Friday, 17 September 2021

Embracing Autumn: Scarlet and Crimson Treasure


As we move further into Autumn there are more and more splashes of red to be seen in the trees and hedgerows. The rowan berries are the first, in August, but as September progresses they're joined by rosehips, haws, the berries of honeysuckle, and nightshade - and of course, unripe blackberries.

Bright scarlet rowan berries hang in distinctive clusters, in contrast to the crimson haws which are distributed much more evenly amongst the hawthorn foliage. 

In the hedgerows hereabouts there don't seem to be many rosehips - but there is a huge crop of haws. Some claim this signals a harsh winter ahead of us, but I tend to think it's more to do with favourable pollination conditions back in the spring when an exuberant froth of blossom covered the hawthorns.

I often think of the hawthorn as being the epitome of spring - its bright green leaves are among the first to break when the world begins to green anew, and the appearance of its flowers usually coincides pretty well with Beltane. Yet at this time of year when its leaves have darkened to glossy forest green and rich red haws jewel the hedgerow it is a striking feature in the landscape. In spring hawthorn seems full of lively joie de vivre, perfectly matched to the festivities of Beltane. As we approach the Autumn Equinox, its energy is of quiet, benevolent dignity - and generosity. There are enough haws for both us and the birds to enjoy - take advantage of this bounty and go foraging. 

Embracing Autumn: Hawthorn Brandy

Haws can be used to make many delicious edibles - jam, jelly, syrup, chutney, wine etc. Just Google 'hawthorn recipes' and you will find lots of inspiring ideas to make the most of your foraging. One of the simplest recipes of all is Hawthorn Brandy. If you've ever made Sloe Gin it's made very much along the same lines -  but everyone makes sloe gin, so why not try something a little different instead?

After picking your haws, pick them over and wash and dry them. Put them into a plastic bag and place them in the freezer overnight (this will soften them and begin to break down the skin so that their flavour will infuse the brandy effectively). Weigh the haws and put into a Kilner jar or similar tightly-lidded wide-mouthed container. Add sugar (half the weight of the haws), a pinch of cinnamon and some lemon zest. Pour over enough brandy to completely cover the ingredients, fasten the lid on tightly and shake well to dissolve the sugar. Store the jar somewhere dark, allowing the fruit to steep in the brandy for at least a couple of months (better yet until Yule). Shake the jar regularly. When enough time has passed, strain out the haws and lemon zest and bottle the flavoured brandy. Enjoy!  



















 

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Embracing Autumn: Read A New Book Month



I just discovered something wonderful about September - apparently it's officially Read A New Book Month, which gladdens my little bookworm heart no end! Not that I need much encouragement to dive into a new book in September, or at any other time of year for that matter. 

A couple of my recent favourite reads are 'A Spell In The Wild' by Alice Tarbuck, and 'Where The Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens - both of which I wholeheartedly recommend. I also really enjoyed 'The Lilypad List' by Marian Van Eyck McCain which I picked up on a whim when I discovered it in a local telephone box which has been converted into a book swap library. These ingenious little libraries are popping up all over the place - hopefully there is one near you. If not, perhaps you could be the catalyst that gets such a local scheme going? Thanks to the Global Educational Trust, there are also free book shops in locations across the UK which quite literally give away free books in an attempt to keep them out of landfill and improve access to reading. And let's not forget our wonderful public libraries which still exist in many places as a means of access to books despite horrific cutbacks and closures imposed by Tory austerity. 

When buying books, please consider buying from a small independent bookshop whenever possible. Jeff Bezos really doesn't need any more of your hard earned cash - he'll only fritter it away on spaceships. You can find your nearest here, or shop online here

Embracing Autumn: Read A New Book

As well as curling up at home with your latest book, you can also make reading a more social activity by 
  • Joining (or starting?) a book club
  • Reading with your children
  • Swapping books with friends
  • Asking friends for book recommendations/sharing your recommendations with others
And if you find a new book that you absolutely love - please leave a comment on this post letting me know about it! I love getting book recommendations and hopefully other readers of Moonroot will find it helpful too. 




 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Embracing Autumn: A Turning Point


In the UK, the last Monday in August is a Bank Holiday - that is to say a public holiday. The August Bank Holiday weekend is one of the busiest of the year, the roads clogged by traffic as people try to make the most of the holiday by travelling to seaside resorts and other tourist destinations. Most schools start back in the first week of September, so there's very much a sense of grabbing the last chance for some carefree fun while the weather is still likely to be favourable and before we all return to the seriousness of work and school. In the national psyche it marks a turning point where Summer is definitely over and Autumn is poised to take over fully. 

It's a perfect example of the unrealistic idea of seasonal changes we have in our heads. None of the seasons start or finish abruptly on a given date of course, they ebb and flow, morphing slowly and subtly into each other. But it's interesting to notice how people's expectations colour their experience of the seasons - they seem almost affronted if warm and sunny weather doesn't appear on cue in June as they feel it should be, they're disappointed when it doesn't snow at Christmas, and they seem to expect leaves to start changing colour and falling as soon as September appears.

This weekend does mark a turning point, but it's an internal rather than an external one. Perhaps the negative feelings people have about Autumn are based more on the human-imposed realities of having to leave the beach and return to school or the office than any flaws inherent in the season itself.

Embracing Autumn: Seasonal Turning Points

In your journal, examine your feelings about Autumn and the other seasons. What are the stereotypes you see in your mind when you imagine Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer? How do they compare to reality? It may be helpful to do this exercise in tandem with tracking seasonal changes with your camera over the coming weeks and months - the results could be surprising!  

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Embracing Autumn: A Harvest Dolly

Harvest Dolly made from my favourite herbs, August 2021

A traditional harvest custom I've always liked is that of weaving corn dollies from the last sheaf of grain to be cut. The idea came from the notion that the spirit of the crop needed a place to reside over the winter months, as it had effectively been made homeless when the fields of grain were cut and harvested. The last sheaf of wheat would be  gathered with great ceremony and plaited or woven into a shape known as a 'corn dolly', which was then kept through the winter in a safe place indoors and treated as an honoured guest. In spring when it was time to sow the next year's crop, the corn dolly was usually ploughed back into the soil, releasing the spirit of the crop back into the land.

Making such corn dollies is a skilled job. There are many, many different shapes and designs which have been created over the years, some of which are specific to particular areas of the UK (or further afield).

The idea of offering honour and shelter to the spirit of the green is appealing, yet not only do I lack the skill to weave any of these intricate designs, but as I am not a grain farmer I lack the wheat too! Of course, it's possible to buy wheat straw to make yourself a corn dolly - you can find just about anything online! - but somehow to me, that lacks the emotional/spiritual connection that you would have with a crop that you'd grown yourself. Then I had an idea - if the purpose of the corn dolly is to offer honour and protection to the spirits of a plant you are in relationship with, why not make a 'Harvest Dolly' instead, composed of the plants in your garden or neighbourhood that you feel have a connection to yourself. These plants could be the ornamental plants that you love (your favourite rosebush or clematis), vegetable plants that have fed you and your family through the summer, wild plants, trees and weeds that you adore, or plant allies that you work with spiritually.

This year, I decided to make a Harvest Dolly from my favourite herbs. If you'd like to make your own Harvest Dolly, there are detailed instructions below. 

Embracing Autumn: Create Your Own Harvest Dolly

  • Decide which plant(s) you'd like to use. Harvest them with respect and only after asking permission from the plant itself. Don't take more than you need, and cut the plant cleanly. This is all about honouring the spirit of the plant, and maintaining a good, mutually respectful relationship with it.        


Cutting spearmint from the herb garden with my boline.

Close-up of a peppermint flower

My bunch of herbs included spearmint, peppermint, eau-de-cologne mint, lemon verbena, camomile, oregano, sage, rosemary, St John's wort, thyme, fennel, mugwort and lemon balm

  • To make your Harvest Dolly, gather your plant material into a bunch. About halfway up the bunch, tightly tie some ribbon and finish it with a bow. This is your Harvest Dolly's 'waist'. I like to use red ribbon for this - partly because red thread is often used in protective folk magic charms, partly because red can symbolically stand for 'life', and partly because aesthetically the red makes a good contrast to all that green! Obviously, you can use which ever colour you like.
  • Turn the bunch upside down. The full, leafy, flowery half of your bunch forms the 'skirt' of your Harvest Dolly. The stem half will form her torso and head.
  • Find something straight and fairly rigid to make 'arms' (for this I cut a small bundle of dried grass stems from the hedgerow - I felt they would be a good representative of the wild plants of the locale). Push them through and at right angles to the stems of the plants you have gathered. The stems should be gathered tightly enough to hold the arms in place, but if you want to you can use some thread to tie them more securely.
  • Use some thread to tightly tie the bunch again, this time above the arms. This is your Harvest Dolly's 'neck'. You should have an inch or two of stems above this which form her head.
  • If you'd like to add a head/face you could use a seedpod, nutshell, round leaf etc, or make one out of paper/card or even air-drying clay. I used the seedpod from an honesty plant (Lunaria annua). There was enough of a stem on the seedpod to push down under the neck thread, which was sufficient to hold it in place. You could use thread, a cocktail stick or glue to hold your Dolly's face in place if necessary. If you like, you could draw features onto the face (I decided to leave mine plain).
  • Voila! You are finished, although if you like you could 'dress' your dolly by wrapping her in fabric or making her a tiny necklace or crown...
  • Put her somewhere dry and well-ventilated, where she will be able to gradually dry out. Her bright colours will fade as she dries, but she will still be beautiful.
  • Next spring, dig her into your garden soil, or leave her as an offering in your favourite green space. 
  • I've added a rough diagram below which I hope will make clear anything my words have failed to describe adequately.   
My finished Harvest Dolly


A rough diagram which may help clarify my written instructions!

 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Embracing Autumn: Harvest


I began this series of posts by talking about the fact that the season we now know as 'Autumn' was originally called 'Harvest', and I've touched on the subject of harvest a couple of times since. Before we go any further, let's examine the theme a little more deeply.

When we speak of 'harvest' we mean both the gathering of a crop and the crop itself. Although we tend to think of this crop primarily in agricultural terms (a crop of wheat or apples for example) the term is also used to describe gathering other things (such as solar power), or even gaining intangible benefits as a result of your efforts (e.g 'harvesting goodwill'). The cycle of a year in agricultural terms, goes from Spring when seeds are sown and growth begins, through Summer when crops are encouraged by sun and rain to grow and ripen, to Autumn when everything comes to fruition and on to Winter, a period of rest and renewal before things begin anew again the next Spring. This same cycle repeats in our own lives as we begin sowing the seeds of new projects, nurturing them and watching them grow before they finally bear fruit (and then we usually take a bit of time out to rest on our laurels before beginning something else). Of course, in our modern lives the two cycles don't always mesh as our projects and goals aren't necessarily agricultural - a perfect example of this is the academic year which tends to begin in the Autumn. Yet even so, the themes of the cycle remain the same.

Embracing Autumn: Harvest

Today, I invite you to think about how you have experienced - and how you are currently experiencing - 'Harvest' in your life. Where are you in the cycle right now? Are you about to begin a new period of study? Are you already working towards an achievement such as a promotion at work? Have you just finished knitting your first ever pair of socks?  Are you entering your first, second or third trimester of pregnancy? Is work on your novel flowing towards completion, or is it frozen by writer's block?  Are you *this close* to achieving your target weight? Did you grow a magnificent crop of potatoes or strawberries this summer? Do you finally - after all those lessons - feel ready to take your driving test?

Our personal harvests take many forms, and just like the agricultural ones they can produce feelings of abundance - or disappointment, and every one of them contains the seeds (in the form of useful experience and lessons learned) of future harvests. Take a little time to journal on the subject. (The quote on the photo above is from a post I wrote a few years back, which you may find helpful to kick start some more thoughts on the subject. You can find it here.) 

Write about what the word 'harvest' means to you, and how the theme has manifested itself in your life, both in the past and the present. Write also about what you hope to harvest in the future - remember, every harvest begins with the planting of a seed... 

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Embracing Autumn: Preparing for Autumn


The rain of recent weeks has finally - finally! - given way to sunshine and blue skies. And yet despite the presence of the sun, the days are noticeably shorter as we inch closer to the Autumn Equinox. Today for the first time this year I saw the swallows and martins lining up in chattering rows along the telephone wires as they do each year as they prepare for their marathon winter migration to South Africa.

Just as the swallows are preparing themselves for the changes Autumn brings, we humans are also preparing for Autumn - stocking up on supplies for the new academic year (or buying new school uniforms for the kids), preserving the Autumn harvest by making jams and chutneys, tidying spent bedding plants from the garden - whilst simultaneously enjoying the better weather while it lasts. Some customers in the shop where I work are even starting their Christmas shopping (I'm all for planning ahead, but that's a step too far for me!).

Embracing Autumn: Autumn Preparations

Without necessarily looking as far ahead as Christmas, what are you (or should you be) doing to prepare for Autumn? I suspect we each have different priorities when it comes to seasonal jobs, but you may like to think about:

  • Putting away Summer clothes and digging out your Autumn wardrobe - it won't be long before cosy jumpers, comfy boots and snuggly scarves are the go-to choices when you get dressed in the morning.
  • In the garden, tidying up straggly or gone-to-seed plants (but do leave some as food and shelter for wildlife).
  • Making sure you have some nice soft blankets to hand so that you can snuggle up on the sofa in comfort or add an extra layer of warmth when you're in bed.
  • Getting yourself some nice scented candles or a jar of luxury hot chocolate ready to increase the hygge factor in your home.
  • Making sure you have all the necessary textbooks/stationery/folders etc ready if you've signed up for an Autumn course or workshop. You could also prepare a space in your home as a study area.
  • Ensuring your garden has some suitable areas for wildlife to overwinter in safely.  

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Embracing Autumn: Butterfly Days


Although 'Embracing Autumn' was intended to be a series of daily posts, once again things have slipped and I have missed a few days. This is because IB's elderly Mum - who is now living with us - had a nasty fall on Saturday afternoon which landed her in A&E. She's OK and on the mend but as you can probably imagine we've been a bit preoccupied over the last couple of days. I probably could have written something last night but to be honest I was too frazzled to sum up a coherent thought. I hope things will get back on track from now on, though.

Today I've been thinking about butterflies. In late August the buddleia bush on our patio is covered in butterflies. Many people dislike buddleia as it can be an invasive weed. The bush on our patio in fact sowed itself - I'm not sure quite where from as I'm not aware of any buddleia bushes in the immediate area, but somehow a seed must have blown in from somewhere. Now it's huge despite me cutting it back hard every winter, and at this of year time it makes the butterflies and bees so happy I can't possibly regret its arrival. I really rather love its unruly sprawl, the generosity of its abundant purple flowers drawing in clouds of butterflies and bees and the scent of honey as I brush past it. This morning as I left for work, the wall of the house by the buddleia was covered in butterflies warming their wings in the morning sun (I tucked this observation away as one of my beautiful things for today).

In this season of harvest and plenty, it seems appropriate to watch the butterflies feasting and apparently celebrating their bounty. 

Embracing Autumn: Butterfly Days

How many different kinds of butterfly can you spot? If you need help with identifying them, there are man handy online guides such as this and this. You can also help with butterfly conservation by simply reporting your butterfly sightings to projects like this one