The start of February is upon us and on the Wheel of the Year, we have reached the Celtic festival of Imbolc today in the Northern Hemisphere. We now move into the last phase of Winter that will take us to Spring and new growth and I have seen, heard and felt small but ever so delightful signs that the Earth is waking up from its Winter sleep. The first snowdrops are popping up on the green grassy banks along our lane and I have spotted the first wild primrose in bloom in the garden; there are fresh shoots on the honeysuckle climber; birds are beginning to sing earlier in the morning; hens are laying eggs again; days are visibly longer… Have you noticed the subtle shift towards Springtime?
As we move closer to Spring, now is a good time to prepare and make space for new beginnings by letting go of the past and looking to the future. This phase on the Wheel of the Year offers us the last opportunity to shed what is no longer needed so we can get ready for new growth this Imbolc without the burden of what does not serve us well any more or what we may have outgrown.
As usual, I like to take guidance from nature and gardening tasks often have plenty to teach me. Out in the garden, we have done a lot of pruning these past couple of weeks, relieving fruit trees and other shrubs or bushes of old, dead or diseased material so they can put all their energy into new growing and fruiting. This created an enormous pile of woody material to discard (a lot of the shrubs hadn’t been pruned for a few years)! We could have lit a bonfire or shredded it all but there was a lot of it and our compost bays are currently full so we had no need for more wood chip. Instead, we constructed a dead hedge, which is much more beneficial to the land.
We put some wooden upright posts in the ground, re-used fence posts and tree stakes, then simply layered all the pruned twigs and branches between the posts which hold it all together in a neat hedge shape. It screens off an inaccessible bit of wilderness and it will be a fantastic habitat for wildlife. Some of the stems we cut down are hollow, which will be ideal for solitary bees and other insects. It wasn’t long before I saw a robin survey the area too, perhaps to check for nest building suitability?
I plan to make a border in front of the dead hedge for some shrubs to give us Winter colour in that bit of the garden that, later in the season, is under the shade of the huge sycamore tree. I want to grow some Winter / Spring flowering clematis to climb up it too. With a mixture of greens, browns and reds, the hedge looks really lovely right now. We will just keep adding more prunings and dead material as we continue tidying up before the Spring. The level will go down over time as the material decays and we can just add more on top so it will become a permanent multi-functional feature in the garden as well as a home to several species of mammals, insects and birds.
As I was layering the material down to create the hedge, it struck me that it was a good image for the inner tidying we can do before Springtime to make space for new plans to grow and develop over the Spring and Summer seasons. The past can hinder our growth as we move forwards and it is important to let things go so they don’t burden us. I used building the dead hedge in the garden, laying each branch and twig down, as a therapeutic opportunity to put some things to bed, metaphorically. I have been aware of some fear within me that I do not want to be carrying any more, residual fear from the uncertainties and challenges of the last two years in a pandemic and I laid them down with the dead twigs. It was both a good workout for the body and a transformative exercise for the mind. The physical hedge will become a representation of what I have – or at least intended to – let go of. I like the idea that it is now serving a new purpose rather than vanished in flames in a bonfire. Creating a personal ritual around letting go can be a very powerful way to unburden ourselves of what we no longer need… a grudge we may have held onto for longer than is healthy, a troublesome behaviour that takes us away from our values but which we keep on doing, a fear that holds us back from realising our potential… Imbolc is the time to examine our life, prepare for new growth and discover what inner clearing Spring is calling for. My preferred way is to do this in mindfulness, out in nature, and I feel incredibly lucky that life on our smallholding provides the perfect environment for this.
It’s a New Moon today, (this post was written in 2022), so we can use the clearing energy of the new lunar cycle to support our deep clean and set our intentions for the next few weeks to the Spring Equinox. The darkness of the invisible moon, as it begins its new cycle, makes it easier for us to reflect and explore our depths in order to find what matters. We can then set intentions to align ourselves with what is important to us for improved wellbeing and a stronger sense of self.
At Imbolc, new growth means the colours and flavours of Spring are slowly but steadily seeping into Winter and diluting the harshness of the cold and dark season. Are you ready to receive them?
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