Hope for Many Good Reasons: The Wheel of the Year

by Jj Starwalker

As the winter season continues, here in the Northlands, often well past the spring equinox, the Internet continues to offer gardening memes. Gardeners seem to be especially full of hope in the spring, even in areas where it will be months until we can plant outside, That hope is often depicted as starting with the arrival of the seed catalogs in the spring, but it truly is a year round thing. Visions of fall and winter meals, follow the hopeful final harvests, and bring us back around to the anticipation of the seed catalogs arrival again.

As a former astronomy student and now as a witch, I am especially attuned to the march of the seasons, or in witchey parlance, the turning of the wheel of the year. The cycle of days growing longer and shorter, in itself gives me hope. As a gardener and homesteader, the lengthening days bring many more often time-sensitive projects. I hope I will have time to get the early seeds started indoors and the brooder set up for the order of chicks that’s coming. Knowing where we are in the light/dark cycle of the year buoys up my hope with knowledge. As the To Do list lengthens, so do the days; as the harvest winds down, my sore, old body anticipates long evenings, knitting by the fire. Even in difficult times–and we seem to have them piling on top of each other more and more these days–focusing attention on the turning of the wheel in your own plot of earth or neighborhood can help in many ways. 

This time of year, when friends at more southern latitudes are already planting, turning winter gardens over for summer loving crops and bombarding social media with pictures of flowers, I know my first crocus is still weeks away. But their photos remind me that my bulbs are sleeping there, beneath nature’s sometimes dirty white comforter. And as the temperature see-saws ever so slowly upward, I see the change as slightly longer days. Awakened by the sun streaming through my window, the reading on the kitchen clock gives confirmation as I prepare my morning brew. I also joy in the occasional flurry of picture-book snowflakes floating by that window when the sun takes a snow day behind the clouds and my wake up call is instead, a hound dog, licking my face and dancing to be let out. “It has to warm up to snow” old timers say, and while that may not be exactly true, it feels that way this time of year. Even if the mercury takes a plunge, I find joy in the fresh white covering of snow when I do chores And in the kitchen warmth, fogging my glasses when I come back in. Joy is a close cousin to hope, I think. 

As the world whirls on, we each–every person, every family, every community, every people–have our own challenges to face. Some are indeed dire and immediate: war, pestilence, starvation. Some are equally dire, but less immediate or less close at hand. There are some things we can do to help make a difference, but there are also many situations beyond our personal reach.

What is not beyond our reach is seeing, feeling, learning, knowing, and walking with the turning of the seasons. When it is time to plan and start seedlings, do it. I planted several year old onion seeds, leeks, parsley and marjoram on Groundhog Day. I know onion seeds do not last long, but I planted them with hope, and some grew. I will cherish their energy and their will while waiting for additional fresh seeds to arrive for a second planting. They, too, will be planted with hope…and love for each plant as it grows under lights and then moves to the garden early in May.

May Day–another one of those spokes on the wheel–evokes images of true spring. Green grass, early blossoms and for this old timer, the making and delivering of May baskets, stuffed full of posies. Here, the flowers are harder to find, but there are more seeds to plant both indoors and in the actual earth, when the rain cooperates. Soon the “luxury” of hope will be replaced by the need to keep up with the lengthening “to do” list which always seems to grow more quickly than even the days change length at equinoxes. Sometimes, it seems to me that the wheel of the year is like a hamster wheel, moving by the power of our hope and memories; other times it’s more like a runaway treadmill, with us madly making tracks just to keep up. 

In any case, whether we can feel the hopefulness that the wheel offers, or simply seem to be running to keep up, I know that keeping my focus here and now works. Sometimes we are in a place where we are “just” putting one foot in front of the other. This is, for me, the harvest of hope, and I know I can’t get to hopefulness again by standing still. 

So the seeding gives way to planting, and the planting turns with the approach of the summer solstice to weeding and watering (more expressions of hope) and the joy of the first green blessings–spinach and lettuce and fresh green peas, and the beginning of the season of putting by. And then comes First Harvest (also called Mabon), the first of three harvest-focused spokes in the wheel, in early August. It’s focus is grain, and here our corn gives us reason for hope, though we won’t be harvesting yet. Here our corn harvest is more in line with the next spoke: the autumn equinox. And the final harvest spoke in the wheel comes on what many call Halloween, the ritual end of the garden season. By now the nights are overcoming the days as the dark season truly takes hold. But we cherish our carts and baskets of hope, dressed as squash and pumpkins, apples and potatoes (called, in French, “apples of the earth”) and tuck them away in cellars and cool, dark corners to be brought forth for the winter feasts at Yule (Winter Solstice) and Imbolc (Groundhog Day) as we once again trade the thread of thankfulness for the thread of hope and pick up the seed catalogs again. 

photo credit: Lucas Ludwig, Unsplash