Winter has set in. It is cold, there is ice every morning in the woods at the moment. The bare trees offer no protection from the clear cold sky, but they do invite in the light of the moon: it is a pleasure to walk through the woods at night guided by her light.
It really is the moon, rather than the sun, which defines this time of year; she shines bright, high and strong over the sleeping countryside, while the sun stays low and, some days, barely breaks through the cloud.
December brings the winter solstice, the moment we celebrate the pendulum swinging back towards summer, and the light returns, slowly. The Oak King awakens and takes over from the Holly King and he starts to get stronger as the light returns.
Solstice is the time for hibernating during the long dark nights and so naturally is a time for reflection.
Reflection and connection
I have been working hard over the last few years to build HoneyWoods, make it stronger, and provide opportunities to connect with nature in meaningful ways under the trees at the arboretum. We have held many women’s events with amazing feedback. With the collaboration of some strong wild women, we have had new events, from the Mother Daughter Journey to our solo wild camps. We sell out our two Wild Women Retreats every year and our women tell us how important their annual return to the woods is.
But for me, as the person behind all of these events, I have found it exhausting. Each weekend I am setting up or clearing down from a retreat or event. I have not been a good example of slowing down, self care and meaningful connection. So it is time for me to reflect and rethink.
The time has come to be realistic about what I can achieve in a year and so I have decided to slow down. To take time to walk among the hedgerows of our farm, collecting sloes and rose hips for infusions and heart medicines. I need to hear the wind rushing through our willows and take note of what she is telling me. To sit with our animals and understand the world through their eyes, so that I can look after them. I will take time to notice the tree creepers climbing the redwoods at the arboretum, and how the ancient oak takes a little longer to unfurl his leaves.
Something that has been pulling me away from my to do list, which I can no longer ignore, is the strong desire to make. The more I learn about plants, the more I see a future where I consume less and make more. Plants are so giving, from their many and generous medicinal qualities to support our health and wellbeing physically, to their qualities as food, as clothing, as tools, as dyes. I am weaving together a connection to the land where I belong and this starts with the plants and animals around me. Our sheep give us wool to spin and weave into beautiful hand dyed garments, our trees and hedgerows give us colour and medicines. Even fungi around us share their health promoting benefits and colours. I feel excited as I head more mindfully in this direction, learning so much about the natural world and about myself.
HoneyWoods in 2020
So we will have a few changes next year. We are adding in new, simpler events and reducing the events that need more time to organise, or that don’t make economic sense.
The plan is to pour more energy and time into these events and make them beautiful. We will improve our offering with campfire food from award winning chef and medicine woman Leona. The retreats will all include making, whether it is medicine, craft or food. We will make the days longer so that we have time to connect with each other, with the trees and with ourselves. We will bring in wild women to share their skills and expertise with us.
I will qualify as an ethnobotanist this year, bringing another level of knowledge and skill to our events and courses. To celebrate this, I am starting our new course Native Trees, to share everything I am so passionate about with anyone wanting to improve their own work in woodlands and wellbeing. This course is a holistic approach to wellbeing in nature, and you will leave really knowing five of our native trees, with the skills to share its medicinal gifts and traditional crafts associated with it, as well as forest bathing and mindfulness techniques.
We will hold short mindful woodland walks through the arboretum at Tortworth in the evenings, our Tree Walks series, to share the beauty of these trees. Meet the redwoods, learn about the ancient sweet chestnut trees and fill your heart with the diversity of oaks growing at the arboretum.
And all the while, in the background, we will be working towards our new project at Little Parks Farm. 8 acres of pasture and new woodland nestled in the rolling hills of West Somerset, just beneath Exmoor National Park. We will start to hold events here in the future but for now, why not follow our progress on Facebook.
This post has perhaps become a little too long so I will stop now to stoke the fire, and wish you all a most warm, connected, enjoyable solstice and Christmas, however you celebrate. I hope that you are with friends you love, and I look forward to sharing the arboretum with you again in 2020.
Thank you for believing in HoneyWoods.