The snowdrops are in flower in my local woods and gardens. Delicate white bells, silently chiming the coming of Spring.
But there is no snow. In previous years, January has brought at least a smattering of icy snow, even only an inch of it, to cover the grassy ground. The bright green leaves of the snowdrops peeking out from the white blanket is a familiar sight.
This year, temperatures hover around 5-10 degrees celsius, and have done all winter. There has been no snow, no proper ice and only a few mornings of frost.
The fleeting enjoyment of walking outside in January wearing only a light jacket and feeling the winter sun on my face is soon replaced by an engulfing awareness that this is not normal. This is a sign of a climate in chaos – a smaller quieter sign than the raging fires in Australia to be sure, but no less significant or worrying.
As Druids, we honour the Wheel of the Year, with seasonal festivals to mark the usually regular changes in nature. Rituals for the Winter Solstice in December, or for Imbolc in a couple of weeks’ time often speak of the snow, the frozen ground, the cold.
How can we honour the tides and times of the seasons when there is no snow, no frost, no cold? When the planet warms, and warms, and the Wheel of the Year rolls off its track towards the edge of a cliff?
In Ecology Without Nature (2007), Timothy Morton speaks of a “dark ecology” which asserts “the contingent and necessarily queer idea that we want to stay with a dying world”.
That Morton describes this as “queer” is to counter the “ecomimetic” narrative that offers “the illusion of a false immediacy” of nature as an empty aesthetic signifier from which people derive false ideas of legitimacy for the supposedly “natural” and “normal” – everything from capitalism to speciesism and heterosexuality. Queering this idea is to face nature as it is, not sentimental or anthropocentric, but vaster, stranger, and ultimately mortal.
Perhaps the task of the Druid is not to simply recite old forms of thought, rituals preserved like fossils, out of time with the natural world they claim to honour, but rather to speak to this ecological crisis and to learn to honour it as it is.
Yes, we should try to change it, yes we should try to save what we can, but perhaps the Druid should also be prepared to simply sit with the wounded world, to listen rather than speak, to be a companion, an Anam Cara, a soul-friend to the Earth and to life itself.
The silent bells of the snowdrops are not chiming this year for the joy of Spring after the cold of winter.
They are chiming a soundless, wordless elegy.
And in their silence we hear the Oran Mor, the song of the world become a cry of anguish.