Take part in a seasonal almanac with our artist in residence Alec Finlay
Alec Finlay, Paths for All artist-in-residence, is asking for volunteers to send their first sightings of spring to help create an almanac in response to walking in nature.
Walking to collect steps is an outcome and a gain in terms of health, but any walk can be given more meaning than a number. On my walks with Paths for All groups I enjoyed how they were following the same routes through the year, noticing how a park or riverside changed over time. I remembered the pleasure of walks I’d shared with poet friends who would tell me the name of a particular blossom or bud, and how my own sense of the passage of time gained measure and meaning from this awareness of the natural world. This was especially true during lockdown, when Long Covid limited my walks to 150m.
In early spring you may see blackthorn blossom. These wee white blooms have associations with cloots, or healing rags, tied on trees, most famously at The Clootie Well, Munlochy, on the Black Isle. I wonder if the pieces of cloth were originally a kind of imitation blossom, encouraging the sun to return?
Also, in spring, comes the scent and taste of wild garlic, or ramsons, a seasonal staple for pesto.
At the other end of the year there are the fruits, like gean and rowan. A friend once cooked the stoniest tart from bird cherry, after we collected the fruit in his hat.
As a wee boy I used to pick rowans for my mother, to make jelly, which we ate on peanut butter sandwiches, or as a sauce for lamb chops.
Another friend showed me how to eat the skin of rosehips as a way to boost vitamin C.
The art of noticing blossoms, buds, berries, and mushrooms can make a walk into something more than steps – a blend of pastoral poem, foraging expedition, and calendar jottings. Paths for All asked me to ask you to help us collect some of these seasonal signs. Once we have enough then they can be composed into a seasonal almanac for care homes, to encourage residents to go out for short walks and look for blossoms and fruit. Migrating birds can be added to the list of things to look for.
A friend who lives in London once told me that ‘Spring travels north at 5mph’. That suggests the amusing image of the season walking towards Scotland at a brisk walk. I’m currently working on a project relating to SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. People who experience SAD have a heightened sense of the light expanding and reducing through the year. This means that seasonal signs can carry a weight of dread or they signal healing, depending on the time of year. For the project, which involves geographers from the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow, we’re going to explore these sensitive responses and see if we can use it to help people adapt and lessen the impact of their SAD symptoms. Friends from London to the Outer Hebrides are helping me collect this list, which I call An Anxiety Almanac. You can see it here.
Of course, that feeling of anxiety is shared by many of us nowadays. We’ve all noticed that the seasons are changing, as a result of climate breakdown. Keeping a record of when flowers bloom is one way to mark those man-made fluctuations. They have a knock-on effect on natural cycles and these affect us all, for instance, in terms of bees, pollination and crops. It matters when things bloom.
Paths for All are inviting anyone who wishes to note down one seasonal sign – a first blossom, bud, leaf, or fruit, etc – on each walk they make.
It’s the first sighting that is important, like the first snowdrops, or the first blackthorn blossom. The dates will vary depending on the weather and where you live. These notes will accumulate into a record of the season passing.
Please send me your contributions at email@example.com, giving your first name, the date, thing seen, and location:
Davie saw the blackthorn in bloom, Pollok Country Park, 25 March 2022
Buy a small notebook and see how the first sightings change by a few days from year to year You can use the notes that you make on your walk yourself in any way you want to. They accumulate slowly but add meaning by the time you’ve passed through a full cycle of seasons. When will the blackthorn bloom next year?
You may even find that your step count will magically increase, once you stop counting and, instead, look at what you are passing as you walk.