Remembering Those Who Hve Gone Before Us

Greetings on this dark, damp autumnal day! A bit of a change from the wonderful weather we were having a couple of days ago, as in the picture below taken on a Sunday walk with my husband and the dogs.

Dorothea
The calm after the storm – a glorious autumnal afternoon.

Here in the mountain reaches of north west Wales the seasons are moving quickly now as we head towards the traditional start of the Celtic Winter. Now is the time to wind the year down and draw everything to a close. All the busy-ness of spring and summer and the frenetic activity of autumn and harvest are almost at an end. The days are rapidly growing shorter. We have already had our first storm of gales and torrential rain. Time to withdraw indoors, light the fire, switch on the glowing lights of home and relax… take stock of the year we have so far experienced and withdraw into ourselves to rest and re-nurture ourselves, both in body and spirit.

This is also the time when we can think about all those who have gone before us… our family members no longer with us… our ancestors, way back into the dim and distant mists of our historical and genetic past. In Celtic belief this was the time of year to remember one’s forebears; those who have shaped our land, our culture and society, and contributed to who and what we are today. As the year draws to a close there is a pause at the end of this month – a few days of ‘space’ when the realms of those gone before us are able to draw closer to us once more as the veils between their world and ours thins. The natural world is dying back into herself on the  intake of a long, indrawn breath only to be released in a icy sigh which brings frosts to our mornings and chills to our days. We are stilled, we are freed to think and reflect… and remember. Read More

Merry Michaelmas!

A very happy Michaelmas to you! What am I talking about? Already people are

Autumnal Wreath Front Door
Autumnal wreath for the front door

beginning to focus on the ‘countdown to the BIG DAY’ on the 25th December and are forgetting other more ancient agrarian festivals!

Michaelmas is one of the Christian quarter days – the others being March 25th, June 24th and December 25th – which closely shadow the equinoxes and solstices celebrated by older and other religions. This time of year is seen as the end of the time of harvest and is still marked by harvest thanksgiving services as we rapidly slide into deep autumn and towards the fallow months of Winter. Read More

Candying Time

Candied Peels 1
Candied halves of grapefruit ready to be dried off.

I have just seen a post on Facebook which informs me that there are only fourteen more Fridays before Christmas. I got my diary out and counted – and it is true! So for all the people who feel that they have loads of time between now and Christmas…. think again!!! Suddenly, fourteen Fridays neither sounds – or feels – very much.

And I already seem to be a bit behind myself – and I am blaming all delays this autumn on my book which is being published in just a couple of weeks time on the 4th October. I have only just finished candying my first batch of fruit peel which I usually get done in July or August. My favourite peel is grapefruit which is thick and luscious when candied. I usually add it to my mixture when I am baking my Christmas and New Year Cakes. It gives a fresh tang to the other fruits and spices. (And I often finish using it up in the Hot Cross Bun dough at Easter which makes the spicy fruit bread an extra-delicious treat.) Read More

Walking Lightly Upon the Earth

Llandudno from Orme with flowers
Happy days, whatever the weather

A peaceful morning – even if the sky is grey. The calm before the storm, perhaps? After all, it is a Bank Holiday weekend here in the U.K. and they are notorious for bad weather. I always hope that this last weekend of August will be fine and warm… allow people to have a lovely few days in the sunshine before children have to return to school and the population as a whole turns its communal face towards winter and longer evenings. The next national long weekend/holiday break will be at Midwinter with the celebration of Christmas. Now there’s a thought!

Whatever the weather chooses to do, we can make the most of it and take energy from it. It might not allow us to lie back on a beach somewhere and revel in long hours of blazing sunshine, or sit beneath shady trees picnicking amidst the wonders of the natural world, but we can still glory in the elements, whichever ones they might be. There is a huge amount of power in wind and rain which we can still absorb, even if it isn’t so pleasant or picturesque as blue skies and golden sunshine. Read More

Bangers… Without the Mash!

The August Bank Holiday is almost upon us and the end of the school holidays is approaching fast, but summer isn’t

Glamorgan Sausages
Glamorgan Sausages… the large version.

quite over just yet. Is anyone planning on going out into the countryside, up into the mountains or down to the beach in the next few days? Because I have a tasty recipe which might just fill a gap – or a hungry tum!

Glamorgan Sausages are quick to make, easy to pack/transport, can be Read More

‘Gather Ye Fir Cones While Ye May’

Fir cones
Gathered on one lovely summer’s walk through the Beddgelert Forest

Gazing out of my window this evening it is hard to believe that it is the middle of August and the children are still on their summer holidays. The mountains are completely obscured by cloud – in fact, I can hardly see the other side of the valley – and it is dark, gustily windy and drenchingly wet. Ah, the true British summer has returned to us. Now this is the weather I recognise and understand!

In such circumstances my thoughts turn to autumn and cosy evenings by a blazing fire… and being me, they drift as far as the Midwinter season. No, don’t groan! There are facets throughout the whole year which reflect on our major Winter celebrations; things which it is good to do/collect/gather/make in preparation for that special time, and now – if and when the rain stops! – is no exception.

For it is now that everything in the woods and forests is coming to fruition, and that means things like all the fir cones which feature so prominently in our Winter decorations. But NOW is the time to begin collecting them. Take Read More

Come Earthwalking With Me

Cae Non in Summer
The view from Cae Non where Earthwalking is held

Many of us have read books and attended talks and workshops on a wide variety of fascinating topics. We come away feeling inspired and energised, determined to make amazing changes in our lives… and then the reality of everyday living kicks in and all our wonderful intentions get swept beneath the busy-ness, commitments and pressures of 21st Century existence.

To enjoy a life which is morally and ethically active and spiritually alive we must learn how to fully integrate our highest ideals and practices into our everyday life – even the most mundane tasks and actions. Authentic spirituality needs to be fully embraced, practiced, lived and experienced every moment of every day.

Participating in the seven weekends throughout the cycle of one whole year gently and gradually demonstrates how you can do this. More, it doesn’t simply show you how you may achieve this; it engages you in active participation which over the months becomes a habit… a way of life. Read More

The Earth Tilts

Setting Sun
The end of a summers day

We have passed the longest day of Summer and celebrated the Solstice. As the sun sank to rest on the evening of the 24th June, we re-entered that part of the year which gradually grows darker. On Monday, by just a few seconds, we had less daylight than before the weekend. The earth has begun it’s journey away from the Sun and – for the Northern Hemisphere – it’s tilt into cold and darkness.

This, then, is a fitting time to tell everyone about the (non-fiction) book which I have written! Entitled ‘Merry Midwinter’ it has been brought into being to help everyone more authentically celebrate – not just one day in December – but the whole of Winter! Read More

Frothing Blossoms

Yet another gloriously sunny warm day. From my window I can see one of our elder trees, covered in creamy white blossoms the size of small plates. This is truly one of the signs that Midsummer is fast approaching!

The elder tree holds a very special and sacred

Elderflowers
Flowers and lemons in preparation.

significance in these northern lands. The Elder is a ‘mother tree’, and so much of it is of practical use and benefit. This time of year certainly would not be the same without cool jugs of elderflower cordial for everyone to drink. It is so refreshing, and good for us at the same time. It is very easy to make too: Read More

Ethical Foraging and Harvesting

Herbs Drying on AGA
First of the crops drying around the AGA

Only three weeks until Midsummer! I can feel the earth and all the natural world heavy with lush growth and blossoms – a beautiful young maiden in all her fecund glory!

This is one of those times of year when it is good to harvest herbs – culinary or medicinal – when all the goodness has risen from the soil into the plants and they are at their peak potency as they come into flower. During this time I can sometimes hardly see our AGA. There are huge bunches of greenery hanging from the washing rack above it and all around the sides and top are baskets of leaves and blossoms in varying stages of drying. The air is filled with the pungent scents of Comfrey and May (hawthorn) Blossom. And if drying isn’t occurring, then the big pans are set upon the hot plates to heat water for wine making… Dandelion, Gorse, young Oak leaf and May Blossom soon to be followed by Elder Blossom. These are our seasonal favourites, although sadly no gorse for us this year. The icy storms of early March (when a lot of gorse is already in flower) ravaged the blossom and bushes and seared them to a brown crisp. Only now is some of the gorse beginning to recover and put out tiny tentative green shoots but much of it, I fear, will not recover.

A lot of the herbs we gather are grown in the wild. Unfortunately, the days of hay fields and spring grazing pasture more closely resembling Mother Nature’s herbaceous borders are long gone! Many of the wild flowers which grew naturally there could be harvested and was beneficial to humans and animals alike – a positive larder and medicine chest for all. (It is only recently that we have had to call on veterinary surgeons at every turn to tend our susceptible animals!) Now due to monoculture, we have green fields… green, green and only green. You only have to look at all the grass verges, motorway roundabouts and even some municipal gardens which councils have recently been too poor to keep cut to see the wealth of wild plants and flowers which will flourish, if only given the chance.

It is also good that people are becoming more aware  of the necessity of caring for our wild – and sometimes endangered – allies. Humanity has been too ignorantly and wilfully blind and self centred over the last few hundred years and has romped, raped and stripped the land bare. Living cheek by jowl and in harmony with the Earth has been forgotten and people have tended to simply grab what they pleased without a thought for tomorrow or the more distant future.

In our seasonal round of collection and processing, some people have accused me of being just as selfish, thoughtless and destructive. Horrified individuals have castigated me as a wild life vandal. This tends to be the ignorant reaction of a ‘townie’ who has been born and brought without any real working contact with the natural world and is now unwisely demonstrating their smidgen of recently acquired knowledge. No wild forager would ever dream of behaving like this. Not only do wild foragers have a care, love and respect for the natural world but they well understand that if one treats living things roughly or over-crops them, then there will be no more the following year – or perhaps ever. At the very least it would be counter-productive in the extreme. Only people who have no understanding of how the natural cycles of life, growth, fruition and die-back synergistically work would even suggest it.

To set everyone’s mind at rest, and to impart how we can all benefit while remaining environmentally responsible, here are a few truths of the nature forager who lives by the seasons and their wild and bountiful harvests. (But in actual fact, these guidelines apply to any crop, whether it is in your garden, along the hedgerow or in a field.)

Firstly, never over-pick; ruthless and irresponsible strip harvesting is only a very modern practice. Only take if there is plenty – if there is a dearth that season then do without – you will appreciate it all the more the following year. Only take a little from each plant, tree, patch or area – never entirely denude anything.

Simultaneously you must also take two other main courses of action into consideration. The first is that throughout the year you must do all you can to promote the growth and well being of the wild plants – this generally means leaving them well alone, just keeping an eye on them – but it may also entail the very gentle clearing of other invasive herbage to give plants space and air to expand or lifting fallen wood from crushing smaller plants (unless it is actually sheltering them from being trodden upon by two- or four- footed beings).

Before you do anything, you really should simply observe your chosen plants for a year or two, or several if possible. Under what weather conditions do they prosper best? Some plants like full sun but wet feet, or full sun with little water, others prefer shady conditions – an awful lot, like us,  prefer a bit of both. Some wild plants really prosper at the edges of paths, like plantain which, in some areas is known as ‘Adam’s Foot’ for that very reason. No wild plant likes to be transplanted! They will live where they choose. Put yourself in the place of the plants you are concerned about. If in the teeniest bit of doubt, LEAVE WELL ALONE!

Secondly, the best way to promote wild growth is to gather and scatter seed. Give Nature a helping hand. An effective and simple way of obtaining your own seed is to wait until you are sure that it has fully developed on the plant, (no point in taking it if it is immature – once harvested it will cease to develop but won’t be fit to grow either), take your time. Either gently cut the seed heads and pop them into a bag to take home and carefully dry or, if you are afraid that the seeds will disperse and fall to the ground while you are attempting to collect them, gently place a paper bag over the seed heads, bend them over a little and cut cleanly with a small sharp knife – preferably a pruning knife – so that any damage to the remaining plant is minimalized. And of course, gathering seed is like harvesting anything else – DO NOT TAKE TOO MUCH! A good maxim is to only take approx. 10% of anything. Leave the rest to do what it does naturally. Also remember that other wildlife – birds, small mammals and insects – will also be relying on these plants from spring through to the winter.

Once you have gathered your seeds dry them gently but thoroughly in an open basket or container at room temperature. Too hot and they won’t be viable for growing the next spring. Not dried thoroughly and you will come to them at the end of winter to find a mouldy mass only fit for the compost heap! When you are sure, place them in an airtight container and keep somewhere cool and dark until spring. When choosing where you are going to scatter them bear in mind that you are colonising ground that is already hosting other living things – the whole cycle of plants, fungi, insects and animals – and that you will possibly be interfering with their well-being. So have a care

ALL this is a part of wild foraging. If you aren’t doing this then you aren’t doing it properly.

It is in this way that we can become more integrated with the natural world; how we can show our love, care and appreciation for it; how it can benefit us in return; how we can all live side by side in mutual respect and prosper harmoniously.

In this way we may become true guardians of the wild, learning to walk more lightly upon the Earth.