Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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A carpet of leaves

For anyone who sees trees as part of their spiritual landscape, it’s important to think about trees specifically and not generically. It can be tempting to approach any aspect of nature as an archetype or an idea, but that means we can end up engaging with our ideas about nature, and not what’s really going on around us.

The process of deciduous trees losing their leaves is a slow one if you track it carefully, and this year I am tracking it carefully. I observed the first significant changes of colour in leaves a couple of weeks ago. Clearly different species of trees turn and shed at a different rate while the weather conditions and temperature affects how long leaves stay on trees. From what I recall of previous years, I think it likely that oak will be the last to go, while horse chestnut turned first and ash followed.

The ash leaves are falling even though many other trees are still green of leaf. It means that I’m getting the lovely, autumnal carpet of leaves experience. When the ground is thick with fallen leaves, and you can kick through them; smelling that distinctive autumn aroma, hearing the crackle of them – it’s charming. This is an experience to delight the inner child.

Of course there are disadvantages to the dry leaf carpet stage – chiefly what’s hidden. Deep potholes may become invisible, and there’s the possibility of the poo you didn’t know was there. But even so, there’s an easy pleasure to take in fallen leaves.

In the early days of leaves falling, they retain their colours, so the ground becomes a beautiful collage full of yellows, oranges and reds.

How the fallen leaves change depends on whether it turns out to be a dry autumn or a wet one. Different leaves behave differently – beech leaves tend to linger far longer than others. What they fall onto affects them, as does what goes over them once they’re down. The process of leaves breaking down can be fast and sludgy, or slow and windblown. It’s a process I invariably notice because it impacts on my walking. At the same time, it’s not a process I’ve invested much thought in, and this year I shall try and pay it more attention.

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Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.


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