Jun 14, 2018

The Marriage of Spring and Summer or, Listening to the Land

I walked the five-mile length of land often, in all weather, keening my senses to the activity of snakes, toads, deer, and trees on rainy and cloud-filled days, I came to recognize the place of each stone, tree, and being that lived in the area, and my own place within, rather than apart from this sacred terrain.   
- Judith Berger, Herbal Rituals
I am listening to grasshoppers singing for the first time this year. In early spring I caught the thrumming of pond frogs echoing across the river, and have been serenaded by assorted song birds since late winter, but those big old grasshoppers don't usually start sawing their legs until the heat ushers summer in. We are at the precipice now, hastily tipping toward those months of sultry breezes and sweltering, slow-moving afternoons. I've been feeling 'in-between' for a few weeks now. Spring is not yet over, but summer seems about ready to set up camp at any moment. I'm all spun around, but rather contented about it.

It might have been the strange heat storms that were pacing along the valley hills just over a week ago, circling my little town but not pouncing (something we don't usually experience until July). It felt like the hot season had arrived. The temperatures climbed to the high 80's for almost two weeks and we were peeling off clothing and drinking icy beverages. The hard work of planting the gardens being finished, I was able to loll about in my yard weeding here and there, deadheading spring blooms and sipping my morning coffee in the shade while the cats clucked at the birds visiting the feeder. But last night there was a cold wind spinning its fingers through my hair as I moved through the rows of peas and lettuces. The day had been warm though there was just enough briskness to remind me that, despite the feverish tease in the middle of May, spring was not finished with us. My family in Ontario lost half their new tomato plants to frost a week ago and only a few mornings after that, at the eastern edge of my country, startled Canadians awoke to snow. I find myself hanging in the balance, the land I walk upon too far gone into ripeness to call it spring anymore, yet not quite radiating with heat and crackling with summer energy.

As gardeners, homesteaders, farmers, wild folk or witches for whom the turning of the year has a level of importance, marking time and tide is much more intuitive than looking at a date in your daybook and trusting that is when the weather will change and the next agricultural marker will be upon us. Most people live in areas that don't suddenly feel different when the solstices and equinoxes arrive, despite the calendrical announcement that it is the first day of the next season. Whether you are fond of the Old Farmer's Almanac or the Wheel of the Year, there is a still a flow to the way the land and climate metamorphose. Your area will tell you when the next season is arriving. Your trees, local flora and wildlife will give indications of the transitions and you only need to allow yourself to observe and note those messages to feel the tide of the year shifting.

The liminal time between seasons always makes me so deliciously dizzy. I feel almost tipsy, picking up on the increasing buzz of the incoming energies, while giving a nod and a farewell to those still hanging on - watching them dance and melt into each other like tendrils of woodsmoke or streaks of stardust across a meteor-showered sky. While I make note of grasshopper songs, where certain constellations are winking above me each night, and which garden flowers are blooming now, I also plug in to the deeper pulse of my land base. I know where the water is running and where the ponds are shrinking back from their spring flood. I can see the wild plants that are flourishing and tell by the animal signs who is moving through an area. I can feel my temples tighten when a low pressure system is approaching. Our entire bodies are a sensitive gauge that can observe and chronicle our experiences while translating the language of our environment into clear symbols that allow us to connect intimately with the land we live upon.

Start with knowing where you are. What's the geography? Do you live by the sea, in the high desert, in the middle of a great city? How many seasons do you have and how long do they last? What is your FDA planting zone? What animals and plants are natives there and who lived on the land before you?
Treat the land like a new lover. Learn what it is, what it likes, how it is threatened and who protects it. "Land" isn't only soil. It is wind and water. It is history and legend.
-H. Byron Ballard, Asfidity & Madstones

When we are in-between seasons, with one foot in each, feeling neither here nor there, it's good to set your sights on something to anchor you. For me, keeping my hands busy in the gardens or the kitchen calms my whirling senses. I'm a tactile girl, so having a task I can touch brings me a great deal of peace and pleasure. Here are some ideas, based on my own activities and current to-do list, that might assist or inspire as the veiling between spring and summer begins to slip away.

Late spring projects and nearly-summer tasks:

* The spring rains are fading now, so be kind and create a water source or bath for birds/bees/animals.

* While the weeds in your yard are lush and green, harvest them for food, medicine, and magic. (I know you have a good field guide and can identify your plants accurately.) Tincture fresh herb material, dry your harvest for infusions, toss freshly picked young leaves into salads.

* The May and June observances of Beltane and Midsummer are considered particularly fae/otherworldly (even though you can tap into this energy in every month). Have you cultivated a connection with your land and the others that live there? Do you offer gifts or thanks when you harvest or pass through an area? Is an altar, offering or burial place something you might wish to bring into your yard or practice?

* In my area this is the last chance to collect the soft and citrusy spruce/fir tips. Yarrow, wild rose, and elderberry bushes are seen blooming now. It is early berry season, and strawberries, honeyberries (haskap berry) and Saskatoons (service berries) can all be found. The medicinal herbs that are thriving with vigorous growth at this time of year, such as mugwort, vervain, calendula, and St. John's wort show up in folklore and magic as midsummer herbs and are traditionally harvested in mid-June. I'm out wandering the land and my gardens with my basket as often as I can be. My valley hills will begin to dry up soon, and the vibrant plants will fade with the fierce heat of summer.

* Midsummer (on or around June 21st up to and including St. John's Day on the 24th) is considered the height of green energy and there is magic afoot! There is a plethora of folklore on the merits of picking herbs/flowers around this date. I make sure my yearly Florida Water mother tincture is created before or on the solstice, and I purposefully harvest a small selection of midsummer plants for magical work.
For many years it was believed that witches picked their herbs at the summer solstice, and that they did it naked in the middle of the night. The farm women also made a bouquet of midsummer herbs, a summer solstice bundle, from one of the countless versions of nine herbs - a magic number. To increase the healing power of yarrow, wood betony, or other herbs the women peered through the bundle and into the fire and spoke a charm, something like the following: "No boil shall come upon my body, no break to my foot." 
-Witchcraft Medicine, by Müller-Ebeling, Rätsch and Storl

If you've moved recently, or are new to conversing with your land base, why not introduce yourself to people and places that might offer you sources of seasonal wisdom. There are few locales these days that don't have a farmer's market of some kind nearby. Talk to the farmers and herb-crafters. See what is in season and what they are expecting to harvest in the coming months.

Visit your local farm and feed shop. Even if you aren't a farmer there is always something wonderful to be found in a supply store and more importantly you can glean tips, tricks, and seasonal lore from the regulars as well as the person behind the counter. Don't have a farm store around? Hit the garden center. Someone there is going to be knowledgeable about the weather and growing conditions in your area.

Talk to your neighbours or folks who you know have been in your community for a long time. Most people don't mind a good chat, so ask them how the seasons have shifted since their early days in the area. My grandfather would have talked your ear off and told you all kinds of stories about his summers as a boy working in the local orchards (gods, I miss him).

Summertide is calling out a greeting now, with cherries beginning to spill out onto farm stands and snap peas fading to gold (even as the shelling peas still offer up a lovely harvest) and I am trying to taste the last kisses of spring before I run into the next season's embrace. I'll dance a while longer in this delicious in-between, gardening in the soft rain and grinning as the wind tries to make off with my big sun hat. I won't have to wait long for the heat - the grasshoppers are singing it in.

Witch Notes:

The quotes included above are from wonderful books that you might wish to seek out. Judith Berger's utterly charming "Herbal Rituals" is sadly out of print but is available as an e-book. It takes you through each month of the year, and presents the author's observations of the shifting seasons and the herbs and flowers that speak to her at those times.

I can highly recommend Asfidity Madstones, an enchanting workbook (both working with your land and a good helping of magical work too) and Witchcraft Medicine (pages 10-19 speak of midsummer specifically). I also want to point out author Tristan Gooley who has a handful of books on the joy of reading nature's signs (his website is wonderful and you could get lost there happily).

And for those who find themselves somewhat overcome with seasonal tasks and malaise, this is a lovely article about dealing with seasonal overwhelm, from One Willow Apothecaries.

Edited to add:

I neglected to mention a wonderful email-course called Be A Local Witch, from Lady Althaea. I received the course because I'm a Patreon supporter of hers and though I've been running through my own forests and meadows since I was a child I found it a fantastic read with wonderful ideas and actions for a deeper relationship with the land and its spirits.

As for me, I'm currently digging through these gems:

The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday by Sharon Blackie

Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic by Aidan Wachter
(I've read this wonderful book and am circling back through it, marking it with dozens of sticky notes - I'll have more to say about this tome soon! In the meantime, grab it - it's fantastic!)

PS - My apologies to the southern latitude folks, for whom this post will offer little. I know you are moving from autumn into your winter season now and I wish you warmth, comfort, and plenty of hygge!


Debra She Who Seeks said...

How I love wild roses! And not just because I live in Alberta!

MrsDuncanMahogany said...

This post has come at an incredibly perfect time! We have just moved out of the city and onto acreage! I am ever so slowly becoming aware of what is growing around me and what I can use/harvest. Burdock thrives all around me! Mighty oaks protect us but my forest floor is so very enticing to me! So much to see and do and learn!

Rue said...

Congratulations on your move, Mrs. D! Mmm...burdock is so lovely. And we only have oaks in landscaped areas here - I've always wanted to see grand, old, wild oaks. Enjoy your summer in your new locale!