Knowing the landbase

English autumn

Tomorrow the wheel of the year takes another turn, marking the beginning of the Celtic festival of Samhain, mid-way between the Autumn equinox and the Winter solstice (here in the Northern hemisphere). The veil between the worlds seems to become thinner as we take this time especially to remember our beloved dead. These days are marked in many faith and cultural traditions and it seems to me that the veil between traditions thins a little also.

So I wanted to think about how I might mark this time.

There are a couple of practices I really like. The first is to place a candle in your window to welcome home beloved spirits if they should come, and keep away unwelcome ones. I’ve heard it said that this is one origin of the Halloween pumpkins so many people are busy carving as we speak. The second is to set a spare place at table, in memory of those no longer with us, to remember them with love.

And one wonderful practice is to find out out about our local landbase, to begin to know it. With thanks to the writer of hecatedemeter for introducing me to the term landbase, we can become aware of the natural world even in the most crowded concrete cities, the most manicured suburban spaces. We can find clues to our natural landbase, the life native to where we live.

Since I moved to my new apartment nearly three months ago, I’ve been watching the trees slowly change colour, walking through the area, watching the birds, looking at the wild plants poking up in neglected corners (oh how different from the glossy evergreen “ornamental” plants which guard the perimeter of my building – if a plant can be living and yet dead, these are). I’ve been reading about the history of my place and visiting areas where you can see the past more clearly, such as the nearby ruins of a medieval abbey, the river which winds through and feeds the earth around us.

It seems to me that to look for clues about the past of our local landbase, its flora and fauna, is another way to honour our ancestors, at this time of year and always. To work backwards through lives and centuries, to understand what the land was like, right back to the time of the great forests, and doing now what we can to preserve and enrich what’s left. Perhaps to grow in our windowsills, gardens and allotments the varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables nearest to those which would have been native to the area.  Now that would be a way to celebrate our love for our dead as well as keep a future for our grandchildren.

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