Lammas: a slow shift towards Autumn


It's Lammas tomorrow, the festival on the Wheel of the Year that marks the mid-point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. The high energy of Summer is now waning and as we move into the month of August nature offers us the very first glimpses of Autumn. Have you noticed any signs where you are?

Here in the Welsh hills, the landscape around the smallholding is dominated by the purpley-pink blooms of rosebay willowherb that mingle with the creamy froths of meadowsweet and the vigorous and abundant green bracken. At home, the fruit trees in our orchard are heavy with ripening apples, pears and plums and the rowan berries are turning a fiery orangey-red. The cosmos, gladioli, dahlias and crocosmia are adding renewed vibrancy and deep colours to the jaded flower beds where growth has now visibly slowed down and many plants are beginning to flop. I have harvested seeds off lupins, foxgloves and poppies from our borders and off the yellow rattle in the meadows. I have also collected and pressed flowers and grasses for future craft projects. The goldfinches are often spotted feasting on the knapweed seedheads whilst the robins, now recovered from their moult, are back out visiting the bird table. It won't be long before the Summer migrants like the redstarts, swallows and chiffchaffs leave our hills for the warmer climes of Africa. The squirrels regularly visit the walnut tree in the garden to keep a close eye on the swelling nuts for they will not want to miss out on a bountiful harvest of their own!

This week, we made hay. The old Fordson Major tractor had its yearly outing to the fields with various bits of machinery attached. First, our neighbour cut the hay, eyes on the weather forecast to ensure five dry days ahead to finish the job. Peter then turned it with the haybob once on three consecutive days to dry it properly, before rowing it up ready for someone else to come and bale it yesterday. In the end, with a rather changeable forecast, it was a race against the clock to bring our 80 bales safely into the field barn before the rains came in the evening. Phew, thanks to a kind friend’s help, we did it! A relief and a good workout!!

For me, haymaking marks a palpable - and possibly the most noticeable - shift in our smallholding life and in the Summer season. We don't often do it this early so usually, Lammas has come and gone before the hay is cut and stored away, but there is something about haymaking that, like Lammas, indicates that Summer has peaked and we are gradually sliding towards Autumn. It is very much an in-between phase that I call “Autumn in Summer”. Lammas is known as the first of the Celtic harvest festivals - the second is at the Autumn Equinox in September and the third at Samhain at the very end of October. When the month of August arrives, it ushers in an important change that sees our energy spent gathering in earnest the ripening fruits of our labours to ultimately replenish our stores for the Winter months when food coming from the land will be scarce. Can you feel this seasonal shift? Even if you don’t grow your own food, there is plenty out in nature to announce the season is changing. Perhaps it is a certain maturing within you that you notice, or projects coming to fruition or even a harvesting of creative seeds that can be stored as ideas now for future use? I would love to hear what “Autumn-in-Summer” signs you have spotted so I invite you to share by posting a comment below.

Following the Wheel of the Year and pausing to mark each of the Celtic festivals helps me to become more attuned to the transitions between the four seasons. The Wheel of the Year, with its eight points, reflects that seasons do not suddenly change on a particular date. More and more, I grow more sensitive to the subtle blending that occurs between one season and the next, noticing that one starts before the other has finished and then that the old one lingers after the new one has started. Being present to the little seasonal shifts gives fluidity and flow to my life and supports me to be fully present to the passage of time and in particular to the passage of my time on this Earth. As I navigate a life transition of my own, the menopause, I find it helpful to pay attention to the gradual way the seasons out there softly merge. It it teaches me to be present to the changes inside myself during this in-between, at times challenging phase - and eventually to accept them.

This Lammas, may you welcome this “Autumn in Summer” phase with arms open enough to harvest all the seasonal fruits that will nourish you physically and metaphorically. May you slide into Autumn carrying with you the joy and abundance of Summer.

Happy Lammas, folks!