Here in Catalunya families celebrate All Saints Day, not so much ‘Dia de Los muertes’ as they do in other Latino cultures. The honouring of the dead is done with families attending the local cemetery and taking flowers for their deceased loved ones, but also remembering their ancestors. Here, high in the mountains in rural southern Catalunya and throughout Spain, the ancestors are never far from the dinner table conversations. Generations of the same families have lived in this village all the way back to the 1500’s, so there are so many rich stories of hard lives, joyful lives, but always lives lived with the land here, the soil, the plants, the mountains, the animals, the water – precious water. The past is alive and tangible, and nowhere more so than during the harvest.
We have arrived in time to help with the last of the walnuts and almonds, and it’s a wonderful process of gathering the fruits of these generous and abundant trees, as so many have done in the past, re-enacting these rituals between people and the trees. (I call it tree-fishing) This year all is not good though, and many of the nuts have been literally burned inside their shells (see photo above) The sun has been so strong and hot, that it has burned right through the walnuts green case, brown shell and many of the nuts are black inside. This has never happened before, and yet another stark reminder of the climate change – not that we need any more indicators of the Earth heating up. The question here is how to adapt, protect the trees, grow different trees/plants, breed drought and heat resistant trees, or give up and let Nature take its course, and witness the landscape change again. One thing is for sure, we are witnessing global changes at local levels, not just climatically, but socially, politically and demographically, and later ecologically as life responds to man-made change. This place here is called the Silent Valley because the village sits within a sheltered bowl between the mountains which encircle it, I hope that future generations can experience the peace and silence of this beautiful location.
Back to Samhain and the first of the Celtic fire festivals, the herald of a new year beginning, and the time when the veil is thinnest between this world and the world of those who are in spirit. Samhain is a liminal or threshold festival not only between the old year and the new but between 2 worlds. It is a time to pause and welcome the darkness, to draw in and take stock of our lives, and to remember those who have now passed on, those we hold dear, and maybe those who’s lives were difficult or full of antipathy, and those for whom death felt like a relief, an unshackling of the spirit from the corporeal world.
Just as the Celtic day started and ended at sunset, so the Celtic year starts at the end of the harvest and the onset of winter, Samhain marks that transition from the bounty of summer to the hibernatory and gestatory period of darkness that ends on May 1 or Beltane.
But what of the trees? I wonder if you can imagine being a large old broad leaf tree, registering a fading of sunlight, and preparing yourself to let go of all your thousands of mini solar panels, your energy creators. Shorter days and colder nights trigger the tree to start this process of shutting down photosynthesis, reducing chlorophyll (green pigment) that then enables other chemical constituents such as anthocyanins to develop the bright reds, oranges and purples of autumn. Your tree will be restricting transpiration; preparing to shed each leaf by sealing off the leaf stalk at the base to prevent any water being lost, and generally bedding itself down for a reduced growth period, as it has done for maybe hundreds of years, trusting that it will endure the winter cold and emerge again with fresh shoots in the Spring. What an amazing process, one which is revealed in the growth rings of the tree – hard winters and the growth rings are tighter together.
So I am inviting you to become this tree, to prepare for winter by seeing how these arboreal processes can be useful metaphors for our own lives, letting drop that which we no longer need in full trust that come a new spring in our lives, we will grow and blossom again. Even the walnuts here will be doing that for as long as they can.