I do not have command of fire, hence no thunderstorm. I was then asked to use my connection with water to help heal Mother Earth and bring balance where it is needed. This I agreed to do.

I followed up with some more questions in September, after a few weeks of working towards balance (and helping to break the drought in Derbyshire). I was then asked to gradually increase my area of awareness, as a circle expanding outwards, and told I could also use wind to blow the rain to where it was needed. One day I would work with another who could bring fire but maybe not rain. We would balance each other, each having the missing element for the other person. It is important that others start to do this work as well, individually or as a group, as it will take many people working around the world to bring harmony and stability to the weather. To be in touch with the land where we each live, and work to keep the balance. This is why I am now writing about my experiences so far.

I was advised that the nearer to balance the weather is, the easier it is to make small adjustments. When a weather system gets ‘stuck’ then it takes more work by more people to shift it, such as what happened with the jet stream last winter. I merely watched on that occasion, not being sure if I should be doing something, but I was aware of three or four different people who did act (and wrote about it) and helped bring about the change in the weather to end the floods. However there is another aspect to consider. Sometimes drought or floods are still needed, for many reasons which we as humans cannot always fathom. It may be as a response to what is happening in a particular area, or to balance another area. High winds may be needed to move the rain, or even to blow ideas to a different part of the world. ‘Bad’ weather also serves to remind us of what could be; who would know colour existed if everything was shades of blue? Our politicians would not take the tough environmental decisions unless they were convinced there was no choice. So sometimes we need to ask what action, if any, is needed before we rush in to solve what we perceive as a problem. Life can be like that.

I have one positive comment to add however. I was told on a journey that I could always have a dry tent to pack away, since this saved Earth’s resources by not having to dry it later…

Animism

I have for some years thought of myself as an animist, that is one who sees everything as being conscious and connected to Spirit. You, me, animals, plants, rocks, weather, all is conscious and all responds to us if we take the time to notice or to communicate. However it is one thing to agree with an idea, another to really connect with everything around me on equal terms.

The first ‘object’ I remember having a strong relationship with, after the usual childhood dolls and soft toys, was my bicycle. I rode a Claude Butler Mistral for nearly ten years, covering many thousands of miles to school or college, many of which were on my own. I used to talk to it, treat it as as partner on the eight mile journey home each day. After a while it started answering me back. Ringing its bell when there was someone behind me, getting fewer punctures or mechanical failures as it got older and I encouraged it more and more. I was quite sad when it had to be retired after a pothole incident in which I took flying lessons. I am still building a relationship with my Orbit Gold Medal that replaced it, though again find that the more it is encouraged and talked to the more the tyres stay hard, the chain rides without jumping, and the bike gets me to where I want to be without difficulty.

Houses are said to stay up better if they are lived in. The usual assumption is, I believe, that having someone there all the time means that problems can be spotted and sorted out while they are small. However I now think it is because a loved house will look after its occupants and not disintegrate as readily as one that is neglected and sad. I have been trying to connect to our house quite a bit recently, as we try to complete our slightly stalled building projects, and am finding it very rewarding. The colours I want to add seem to become richer, more vibrant. The place feels happier. Things happen.

Communicating with plants came relatively late to me, long after bicycles anyway, mainly because it never occurred to me it was possible. The more I understand the particular nature of a species, and love it for all of its qualities, the easier it seems to be to attune to it. Oak I connected to the first time I tried, along with several others that I have played around since childhood; Yew took me a long time and took me on quite a journey to really understand it and the great age to which it can live (thousands of years, not hundreds as was commonly believed). I still find it easier to connect to mature trees than younger ones, sometimes it feels like talking to children or teenagers when in a newly planted woodland! But I have found that once a connection is made with a particular tree or species it is much easier to reconnect on future occasions. It is like greeting a friend.

I have learned a lot about weather in recent years, and have had proof on several occasions now that it is conscious. One day I may write more, but the time doesn’t feel right yet; however there are many traditions around the world where the shaman’s job was to work with the weather in order to help keep the balance in the local area. I am now trying to do this in my small corner of Derbyshire.

However, watching M I now realise how little I really know about connecting to all things. She has learned that we wave to people when we say goodbye, and copies this. However she doesn’t often wave to people, it is more likely to be to the dogs we pass. Or rubbish that I don’t want her to touch. A playground we have been at, or bench we have sat on. More recently a single leaf or a feather she has picked up and looked at gets waved goodbye to before we can continue our walk. Even the sunrise she has been watching will get a wave before she turns around. In short, anything she has made a connection with is honoured as a friend.

It may well be that she ceases to do this as she grows up and becomes more involved with the earthly plain, but they will always be there for her when she is ready. What a wonderful way to live life.

Children’s Playgrounds

While the weather seems to be producing the long hot sunny days of remembered youth (whether or not it was ever actually like that!) I am having a second childhood, exploring all the local playgrounds with M. We are in the amazing position here of having 12 playgrounds within a mile and a half. Two in our village, three in the village a mile East of here, 5 in the village half a mile West of here, 1 North West, and 1 North. Strangely none in the village to the South, which is great if I want a quiet walk! Some of course have only minimal equipment, and some are aimed at only much older children, (in fact all are aimed at older children judging by step sizes) but three are brand new and several are far more interesting than the basic swings, slide and roundabout that I remember in my local park.

Lower end of wooden playground

Lower end of wooden playground

My favourite is entirely natural materials, being built mostly of wood with wood chips on the ground, and a few ropes and chains to join things together. It has a good wooden climbing frame for small children at the top end (not shown here) and a larger slide with climbing wall and rope ladder at the other. We walk there through the woods, and have views for miles from the swings.

M is great at choosing what she wants to go on, once she knows it, but she often needs to see how it works the first time. I don’t often see anyone else, (with this many playgrounds to choose from, how would we?) so I am forced to be the example for M to copy. As a result I have been down all manner of slides on one leg, crawled through tiny tunnels, got bruised hips on narrow swings, unbalanced perfectly good roundabouts, fallen off wobbly logs, got dizzy in spinning bowls… but the zip wires are better than anything I remember!

I can tell by M’s face when she is happy and when she isn’t – which can change quite quickly on a swing or a roundabout. Having now had a go on everything, my amazement is that her learning is almost identical to my re-learning in terms of what we are comfortable with. The limit to what the body can take in terms of changes of direction can come quite quickly, and from experience, a gentle slowing is much better than a sudden stop. But the confidence soon grows, both hers and mine, and I’m sure the increasing length of time she will swing for is a good thing.

What does it do for me as a witch? Well I can see the world from a new perspective. Look at things from the other way up. Get the sensation of flying, of freedom, and occasionally of being out of control. Get in touch with the element of Air. And then come back down to Earth again, and explore new ways of grounding. And in terms of connecting with the countryside, while not all are made of natural materials, some are in truly stunning locations.

Tiny slide, with big steps...

Tiny slide, with big steps…

Bigger slide, with waist-high steps.

Bigger slide, with waist-high steps.

Cycling On

To live in touch with the Earth is to be aware of our impact upon it; one aspect of that is transport. For many years my bike was my main mode of transport, with occasional car or train use for longer distances. I was never particularly fast, so we bought a tandem when we started riding as a couple. It has carried us over the Pyrenees and the Alps, and with more difficulty over Yorkshire’s challenging hills. However, I haven’t been doing much cycling in the past few years, for various reasons, and then when I tried again I discovered I was pregnant. Not the best time to restart!

Now nearly three summers on, I have been keen to get my bike out again. Most of my journeys are around 5 miles, although being Derbyshire it is very hilly! Some investigation of options for cycling with small children followed, and a few test rides to shock the system. I didn’t want to mess about and miss this summer as well though, so after proving my bike worked and I could ride a short distance (three miles), I got out my trusty pendulum to dowse for what would be best for both M and me: a weatherproof trailer.

Bought on a Friday evening, we test rode it the following morning on a trip to the nearest town. I had the great idea that if my husband pulled the trailer I could watch to pick up some riding tips, and he might be slowed down enough that I could keep up. No such luck – we went slowly down the first hill, and then I didn’t see them again until he stopped to wait for directions. If we want to ride as a family, we’ll have to dust off the tandem…

After an even shorter test ride with the trailer myself, I spent the next two evenings checking out possible routes to the parent and toddler group. (The hours are flexible enough that my arrival time there wouldn’t matter.) While the first mile and a half had to be along the main road through our village, after that there were numerous options. I tried the cycle track route first – but some of it was so muddy that it was impassable on my bike, let alone with a trailer; I had to stop to scrape out the mudguards with a stick. The final part was a pleasant smooth tarmac, but when trying to exit the cycle track onto roads on the way home, I discovered that the posts across the entrance were too narrowly spaced to allow a trailer through.

Day two I attempted to retrace my route along the back roads, and promptly missed an unsigned turning. Glad I didn’t have the trailer on when climbing back up that hill! Having corrected my mistake and got to the place successfully by road, I then tried to come back using a popular ‘green road’. Fine for mountain bikes, but not my tourer and trailer; the combination of worn out concrete overlaid with worn out tarmac didn’t make for an easy ride, the potholes having pretty sharp edges to avoid. Very pretty though between the hedges, and lots of birdsong so one of the best evening rides I have ever enjoyed.

I’m glad to say that the day of our maiden voyage was lovely and sunny, and not too hot. (Why would I expect anything less?) Given no route that I had test ridden was any good, I followed another possibility I had checked out on Google maps. It was the prettiest yet, taking us down a well-surfaced footpath alongside a large duck pond, a quarter mile link that I would happily walk regularly were it not for the difficulties of manoeuvring a bike with trailer around a wheelchair-sized kissing gate at the far end. We returned along the road.

So now I have ridden there and back with M twice. It is hard work, and my lowest gear has been not only used but really needed as I twiddle up the steepest hill, but it is also really enjoyable. There is just something about the speed of a bike which I really love – I’m the one with the silly grin on her face when riding in the pouring rain. The traffic is less of a problem with a trailer than when solo, but I just trust I am doing the right thing and most drivers have been exceptionally courteous. As for M, she hops in and out quite happily, and then sleeps really well!

Best Laid Plans…

Bench under a Rowan tree

Bench under a Rowan tree

When I started this blog I made a list of things I could write about, and one of most important of these, unsurprisingly, was Rowan. I was saving it for when the trees came into flower, and planned to take a photo to use for the title picture instead of the Mistylake picture supplied by WordPress. It would show the feathery green leaves, along with creamy white flowers, and underneath the tree I was hoping to capture either a certain local bench for sitting on and contemplating life (above), or if I could frame a picture appropriately, then a rather lovely stone circle in Derbyshire which has a Rowan tree overlooking it. I could even photograph the small tree in my garden; the ‘under’ aspect is a bit lacking but it will come!

I love the Rowan tree in flower; it wasn’t until I smelt the blossom that I really understood where the name of Quickening Tree came from, but to do so is to experience such an intense energy rising up that you feel anything is possible. While the red berries are also important, they come as the energies are withdrawing and spiralling back down into the earth in the autumn. It is probably not a coincidence that red often symbolises the underworld in Celtic mythology.

As the trees started to come into flower, I started taking the camera out each day when I went walking. Blossom only tends to last until the flowers have been pollinated; after this point they shed their petals and the bees and other insects move on to the next species. So day one, Saturday, I had just reached the tree with the bench when the threatening rain decided to suddenly bucket down. My immediate thoughts were to get the rain covers over the pushchair as quickly as possible, and leave the camera in the drybag! Day two, would you believe it the same thing happened. I usually avoid rain on my walks, unless I am in the mood for a cleansing, or am doing the walk as part of a ritual or meditation where I almost always get sun, wind and rain and possibly also lightening or hail. But not this time! The next two days I walked other places, the weather not being conducive to photography, but I planned Wednesday around getting the photo, when it was predicted to be sunny. The sun duly arrived, but imagine my dismay to find a note on the table telling me the camera had been ‘borrowed’ for the day… it wasn’t even used until Thursday! As I was unable to get to the tree again until Saturday, I wasn’t surprised to find that all the blossom had fallen off or turned brown, and there wasn’t a creamy white flower to be seen.

I will admit to being quite upset, especially on the Wednesday, because I knew then that with a sudden heat-wave the blossom wouldn’t last. However, when I analysed my feelings I realised that most of my upset was due to having been wrong – I was so sure this was the picture I was meant to have on my blog! Clearly it wasn’t meant to be, so I had to accept that and start exploring other ideas.

My thoughts were first that a ‘craft’ blog maybe needed more ‘craft’ than just pointing and shooting with a camera. Second I realised that I could also explore the ‘under’ aspect a little further; the bench is very popular and I have often sat there to pause for a few minutes, but I didn’t actually make the bench or plant the tree… I haven’t quite worked out how I am going to do it yet, but I have had various animals or nature spirits offer me their support and say that they would like to be included. Watch this space, as they say…

Anyway, it seems very appropriate that it is post number 13 that has proved the most unexpected, and has pushed me onto a new path!