Well, midsummer is upon us. I will admit that it’s been a somewhat strange late spring/early summer though. Spring seemed to come late, with many things that would start in April only really blossoming in the second half of May. Of course, this meant an explosion in growth as nature ‘catches up’ with itself by speeding up. Now we’ve had a heatwave, and a week of wall-to-wall sun. And would you believe it, some of the things that would normally start to come out in the middle/end of July (I’m looking at you, Eyebright) are starting to come into flower? It seems like the summer has been squeezed – the spring is late, and the autumn looks like it will be early. A strange year, and a pattern that neither I, or my bees like.
But I have been as busy as bees. While I’m house-sitting I have exclusive use of the Aga for drying herbs. Just as well with so many things ready for harvesting! It also marks an interesting opportunity for me to experiment more with dried herbs. In the past few years, I have made lots of fresh tinctures, and dried small amounts of herbs. But with a slowly increasing use of teas in my practice, I’m finding it helpful to have more dried herbs on hand. Also, I can’t afford a bulk order of grain spirit with which to make tinctures, and won’t until some time in August. This means that I’m drying herbs so they can be kept until such time as I can make dried herb tinctures (If I need them). So, the Aga has been laden up with bunches of herbs drying from the airing rack and baskets of petals and blossoms drying. I have the Aga turned down so the ‘cool side’ is not really hot enough do damage the delicate blossoms. It is quite remarkable how they have scented the living room though. A couple of days ago, it was Apothecary Rose and Rosa x mundi that endowed my living space with their delicate fragrance. Today, it is Elderflower, with its very un-delicate fragrance.
So, like most midsummers, I find myself as busy as my bees… happily foraging, gathering and processing. But this year in particular midsummer has seemed like a perfect opportunity for reflection. Mainly because I have been alone quite a lot, and also because two weeks ago, sheep got into Cae Non and decimated my herb garden there. Along with other personal reflections, the seed upon which to meditate has been ‘I tend and nurture, but not harvest’ at the same time as finding other harvests, and novel ways of bringing that harvest home.
Yet, in amongst the reflecting, it’s important not to lose a sense of purpose – or time. Little ‘rituals’ of observance. For
me, I am aware that I almost set my calendar and mark my progress through the year by the time that various ‘key herbs’ appear. Perhaps the one that most suits the present time is St. John’s Wort. I’ve noted over the past few years that it is always at its peak on St. John’s Day (the 24th of June) – and this is when I tend to pick it, out of a nod to it’s Patron, and also in observance of the fact that this is the day when the sun starts slipping on the horizon; the downward run towards winter. As the Children’s TV character Catweazel once said ‘Show me how to put the sun in a bottle’. For me, preserving St. John’s Wort is like doing just that – bottling a little bit of high summer for the winter months.
So, I will go out tonight, to watch the sun sink between the mountain as it did last night in a blaze of fire. This is it folks, the height of the season – but also the start of the harvest proper. Whatever your summer season brings you this year, I hope it is deeply lovely for you – a pause, an in-breath of thought and reflection before the madness of the harvest proper!
Midsummer’s Day turned out to be cold, wet, and a bit windy. However, the inclement weather did clear at tea time/early evening, so I did do what my ancestors have done for thousands of years and climbed up a hill to watch the midsummer sun set behind another one. I watched the sun slip behind the mountain, and, most amazingly, form three perfect sunbeams over the brow of the ridge.
But for me, the real magic of this midsummer period is today – in English, St. John’s Day, or in a lot of Eastern Europe ‘Jani’. Just as the sun stands still on the solstice, this is the day it starts it’s journey back towards the south of the horizon. In Eastern Europe this is a day they celebrate as the moment of change – they go up hills, light fires and celebrate the shift in balance of the year. And so this year did I.
Perhaps it’s the teenyest drop of Eastern blood I have from a great-great grandfather who left that part of the world over a hundred years ago… but I felt called to celebrate this day too. No fires, or lit cartwheels rolling down the hill here – but a quiet, dignified lighting of incense and a small candle, with an offering of the herb of midsummer, St. John’s Wort to mark this time of the harvest (And bundles of St. John’s Wort now hanging from my airing rack drying!). Small moments marked that can have a profound impact on the heart and soul… I will go back tomorrow to retrieve my candle glass (no ritual littering here) and see how long it burned for. But that’s really not the point. Something has been marked and tonight many thoughts, feelings and emotions dance in my heart as I look forward to the harvest to come.