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So here it is, almost a week past Imbolc and I still haven’t Imbolc’d.

Imbolc is an old Gaelic word, there in the earliest of writings. It means “in the belly” and it is easy to see why this turning point in the old Celtic and Gaelic calendars was named for it.  It marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  Since the winter solstice the days have been getting longer, but so slowly and by such a tiny amount that you are forgiven if you haven’t noticed.  From now on though the exponential growth part of the curve kicks in.  It’s almost like watching a 15 year old boy grow.  If you look at it on a graph, it’s the spot half way between solstice and equinox where the long flattish part of the curve turns into a steep slope. It’s such an easily noticed change that pretty well every culture in the world has some kind of festival marking it – Groundhog Day, St Brigid’s Day, Candlemas, Setsubun, Vasanta, Tu BiShvat. And  in the eightfold year calendar, Southern hemisphere variety, it’s Imbolc.

I find this calendar really useful as a gardener.  The seasons creep up on you.  Today I have the wood fire going as we pass through a cold snap on the heels of the east coast low.  But in the leafy planting break coming up, I shall plant basil and molokhia and resist the temptation to whack the last of the cabbage seeds in anyhow.  Planted now, they would just bolt to seed if the cabbage moths didn’t get them first, because cold as it might feel, Spring is just about here.

But I like it better than that even.  It gives me a gentle nag to make time for those things that are important but not urgent, the things that get pushed aside in the busy-ness of life. So Ostara (the Spring equinox) with its rash of eggs and flowers and lambs and calves makes thinking about children and hope and future really obvious.  Beltane maypoles are hot and sweaty and great for remembering how good it is to have a fit and strong and healthy body.  Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set on the midsummer solstice. Lammas at the end of January celebrates achievement. Mabon on the autumn equinox brings in the harvest with gratitude. Halloween remembers the ancestors and Yule reminds us that in hard times there is always friends and family and community.

Imbolc is about the still not obvious beginnings of things.  At Imbolc each year I try to take a few days out to reflect on: What is there, waiting to be born, in my life?  What am I nurturing, anticipating, brooding?  As the first of the chooks start going clucky, I wonder, what are the eggs I’m sitting on this year?

This year, with the vocational education system in a right old mess, my “other job” has fallen out from under me. I can’t say I’m happy about it but I have a Pollyanna streak in me, and it has freed up time.  I could take on a new major project.  I could, I just about could, do something big and new. Maybe I should.  Should I?

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New year’s resolutions happen for me at Imbolc,  St Brigid’s Day, 1st August rather than 1st January.  In traditional calendars this mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox marks the “quickening” of the year, the date when the day length turns the corner and the days start lengthening by leaps and bounds, when chooks start laying and bulbs swell and life begins to stretch and wake.  It’s a good time to look up from the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other and into the distance.

Most years I try to spend a couple of days around then with no chores, sometimes at the beach and sometimes just at home, walking and thinking, reading, writing, drawing.  I try to come out of it not with a resolution so much as a talisman, a cue, something to bring into focus things that are relevant to what is important as they weave through my life. It’s the same kind of not very miraculous magic that makes you see red cars everywhere as soon as you buy a red car.  My Imbolc ritual is just about deciding what are the red cars I want to see.

On the wall in front of my desk I have my Imbolc pictures from the last four years.  The first one is a picture of green hills and gardens and little houses.  I had decided I was in need of grounding, of bringing it all home. There is also an affirmation in there of the value in belonging to a place, in nurturing and tending  and knowing it.

The second one is a picture of a wand with sparkles flying off it, all yellow and gold and glitter. It reminds me to expect magic, that random good fortune and marvelous experiences happen as often as those risks and hazards we plan for so carefully.  It also reminds me that not everything must be earned and deserved, to let go of my stubborn, stoic, hard working streak sometimes and dance in the rain.

The third one is a collage of cut outs from newspapers and magazines.  It has a lot of themes running through it, but I think the central one is to remember that we live in a place in history with, in Starhawk’s words “decisions made far away from us in inaccessible stratas of power.” It is a reminder to pay some attention to how best to ride the big waves of history that are coming at us, rather than keeping my attention on the close by.

And the forth one, this year’s, has just three words on it.  Mow, Write, Love. All painted big and purple on a sun yellow background.

Mowing for me is meditation and fitness, exercise and garden making, home and domestics.  It might seem mad, but mowing is how I take care of myself.

Writing is about being of use.  Making a difference.  Service. Writing is how I do something worthwhile beyond my own circles.

And loving is about remembering that life is its own purpose, and needs living.

So that’s my New Year’s Resolutions, made nearly half a year ago now, and they still feel like the right ones for this year.

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In the southern hemisphere, we are about to turn the corner into Spring.  We are about to pass the point on the bell curve when the rate of change in day length begins increasing exponentially.  The season of short days is about to end!

You can see why these dates are traditionally celebrated all over the world.  It is easy to miss the signs.  It is still cold and, although the mornings and evenings have been getting longer ever since the solstice over a month ago, it has been at such a slow rate, it’s easy to believe we’re still in the depths of winter.

But once anything exponential gets a go on, it goes at such a rate.  Before we know it now it will be already too late to start thinking spring. Imbolc is the signal that, deep underground in the quiet and dark, unseen and easily dismissed, spring is already stirring.

It’s already too late for pruning the early plum.  Just this week it burst into bloom. But this weekend I really really must get around to pruning the grape vines.  The wet spring last year caused fungus diseases and a really bad year for grapes.  I had planned to give them a very severe pruning this year, and burn the prunings before spring.  And time is running out.

This weekend I really must also get around to mulching up the asparagus.  Very soon now the first shoots of spring will appear, and if I haven’t got around to mulching it will be too late and I’ll miss the asparagus harvest.

This weekend I also have to get around to checking my supply of spring seeds – tomatoes and capsicums and chilis and eggplants and beans and zucchini and squash and cucumbers  and tomatillos and okra – and get out the seed catalogues. Already only just enough time to order.  I also need to get around to mulching up the strawberries (which already have flowers) and making a new batch of seedraising mix.  It’s time to get frugal with the wood ash – not too many more wood stove days left. I should have enough compost left to last until the first of the summer piles is ready but I need to gather it all up to stop the playboy turkeys taking shortcuts on mound building by moving in on my compost.

And it’s a good opportunity to use the momentum of the season to look at the seeds of new plots and dreams and hopes we have secretly germinating in our lives, and dare to give them some attention.  And for that I shall need a cake to take for the potluck morning tea and some bread to go with the stone soup lunch.

A busy weekend, in the best possible way.

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