Seasons

Seasons are straightforward, yes?  We learn in school that there is spring, summer, autumn and winter and that they change as the earth moves around the sun.  Simple?

Nope… Otherwise why would I need a blog post about them?!  Seasons are not a static concept, they have changed through history and throughout the world.  For example, the ancient Egyptians had three seasons; winter, spring and summer.  These marked three important events in the year; the flood, the time of growth and the time of low water.  In some parts of the world today there are still only two seasons; wet and dry.

Le Rouge’s Grant Kalendrier from 1496 shows the four seasons we are familiar with but the titles he uses for each season shed some light on the focus for each.  Winter – the season of woodburning.  Spring – the season of flowers.  Summer – the season of harvest.  Autumn – the season of vintage.  From these images we get a real sense of the importance of seasons to our ancestors.  They were not arbitrary lines drawn in the year with little impact of our lives, these were the way they knew when to sow and gather certain foods and thus they were literally a matter of life and death.  Indeed, the word seasons apparently comes from the Latin serese, to sow.  The changing of the seasons was often accompanied by rituals and marked the importance of the earth and her gifts to the community.

From my own life as a farmer’s daughter, the changing seasons meant changes in how we spent our time.  Summer meant more jobs for us, it meant picking fruit, it meant going to country shows to sell strawberries and it meant very long days for my dad.  And as well as seasons, there are other markers in the year which were historically used.  For example, you don’t pick asparagus before St Georges day or after midsummer’s day.  After that, you would leave it to go to seed, thus providing you with a harvest next year.

Some Asian counties have six seasons which mark spring, summer and autumn but also early winter, late winter and monsoon or early and late autumn.

For indigenous Australians, the number of seasons varied from group to group depending on where in the country they were.  Some have two, wet and dry, but those people in more variable climates have more.  These seasons tell people when to move to another place, when the fruits of certain trees will be ripe, when the fish will be easy to catch, when to hunt certain animals and so on.  The stars which were visible at certain points of the year also mark the changing seasons, for example for the Pitjantjatjara the rising of the Pleiades at dawn marks the start of winter.

Other cultures, such as the North American Indians, also incorporated natural events into their calendar.  For example, seeing the ducks leave on their migration was a sign of winter coming.

Today, whilst a lot of us in the west live detached from seasons in the agricultural sense, they do still hold crucial information about the timing of events such as the hurricane season, the wildfire season and flood seasons.  I also find that trying to attune myself to the seasons helps ground me in time, helps me feel more rooted to where in the year we are.

To live in tune with the seasons can help to create a balanced life.  Most of us can’t always be “on”, be extroverted and be sociable all the time.  Equally, most of us don’t thrive well if we are always alone.  In this way, letting the seasons guide us, gives us time to be with people and time to be with ourselves.  I am reminded of the bear from the wild unknown animal spirit cards and her wisdom about having times of inwardness and outwardness, times of activity and times of rest.

“There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.” – Rebecca Campbell

To mark the transition from one season to another makes us more aware of these changes, it makes us more attuned to them and the subtle differences that build on each other.  To celebrate the season which has left and to welcome the season that comes is to acknowledge the wonder in both.  Being more conscious of the changes has helped me to go with them, not to fight my urge to retreat when winter comes.  To embrace it and to allow myself time to do so means I am more restored when spring arrives rather than exhausted from battling against it.  And I know that as I slip into hibernation mode as the days grow dark that I will not be there forever, that when spring arrives, as it will, with it will come a time of activity.

Living with the seasons means embracing a cyclical life, one of balance and for me this means one of self care.  Our years are filled with seasons, but so too are our lives.  If the season you are in now is difficult, you know that it will pass.

All things pass

Autumn steals the summer’s warmth
Hibernation tugs at souls
Slowing into desolate months

All things pass

Skelton trees, bleak shadows of former selves
Finally, Orion, Greek hunter, pierces the dark
Pinprick beacons of hope

All things pass

Sunlight revives winter weary bones
Fresh, vibrant shoots burst through soil
A patchwork quilt of colour surrounds

All things pass

At last, sunrise to sunset stretches
Ahead with possibility and energy
Perseid meteors scatter short-lived nights

All things pass

I’d be really interested to know what marks the seasons for you and I am going to ponder this a bit as well.

The right to die?

Euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide are huge topics for one little blog post so this will not be in depth.  What I hope to do instead is share a few facts, figures, anecdotes, opinions and my own personal feelings on the matter.

This can be a very sensitive subject and whilst I invite comments on my blog, I would ask that you bear in mind that I, and other commenters, are people and we are entitled to our views on this and I’d ask that you use your words kindly.  Disagree but don’t fight.

For me, the key issue is the paradox of being physically disabled and mentally ill.  I have been suicidal many times in my life due to mental illness and obviously it is complicated but for me, suicide is a safety net, a way out if things get really bad.  If it wasn’t for my limitations due to my physical disability, I would still have the choice to kill myself.  Being physically unable to kill myself takes away an option I have always had.

Euthanasia does not exist in isolation, it is part of a spectrum around end of life issues:

  • Do Not Resucitate orders
  • Advanced Directives – documents written by the individual to make their wishes for care clear in the case that they are no longer able to speak for themselves
  • Withdrawing treatment
  • Refusing food and drink
  • Assisted suicide – self adminstration of doctor prescribed medication
  • Voluntary euthanasia – most usually an injection but the key is that it is directly carried out by a doctor
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia – where the patient’s consent is unavailable, illegal in all countries
  • Involuntary euthanasia – without asking consent or against the patient’s will, in most cases this is considered murder

For the purpose of ease of writing and reading I am using assisted dying to encompass assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.

Let’s start by looking at a few of the concerns around assisted dying.  Like abortion, the choice to die debate appears to threaten the existence of disabled people, seems to suggest a life with a disability is not worth living and ignores the social context around disability and illness.  There is also a concern that focus and money spent on assisted dying will be taken away from improving end of life care and those things which increase quality of life.

However, it is important that disability itself is not considered enough to qualify for assisted dying.  And this is clear in the legislation which currently exists.  Most of this focuses on unbearable suffering, terminal illness and incurable illness.  The concept of unbearable suffering is one in which the patient has to determine when that level is reached.  So whilst disabled people may chose assisted dying because of their disability, it is not enough to be disabled.  This is essential as part of any safeguarding criteria, as is patient consent.

Associated with this is the concern that if assisted dying is allowed then it will make it easier for legislation which allows for killing disabled babies or people with severe disabilities, that is to say non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia.  Evidence from Oregon, who’ve had access to assisted dying for over 20 years, shows that fears around slippery slopes and other risks are unfounded.

Another worry is pressure to “choose” assisted dying.  This does feel like a very relevant discussion point at this time when Trump is destroying medical care for many disabled people in America.  Without medical and social care and support, disabled people will suffer reduced quality of life and are also strongly receiving the message from the government that they are not valued citizens.  Internalised oppression and ideas about disability can also pressure people.  These might include feeling like a burden, feeling like you are financially draining your family and feeling like you can’t contribute to society.

I don’t really have a counter argument for that but I do think it must be part of any safeguarding procedures and it feels really important to gather evidence about the reasons why people choose assisted dying.  This is already the case in many parts of the world which allow this choice and it is imperative that this data is collated and reviewed and action taken if key social factors are identified as pressuring decisions.

Where assisted dying is legal, there are tight criteria around who is able to access these options and this is a crucial aspect of safeguarding when it comes to assisting a person to die.  These include a cooling off period, multiple medical practitioners, being able to stop at any point and there being a waiting period for those people who have just become ill or impaired.

As we saw with abortion, it is possible to advocate for assisted dying for those who wish to seek it whilst also valuing disabled people’s lives.

A key issue for me is around the option of assisted dying playing a role in prolonging people’s lives.  It’s not as contrary as it sounds!

Annie Lindsell, who challenged the law on voluntary euthanasia, explained that unless she had the reassurance of being given help to die, she would have to do so whilst she was still able without help.  Thus her life would be shortened.

By 2014, over 200 British people had made the journey to Switzerland to end their life.  This takes them away from family and friends, means they have to end their life earlier whilst they are still able to travel and there is a financial cost as well – the cost of the service as well as travel and accommodation.  For many people, this will not be an option they can afford.  This leaves them with three options; continuing to suffer, attempting suicide alone, attempting suicide with someone’s help.  The last two of these come with risks of unsuccessful suicide attempts and the health issues that can come with that.  The last comes with the additional risk of the assisting person being prosecuted.  This also adds a layer of discrimination – only those who have enough money can choose a dignified death.

The evidence from places like Oregon shows that although a majority of people want access to assisted dying, most will not use it.  The comfort of having the option is itself enough to ease anxiety and some of the suffering.  Indeed, I think it’s only about half of the people who get the medication or the go ahead for assisted dying do not follow through.  They live with the knowledge that they have a way out and this can be incredibly freeing.  Indeed, one study reports that pain, depression, anxiety and fear of dying were higher in those who had not requested assisted dying.

Finally I would like to pose an area of assisted dying that a lot of people would agree is ethically sound.

“As he lay comatose on his deathbed in 1936 George V was injected with fatal doses of morphine and cocaine to assure him a painless death” – Jo Cartwright

There is a great chapter in the book Assisted Dying by Reverend John Cartwright about his view on faith and assisted dying.  In this he says “My conclusion is that God approves of helping people to die when the person being helped is near to death, is in great distress and their death is the unavoidable consequence of trying to alleviate pain.”

This introduces us nicely to the Doctrine of Double Effect, the practice that aided George V’s death.  The idea that if a dying person is in pain, it is ethical to provide pain relief at levels which are known to increase the risk of death.  The assumption in these situations is that relief is preferable to a longer, painful life.  It’s obviously a lot more complicated and nuanced but that’s the basics.  From the perspective of God, he suggests that a benevolent God would not wish to prolong the suffering of someone who is inevitably going to die very soon anyway.  This then asks, if the doctrine of double effect is considered ok, what implications does that have on the ethics of assisted death?  Are we to punish people in severe levels of pain, who wish to die, because they are not yet close enough to death?

We expect autonomy in every other part of our life so why can’t we expect it in our death?

My life in trees

I feel like I may have already written this but I can’t find it so I’m going to assume I just pondered it… Trees are important. We carve names and lives into them. We shelter under them and clamber into them.

The first important tree in my life was the tree which introduced me to tree climbing. It was near our driveway and you could see the quiet lane from it. I had my spot and my younger sister had hers, slightly lower down. One day I was in the tree with an adventurous friend who went a bit higher than she should have and got stuck…  We were maybe 4 years old so the heady heights were thankfully fairly close to the ground.  Still friends with her when we were 18, we both remembered that tree.

Later on, I had a reading tree. You had to wrap your legs over a shoulder height branch and swing yourself into it, book and all. But once up, your back would lean against the Birch trunk and your legs would lay out ahead of you on the solid branches. You were slightly hidden in the leaves and so it doubled as a refuge. I never showed been my sister how to climb that tree.

The next important tree in my life was really more of a bench.  The trees sheltered the wooden seat round the corner from the university counselling service.  I would sit there, on a rarely used route, opposite a large metal Buddha in memory of someone or other.  I would sit in my just off the beaten path sanctuary and summon up the courage to enter the single story red brick building with the sign that seemed so huge to me that I couldn’t comprehend anyone not noticing I was going for counselling.  There was nothing else through that exposed door, there was no excuse if anyone saw me.  At that time I needed excuses.  I wasn’t ready to go public with my mental health.  I was barely ready to tell the counsellor.  Then, after, as I waited for my next lecture, I would return to my bench and my trees and the Buddha who was not mine and I would wait.

It was a while after that before I had another favourite tree.  And then it was more a place rather than the tree.  There were years when I didn’t look closely at trees, I just saw them as part of an environment.  I lived in one house for a few years then moved to the next street for a few more.  At the end of those roads, were some trees which dropped delicate pink blossom all over the pavement in the spring. In the summer, I would sit on the grass next to them and often, a small group of people would turn up and tie a tightrope between two of them.  They were fairly good at walking the line and I would steal glances at them through my sunglasses.  I didn’t know them but I felt a bond, we were sharing a space, we were sharing a summers day.

Diana Mini - York Walls

My current favourite tree is one I am documenting throughout the year.  It is a youngish red oak in my favourite park and it seems to be used as a meeting point for people.  The last time I saw it, mums in running clothes with pushchairs were stretching and greeting each other by it.  It is a tough tree.  It holds it’s leaves well past autumn.  It stands slightly alone, no tree within branch touching range.  But I like to think that the other trees are close enough to hear its whispers on the breeze.

DSC_0598 e

Oh, and I nearly forgot the tree from my primary school.  It was just out of sight from the teachers and dinner ladies.  I don’t remember how we got started but we were digging our way to my friend’s back garden.  It backed onto the school.  I’m not sure why we were trying to tunnel our way out of school.  Our school was a little bubble, a snowglobe of safe space.  But we spent lunch time after lunch time digging with our little twigs to get to the other side of the fence.  Looking back, I wonder why we didn’t chose a tree that was nearer her garden…

Do you have a favourite tree or trees which are important to you? Tell me about them!

The zombies upstairs?

I live in a ground floor flat with one flat above me.  My neighbours are annoying and strange…

…and zombies?

It certainly would explain a lot…

With the vertigo, I’ve had a lot of time to people watch and the only sensible conclusion is that my neighbours are indeed zombies.

Evidence 1.

They never bring home food or drink or toilet roll* or dog food or bird food or any of those things you need to live as a human (or dog or bird).  They never get takeaways delivered so they aren’t getting food that way.  And they never have visitors.  Well, they have had one in the year and a bit I’ve lived here.

Evidence 2.

He goes out about 10pm and arrives home at 7am.  Too early for me to have my curtains open so I can’t tell you if he’s dragging a human body for a spot of breakfast…  But if I was looking for flesh, I’d do so in the cover of dark…

Evidence 3.

The regular sound of the vacuum cleaner, several times a day, could actually be a chainsaw being used to cut up bodies.

Evidence 4.

There is a weird bouncing noise once or twice a day. It could be a mini trampoline but it could also be jumping on a body to try and make it fit into a chest freezer for later meals…

Evidence 5.

The washing machine is ALWAYS on and there are only two of them so they don’t have anywhere near enough washing to justify it.  Perhaps they are cleaning blood off their clothes?

I would just like to add that I’m not a stalker.  I have very little to do right now and they are very noisy.

*Between writing this and publishing it, they did bring home some toilet rolls.  Still no food though…

The power of choosing

I found the following post in my drafts.  I thought I had posted it but maybe not.  Sorry if I have done already!

We make millions of choices in our lives, from which socks to put on (or even whether to wear socks) to which job we go for to who we live with.  Not everyone has access to all these choices.  Sometimes circumstances take them out of our hands.  Sometimes the choices we have aren’t good ones and you have to choose between bad and less bad.

And this is why, for me, it’s important that we consciously choose where we are able to.  The alternative is going with the flow, being a victim of circumstance, having things done to us, taking on a passive role.  And so the reverse, that is making choices consciously, brings us power.

There is power is in our choices.

When it comes to the big things, you’ll often find everyone has an opinion and these decisions are much more obviously a choice with consequences, good or bad.

When it comes to the day to day however, it’s so easy to just float along. spend hours watching whatever comes on the tv or keep clicking links through facebook and on into the web of the internet without really choosing what you look for.  Do something just because you always do it.  Reacting to things which happen to us.

We do not have the choice to not make a choice.  Bear with me.  What I mean is we can choose to live without making choices, letting the tide sweep us along etc but to do so is a choice (although one which removes the need for future choices).  Essentially you’ve giving up all your power and saying that the ocean can do what it wants to you.  The alternative is that we actively choose, and that choice might be to keep things as they are but by consciously choosing, you are owning your ability to change that choice in the future.

Say you’re in a rubbish job.  You can choose to be a victim of it and give up all your power by declaring you have no choice.  You can choice to leave the job.  You can also choice to stay in th job.  This is different to the first option.  This option means you have considered things, you are aware that you can change your mind and look for other jobs in the future when it might be a more appropriate time.

You cannot not choose.

To do nothing is a choice.  And there are many times when this is a good choice adn the right one for you to make.  But be conscious as you chose it.

With great power comes great responsibility… and when it comes to choices, this means owning the consequences.  Things may be tough or painful because of a choice you’ve made but accepting responsibility for it means keeping your personal power.  Playing the victim, erasing your part in things, is one of the easiest ways to denounce your power.

“I have to…” is probably one of the most common ways that we regularly give up our power.  And this is where the bad and less bad options are probably at play.  “I have to go to work” isn’t really a ‘have to’.  But you probably aren’t fond of having no money, no food, no home etc.

The words we say to ourselves, and others, create the world we live in, our world view and our approach to life.  “I choose to…” or “I will be…” reframes the situation.

“I don’t have a choice” invalidates what you are choosing.  If you don’t believe you have a choice whether you do your specific job or not, you cannot choose to leave.

Vertigo part 6?

Food history ties into ethnobotany which is awesome and I will write a post about it when I can do a bit of research. For now, here’s a few interesting food talks.

Note, food can give us an insight into women’s history as cook books were one of few outlets that was acceptable for women in certain times and places.  If this is of particular interest, the Jewish Community Cookbook lecture is a good starting point!

Gin

Preserving family recipes

Rice Cuisine and Culture

Jewish Community Cookbooks

Eating the past: How and why to study food history

The Rise and Fall of Sourbread

How Foods Tasted in the Early Modern Period and How They Taste Now

Foodways

Craving Earth: Understanding Pica, the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice and Chalk

Vertigo interlude part 5000

Ok, I exaggerate… But it has been six weeks…

So how about some lectures and talks about sex?

Sex and the College Campus—Can Sex Be Managed by Checklist?

The Birds And The Bees Are Just The Beginning… with Carin Bondar

Holding it Straight: Sexual Orientation in the Middle Ages

Dr Jennifer Evans: “Aphrodisiacs, Fertility and Medicine in Early Modern England”

Sex and Reproduction in the Animal Kingdom

Let’s Talk About Sex

Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet – Leora Tanenbaum 

The evolution of contraception with Amy Parish