If you follow the same wonky ancient calendar I do (or try to follow), you know that Spring begins not at the Vernal Equinox but with the great festival of Imbolc. The Vernal Equinox is mid-spring, the way the Winter Solstice is Midwinter. Spring comes with the earliest possible signs of its arrival, as though our Ancestors excelled in wishful thinking.
In the southern highlands, we are often blessed with a period of mild weather at the end of January-beginning of February, which corresponds with Imbolc. When I was a youngster, folks would plant onions sets then and be eating onions not long after Easter. I have done the same thing for many years now and will lay in a pound or so of onion sets as soon as possible.
(I have a couple of small beds of onions that were planted with the winter-over veg and we’ve been eating those for a while now.)
The snowdrops are blooming, as they usually do, and the witch hazel is almost done with its December and January glory. These last days of rain have encouraged the daffodils and we have a few of those blooming now, with many more in their bud form, waiting for a spate of warm weather.
Imbolc was important to my western European Ancestors following the domestication of animals because it meant that the ewes began to lamb and there would be rich milk for the human elders and babies, too. It meant survival in a way it is difficult for us to understand today in the West.
I had a powerful Imbolc meditation last night. Against my own common sense and expereince, I drank coffee fairly late into the evening, so I didn’t sleep well. In addition, I am visiting very kind family members who have put me up for a couple of days. The room I’m in is drafty and cold at night, which isn’t usually a problem for me.
Last night, though, I was wakeful as well as cold. I tossed and rearranged blankets. I wrapped myself like a mummy. I covered my head so that all that was sticking out was my nose.
None of it really helped.
So I began to ponder the cold of a northern European winter as I waited for morning to arrive. I thought of extended families sleeping around smoored fires, wrapped in pelts and sleeping close together for extra warmth. I thought of fleas and unwashed bodies, of cooking smells and rancid fat.
I dreamed of a sunny, warm day…with chickweed to eat and some warm milk to drink. I tucked the blankets around my cold feet and thought of Brigid, and the bone-chilling wetness that can sometimes be Ireland in springtime (and summer, for that matter).
We are so controlled by weather and we hardly ever think of it that way–until the extremes of rain turn to flood, when tropical storms sweep up the Eastern seaboard to devastate New Jersey and New York, until four days of rain is topped with temperatures in the low 20s and the black roads are covered with invisible dangerous ice.
I made a note to myself, as I dropped off to sleep, to have more respect for this thing we call “weather.” And also for the Ancestors whose lives it often defined. Blessed be the resilience of experience and the foresight to plan ahead.
As best we can.