Samhain… Feast of the Ancestors…

I’ve been elsewhere… sorry! It’s such a busy year already in both garden and studio, with exhibitions this year already underway.

Autumn… Alban Elfed is past and in truth, with sun and a full, harvest moon aligned on the same trajectory on the 18th March, it occurred early… and at that moment, days became shorter and nights lengthened, rather than on the ‘calendar date’ of March 21st.

Light is a little more muted, although the sun has a sting, UV rates are high but soon the days will fade and the dark will overcome the light.

Harvest… wildcrafted berries go in the pot for syrups, jams and even inks of wonderful colour… blackberries, elder, hawthorn, raspberry and strawberries from the greenhouse are like jewels in the hedgerows. Late roses are fading and shiny hips form… they will become syrup, jam and possibly ink or natural dye.

Below, the elderberry ink I made is simple and quick to create and gives lovely shades from berry red to faded burnt sienna.

Gather your elderberries in season, when they are just ripe and juicy… about five handfuls will give you what you can see in my little jar above. It’s easy to make extra to store in the fridge until needed. I made twice the amount shown to give to friends as little gifts.

I pour a little water into a non-reactive pan with the berries, bringing them to a low simmer, crushing the berries as they soften with an old potato masher (use old tools because it really does stain everything… including your hands!). When berries are thoroughly softened I add a little white vinegar and simmer a little longer before straining everything several times through a fine strainer… you can use an old, clean stocking foot or muslin cloth but this too will be stained and no longer usable, so a metal strainer is the best way, I’ve found, to go. Vinegar helps the finished ink to dry a little quicker… the ink can be diluted further for a lighter colour, naturally.

When cooled, strained and no sediment remains, the fragrant ink can be put in dropper bottles or small spray bottles… old fashioned cartridge pens can be used to load up with ink for fancy writing etc., but I love to use a simple nib or a very fine brush for both writing and painting as seen in the photo above. Be creative… for instance, I am drying the pulp on trays and will then crush and process to make a fine pigment for paint.

Aside from this, I made a batch of elderberry syrup, for staving off those winter chills.

Then suddenly, we’re racing toward Samhain. It’s my favourite time of year when trees are in full change… their colours brilliant, as leaves float across emerald fields.

Last week the first frost lay on the ground and we lit fires, to take off the chill. Shadows fall differently across the ground and wintering birds return to feast on birch seeds, acorns, Blackwood pods, fallen fruit and berries. It’s a busy time on the farm… both harvest and bed prep for winter cropping, propagation of herbs, roses and trees and we begin planning for the following spring and new landscapes form as the land shows us what it needs.

…to be continued…

I saw stars shine

through an overlay of misty cloud

I heard the wind sigh

Trees danced to the rhythm

I felt the earth shift

A new season approaches

Leaves fluttered

branches moaned

Must we retreat

must we let go

our tenuous hold on summer

but as leaves are released

from their photosynthesistic journey

colours begin their change

to match the softer light

Breath held

I smell

the approach of autumn

when soon enough

dew-besprent grasses

bow their heads under naked trees

where fungi bloom

and silent owl flight

calls the season home

Bright blessings… Penny

Photography and verse, copyright Penny Reilly, all rights reserved.

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