As a child, growing up in the 1970s in a village in the Lincolnshire fens, I was always very aware of the changes in the seasons – not just as the landscape went from black to green to gold and back again, but also because our village community, in common with thousands of others, maintained seasonal rituals that were rooted in farming practices, especially those in summer and autumn.
There was ploughing (with lapwings and gulls following the plough), and ploughing matches – yes, farmers competed (and still do) against each other to see who can plough the straightest furrow and they have special competition ploughs to do it.
The sugar beet harvest marked winter, with the rivers of mud on the roads and the stench of the local sugar factories (even from ten miles away, if the wind was bad, you could smell them).
Spring brought emerging crops and, a few miles to the East, the bulb fields and the annual Tulip festival in Spalding. At that time, coach tours from all over the country would visit the Lincolnshire bulb fields, which rivalled those in the Netherlands.
Midsummer was the time of village fetes, always held in a farm yard. Late summer brought the cereal harvest (followed, in those days, by stubble fires) and then, in the autumn came my favourite – the harvest festival.
Even as someone who has never been remotely religious, there was always something special about seeing the mountains of fresh produce and specially-baked loaves (made to look like wheat sheaves) adorning the village church. Harvest festivals with their optimistic hymns and harvest suppers were a very obvious reminder that the food we ate came, almost miraculously, from the land around us, grown with real expertise.
I studied Agricultural Botany at university, and worked in agricultural research for several years – that certainly kept me in touch with natural cycles. Then, I changed track and entered the world of workplace design and interior landscaping. After a quarter of a century embedded in offices, the seasons were almost obliterated from day-to-day thought (apart from the odd day of snow disruption).
In fact, as an interior landscaper, putting plants into buildings makes one acutely aware that the insides of buildings don’t have seasons – it is the lack of seasonal variation that determines the types of plants that can thrive indoors – those that are adapted to near constant light and heat (and that will be the subject of another post).
However, things have changed.
This year, with all the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been working from home. I don’t think that I was alone in spending more time noticing and appreciating the world around. Many of us were treated to an especially long spell of good weather, starting almost as soon as lockdown began – it was if it was a small compensation for the chaos going on around.
Regular walks around the fields near where I live have been a bit of a revelation. From equinox to equinox I’ve noticed the growth and ripening of crops, the blossoming of wild flowers, more butterflies than I can remember seeing in years and the changes in birdsong as the summer progressed. As we enter autumn, the hedgerows are heavy with berries and the fields have already been seeded with next year’s crops.
The pulse of nature is not only noticeable from the countryside. In the UK, we are very lucky that our urban areas are generally well provided with public parks and gardens, and these provide very necessary spaces for people to gain the benefits of fresh air and sunshine, as well as to appreciate nature. Indeed, many of our parks are richer in wildlife than the countryside.
The forced pauses in our routines give us time to reflect and gather our thoughts. Noticing the changes in seasons – the result of the inevitable progress of the Earth orbiting around the sun as it has done for over four billion years – has provided me with a very necessary reconnection with nature and the passage of time.