The Babysitter: a poem

The Babysitter

Take care of them, old friend:
these tiny children cling to you,
your squat and withered form, still strong,
your lap just right to climb upon,
their youth so bright, against your ancient skin,
so dark and worn by countless little
feet, as in the park you’re seated,
patiently, wise hawthorn tree.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

And here she is, my old friend:

The Babysitter ©️Janey Colbourne 2018

A long hot summer and thirsty trees

Waterfall drying up
The waterfall July 2018
The waterfall September 2017
The waterfall September 2017

It’s unusual for us in the North of England to have a long time without rain. Although at times it’s literally possible to have every type of weather in one day here, leading to ‘The Weather’ being a prime conversation starter, our default setting is generally damp. Us Northerners have a tendency for arthritis because, ‘Eee, it’s damp Up North’. Pretty much every house I’ve lived in has been damp. Damp. Damp. Damp. Like the proverbial (mythical?) Inuit range of words for snow, we are connoisseurs of rain. This summer is not one of those times. It seems we are having a long hot summer. The grass is brown. The water company is asking us to conserve water, the moors are on fire (see my previous post HERE) and this week when I went for a walk in the woods I could see all the plant life, even the trees, wilting.

Thirsty tree
This thirsty tree has a distinct dead patch of leaves.

Some trees have areas of leaves completely dead and brown. The wilted but still green leaves felt pretty dry too, like they were starting to lightly toast. Thankfully, since then we have had a small amount of rain. I noticed that some trees had isolated patches of dead leaves, rather than a general dying off. I’m speculating that the tree is deciding to sacrifice a certain section rather than risk the whole tree drying out. That may sound surprising—trees making decisions. But it’s not surprising when you look at the research and latest understanding of tree behaviour and communication. I’m going to have a search through the book I’m reading at the moment, ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, to see if he can shed any light on it. He explains that trees learn to conserve water, storing it up in winter and rationing it in summer. The trees round here don’t usually have to cope with this much rationing, at least not on a regular basis. At last we’re having some rain showers this last couple of days, and for once we’re appreciating it, but it is looking like the hot dry weather is a pattern for this summer, so we’d all better adapt.

Shallow Brook
The water’s getting low in the brook

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Happy Imbolc

Watching the tree behind my house for signs of Spring. There are a few new buds, still tightly closed.

The first herald of Spring that comes to my attention is a change in the scent of the air. This happens roughly around the time of Imbolc, 2nd February. This year I noticed it on 30th January. Modern humans like to set dates on the calendar, but pagan festivals such as Imbolc and Beltane happen when nature gives us her signs. For Imbolc, which celebrates the very earliest signs of the coming Spring, such signs include snowdrops, new lambs in the field, and buds beginning to form on the trees. There are more subtle signs that I notice: the previously mentioned change of scent in the air, and also a change in the quality of the light, as the sun’s arc starts to creep a little higher away from the horizon. Some people look at me like I’m crazy when I mention the scent in the air. I find it hard to describe, or explain. There aren’t many flowers around yet. Maybe there are just enough to create this scent, or perhaps it’s the scent of the sap rising—vegetation beginning to awaken, and preparing for a growth spurt. Warm air allows smells to spread more easily, but the air hasn’t warmed significantly yet, except perhaps briefly, in sheltered sunny spots. There is often still frost on the ground. Whatever it is, I can definitely smell Spring. Happy Imbolc!

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018

How I Celebrate New Year (and not on December 31st)

For some reason New Year’s Eve always stresses me out. Not only is it the screaming parties that make me uncomfortable. Even the plethora of good wishes and resolutions on social media causes me anxiety. In part it’s because I don’t like a big fuss, external demands, and the pressure of expectations. I find it stressful that everyone has to count down and be present for this momentous moment, the ominous midnight. I’m pretty sensitive (you may have noticed) and I can feel the enormous energy of all those people celebrating at the same time. It’s a very strong energy. Of course, if this New Year is your cup of tea, then I’m sure that powerful energy is a positive force in your life. I respect that this time is meaningful for other people, as I do with Christmas.

My dislike of New Year is also because I don’t celebrate the ‘new year’ at this time. For me, it doesn’t feel significant or meaningful. What does it matter if it’s one minute to midnight or one minute past? Nature doesn’t live by the microsecond. Well, she does, but only at the microscopic level. Our bodies are finely tuned internally, moment by moment, but in our conscious experience, nature’s process is more gradual. The countdown to midnight on 31st December is entirely arbitrary to my mind, although it does fall within the midwinter celebrations of Yule. But the specific timing is only a calendar date—a created construct. Nothing significant happens in nature at midnight on 31st December, other than screaming humans setting off explosives—sorry, I mean fireworks. Leaves falling from the trees, the first frost or snow on the ground are far more meaningful to me. I’m happy to participate in good wishes for the solstice, but then, not everyone celebrates that, so it’s not obligatory within my social circle to make a big fuss, or to remember to say it to every single person.

My personal ‘new year’ actually occurs around three times a year, the main one being in September. This is probably a remnant from spending so many years in academia. The end of summer signifies the end of holidays and festivals and the beginning of new work. This is, as I say, tied to my life experience rather than the broader seasonal patterns. I realize that to many people this might seem as arbitrary as the traditional new year, but that’s fine with me because it’s my personal new year and time for a fresh start, and I don’t expect anything from anyone else in regards to it. My second ‘new year’ is around the beginning of November. This aligns with the pagan new year festival of Samhain, 31st October-2nd November, overlayed with the modern festivals of Halloween and bonfire night. This festival recognises the doorway of death that comes in winter. This ‘new year’ is something that has evolved organically for me, not something I have consciously chosen, despite the significant alignment. Surely this is how traditional festivals came about in the first place—through a recognition of natural cycles. I have published two books in November. It seems to be a time of completing projects or of formulating new ones. The beginning of the dark time of year, with the end of the long days and warmth, is a time for finishing off the year’s work, followed by winter days spent thinking and planning for the year ahead. I don’t hold myself rigidly to any timetable, it just evolves with a natural rhythm. I review my path and set intentions when it is the right time to do so, not according to someone else’s calendar. My third ‘new year’ aligns roughly with the Chinese New Year in February, also the pagan festival of Imbolc. This makes sense to me, as it is when we see the first signs of Spring to come—new buds on the trees, snowdrops emerging, and the first lambs born. This is a seasonal new year in terms of the earth’s cycle in the place where I live. It’s a time of hope and looking forward to warmer, brighter days.

However and whenever you celebrate your New Year, I wish you well and hope that your dreams and intentions may be fulfilled for the highest good of all. Happy New Year whenever that may be.