As the days shorten and nights becomes longer, we’re moving towards winter. Already in the UK mornings, evening and nights are becoming much, much colder, and the midday sun sits ever lower in the sky.
Winter is that time of nature’s rest, even death, and plants and insects die; and even then there is a paradox that life is ‘home’ and active deep in the ground, and some of it is dormant and ‘sleeping’ deep in the womb of the earth, the soil that we tread so blithely .
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.
(In the bleak midwinter: Christmas carol)
As winter approaches, here’s a few words of a seasonal introduction; the primacy of story, memory and ritual at this time; a new song; and something for those of an inquisitive nature and interested in a simple but profound scientific experiment centred on nature at this time of the year.
STORY, MEMORY AND RITUAL
With naked trees and animals saving warmth and energy, and many species dying off for the winter (until a new generation emerges) there is a silence that descends at this time – a primordial silence.
Human voices can predominate as animal noises momentarily reduce, and it is no wonder in nature’s silence that our ancestors warmed themselves around tribal fires and recited stories of old.
‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.’
Many of those stories might have been tribal histories, and who hasn’t on a winter’s night, especially at Christmas and the New Year reminisced about relatives that have moved abroad or who have ‘gone ahead’ to that heavenly realm? It is a time of story and of memories.
The landscape, cold and bare, also shares its memories if we ‘look’ deeply. We might see a tree taller than it was, a plant thicker, and the ‘scars’ on tree barks, that still tell their story to those that stop and look. Nature has a memory.
Story, memory and ritual come to the fore at this time.
The following can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. Samhain starts the evening of Thursday, 31 October and runs for twenty for hours (but there is nothing to stop you celebrating it over the weekend).
The following can be used at (or about) the time of the Winter solstice in December, too, or indeed at any time during the season of winter. Use the following, adapt it, enjoy it.
This is a time to reminisce, tell stories, to remember that death is part of the cycle and new birth is ‘on its way’, and it’s a time of celebration (and yes, even mirth).
Here, then, are some wonderful words that can be incorporated into your seasonal ritual/liturgy:
‘If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up like rooted, like trees’. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
‘We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles in the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures’. (Wendell Berry)
‘The vines that are tended by the Divine Gardener’. (Catherine of Siena)
Spirit of the Abundant Earth,
allow me to live in the knowledge that
I am of the earth, from the earth, and returning to the earth.
Blessings of the earth be upon me.
(Christine Valters Paintner, Book: Water, Wind, Earth & Fire, part)
SONG: THE DAYS ARE COLD (A WINTER’S SONG)
The following song can be sung to the old, traditional Scottish tune, ‘The Water is wide”, and hails from the 1600’s. If you want an idea of the tune, do check here. (The tune for each of the three verses below is a repetition of the first forty-seven seconds of the link’s tune).
The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl.
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now
The snow falls harsh
Upon the land.
There is a light
Within and without.
We raise our hands
To the Source of all.
And nature responds
with elementals call.
The days of change
Are here again.
Our voices raise
To the loud refrain.
We wish you peace,
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Tune: “The Water Is Wide”
Words: Tadhg Jonathan
FOR THOSE OF A SCIENTIFIC OR INQUISITIVE NATURE
If you want to get an overall view of what wildlife is present in your garden, local park or nearby wild area eg forest etc even at this time of year, either because of your concern about the biosphere, sheer interest in the local environment, or out of general curiosity and personal interest, then you (and any children) may be interested in making and using a quadrat.
’It is apparent that no lifetime is long enough in which to explore the resources of a few square yards of ground.’ (Alice M Coats)
A quadrat is a merely a hand-made frame, maybe made out of thin cane or similar, and is generally one metre square (three feet by three feet in size approximately), with the four canes tied at the intersections to form a simple square.
Once made, it is a great way to sample a large area by concentrating on a small area. On suggestion is that, once in an area of wilderness, you randomly throw the quadrat (safely and gentlt), and see where it lands. If you want more information about quadrats, please see here.
Then, depending on your time, you can have endless hours of fun surveying plants, wildlife and insect life within the randomly selected area of that frame.
The idea is to explore and catalogue so do be careful not to destroy anything, nor cause too much of an upheaval to that area as you gently brush aside grass and plants or dig a little (and if you, inadvertently disturb anything, do ensure you return it to its former state as much as possible, so that no one would ever know you had been there).
You might like to take a pen and paper to record results, and/or a camera, too, to take a photograph of anything interesting. With that in mind you might also like to record the scale of something found so you might like to take along a rule(r) or a coin for comparison sake and lay the specimen alongside it or it alongside the plant etc – a two (UK) penny coin is 25.9 mm wide (so close to one inch you can call it an inch) as you photograph specimens.
Don’t forget this is an adventure, and experiment, and it is also fun and respectful of nature – so record only, and so, no take-away specimens, please.
’Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love.’ (Tim Flannery)
If you want to email me a copy of your notes and findings (with the date, time and rough location of the one square metre quadrat, I will most certainly be pleased to look at them.
For the mathematically-inclined, if you know the total area of the garden, park or wilderness area in square metres, you can, roughly, multiply your findings by that total amount to gain a rough idea of the numbers and variations of wildlife in that total area.
But, I find just checking and recording what is alive in that one square metre to be fascinating and profound! Have fun!
‘The land is a mother that never dies.’ (Maori Proverb).