The year has ripened, come to its zenith and now arrives the harvesting season. The native Americans called the first part of August the Ripening Time and then, as it slides into September, the Harvesting Time. In the countryside these names come to life – the fields bustle with activity, combine harvesters lumber like dinosaurs through the golden acres, big bales of corn balance on tractors which rumble slowly along the high-hedged lanes. There are rabbits darting everywhere and larks flying up from the stubble as you walk. In the garden the pure blues and pinks of early summer are shifting into warmer tones – deep reds and yellows, the purple of Michaelmas daisies and the overindulgent overblown deep blue of morning glory clambering through the trees. The nights are long and balmy, hazy with warmth and only marred by the clouds of midges and buzzing and biting of persistent mosquitoes.
Despite the activity in the fields, August is somehow a lazy month. It’s almost a point of stasis – nothing can get any bigger, any fuller so for a brief moment you just luxuriate and enjoy. It’s a time of sensuality – a sense of ease pervades the body and the emotions. Properly speaking, with the festival of Lammas launching this month, it’s also a time of thanksgiving, a time to think about your life with a sense of deep gratitude. A time to ponder on what you take from life and what you can possibly give back in return. August is a gathering month in all senses of the word. While the corn is being gathered from the fields it’s also a time for you to gather your thoughts in readiness for the next big shift of the year. This is a time to start thinking about what you demand from life, from your body, from the people around you, from your self -and what you give back. Maybe it’s also a time to start to consider what you need to do to change.
The festival of Lammas which falls on August 1st is the festival of Harvest. It is also known in the Celtic tradition as Lughnasadh. Lammas is a Saxon name which comes from Loafmas, the first loaf of the harvest, made from the new corn. The old traditions suggest that we think deeply about what we take from life. In order to live we all take other lives every day – even if we are vegetarians life forms have to die to keep us alive. There’s nothing wrong in this and no guilt implied – it’s simply that this is a good time to give thanks for our life and the lives that are given to nourish us. It’s a little like a major version of a blessing before eating.
Incidentally, blessing your food before mealtimes is a lovely little ritual that keeps this festival alive throughout the year. Offering thanks for our “daily bread” is a ceremony that is carried out throughout the world, in almost all religions. It doesn’t have to be a standard blessing – in fact it’s probably better to avoid simply galloping through “For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful” which has become almost meaningless to most of us. Take it in turns to say thank-you in whatever way you like. Children might like to find a short poem; adults might simply like a few seconds silence or a quiet thank you. Extend your thanks to the cook as well! But keep it short and sweet – no-one wants a cold meal.
It’s a good time to think about the people who give to you (whether physically or emotionally) throughout the year. Is there any way you can give anything back to them? Or maybe you could just show your appreciation with a special thank-you or a little card or note. Equally it’s a chance to give back to nature, to the special places we love. If you have a favourite spot can you do anything to help it? Perhaps you could clear some rubbish? Sprinkle grass seeds? One lovely little ritual is to make a little posy of flowers or choose a particularly beautiful pebble or make a ring of twigs and leave it as a present for any place you find particularly sacred or special. There are certain places I visit which are very magical for me – small spots which always seem to recharge my batteries and give me a shot of love and courage. It may sound silly or fanciful but they really do make a difference to the way I feel. And I always take something with me – a daisy chain to lay on the water of a natural spring; a beautiful leaf or a speckled stone to set in the middle of a copse.
This is an edited extract from my book The Natural Year.