I don’t know about you, but I’ve developed a real love for winter over the last decade. Something about the shorter days, longer nights filled with stars and winter winds, and even the rainy days that fill each week fills me with a sense of peace. There is so much to look at in the countryside at this time of year, as well, as the land has pared back to its barest essence – tree bark and mushroom jewels, bloody berries of bryony on the hedges and the remaining withered leaves and seeds on sere twigs at the verge. The weather is finally bringing us more traditional winter weather next week, with sub zero nights and low temperatures during the day, and I look forward to frosty mornings with delight.
This winter brings many new writing projects, something that I have little time for in the summer as the time is filled with the bustle of herb gardening and gathering, medicine making, teaching, treating folks and running market stalls. I’m rediscovering the love of study, of delving into books in search of answers from long ago, the fire crackling merrily in the background, a mug of tea at my elbow. The days begin to lengthen out so very slowly, and I can feel myself slowing down with the rising and setting of the sun, my thought processes easing into winter. I know many of you struggle with winter though, so here are a few things I love to do to help me adjust into short days and less sun.
- Go outside. Even in the rain, the storms, the snow and the mud on the roads. Look at the trees standing in their winter glory. Look for lichen on the bark, ivy climbing skywards, winter toadstools jewelling trunks and stumps. Pay attention to how plants look when pared down to their barest leaves, those that do not go completely dormant in the winter season. Look up and admire the trees writing stories against the sky. There is a symmetry and poetry to winter that summer, lovely as it is, lacks – perhaps the distraction of leaves and flowers causing a gorgeous gallimaufry of chaos is responsible for this, perhaps it is the endless routine of gathering and drying herbs that allows little time and thought for other things. Whatever the reason, use the winter to discover the smaller things like moss on branches and the beauty of decay.
- Bring the sun in. Light the fire, light the candles – why not have an evening of storytelling? Here in our cottage, the Viking and I use winter evenings for rune study, reading myths and legends, finding ways to reinfuse magic into our lives. In this, we are much like our ancestors, who were restricted to the fireside in the evenings. If you don’t have a fireplace, don’t worry – get a large multi wick candle, or fill a table with candles and beautiful candle holders.
- Rediscover the magic of the stars. Wrap up warm and go outside in the evening. Tell tales of the way the stars scatter across the sky. Name each constellation, whether you use the old names such as the Great Bear, or the more modern names, or research old traditional names from your own country and culture. Breathe in the chill night air and watch how the shadows from the moon stretch across the landscape. Learn how your locale looks in the darkness, with only moonlight and starlight casting any light.
- Plan a study session. Catch up on your reading. Delve into the old books that have been on your shelf for years, marked ‘read this – at some point’. Try new teas. Write stories and poems. Draw or paint. Pick up your old arts and crafts. Learn to see the quiet of winter as more of a blessing than a curse, a time to learn and rediscover old skills and new ones.
- Take some time to plan your garden for next year. I am currently planning a whole new large herb and vegetable patch, the digging of which will take up several days. Spend time researching how and where your favoured plants prefer to grow, when to sow, when to plant. I’ve realised a little planning at this time of the year makes things a lot simpler later on, especially if you plan to garden organically or biodynamically!
Wishing you all a peaceful and magical winter! The new year will bring the first video blogs, and articles on winter medicine. The garden and hedgerow may be quiet at the moment, but there are still medicines to be made and plants to gather…