Plough Monday

  • Posted on January 8, 2018 at 8:09 pm
Plough Monday

A fine winter’s sunset

Greetings from a chilly North Wales where the mountain tops are dusted with snow but the valleys are green, the skies are a clear blue and everything is bathed in golden sunshine. Looking out of the window it could easily be the end of March and the temperature fifteen degrees centigrade. Step out of the door, however, and you soon learn your mistake. It is absolutely freezing out there! Well, not literally… the ground is hard and dry but not frozen… but there is a lively breeze and taking the wind-chill factor into consideration, it feels bitter and must be somewhere below zero.

This did not exactly thrill my husband earlier this morning. Last Friday evening our car developed a nasty and very noisy fault. Local mechanic uncontactable until this morning. Husband has to be at work in the office by then. He goes to catch the bus. Bus company was taken over on January 1st and all the times have been changed – and services halved – and he has just missed the bus; next one in two hours time. Resigned sigh as he sets off to walk to where he works in the next village; a one and a half mile tramp through the old disused quarry, admittedly with very picturesque scenery, including Mount Snowdon, the second tallest mountain in the British Isles.

I suspect that, in days gone by, this weather would have been perfect for Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany (January 5th) when the bulk of the male population returned to working outdoors on the land and the spring ploughing began. The ground has dried out after all the storms over Christmas so the going would have been relatively good and the possible coming frosts would have helped to break the soil down to a finer tilth.

This seminal day of the agricultural calendar was often celebrated with pomp and display. The ploughs (and the horses that were to pull them) were decorated with dried flowers, herbs, ribbons and bells. The previous Sunday, churches were sometimes adorned with a much cleaned and polished decorated plough set before the altar and the congregation. The vicar would go out to the fields and bless the plough before it made its first ceremonial furrow of the new season. There were jokes and laughter and a celebratory meal after the early winter’s dusk for the weary, frozen-to-the-bone men to come in to.

The return to work for the women was somewhat earlier on January 4th. (Actually, I feel that this is a bit of cheek. For those women amongst us who work extraordinarily hard over the Winter holiday to give everyone a good time, to then be told that as soon as it is over they must ‘return to work’ is both infuriating and insulting… what does everyone else think that we have been doing for the past few weeks exactly??!!) This was known as Distaff Day, referring both to the feminine/matriarchal symbol of the distaff used in spinning and the actual act of taking up their work at this time of year. In some areas the horseplay which went on between the sexes became quite intense, with the men trying to steal or soak the women’s supply of wool and the women chasing the men away and sometimes flinging pails of water over them in retaliation. All good fun, of course!

Again, these were occasions when everyone could turn the sobriety and everyday pressures of life on their head and let off a bit of steam. It was also one way of making a return to work more attractive and palatable.

As I previously mentioned, returning to our everyday work can be a bind, depressing, stressful, but we should all give thanks that we have something to do, whether it is paid work or not; that we have others who value us or rely on us in some way, even if it is only our neighbour at the other end of a factory conveyor belt or someone coming into the house to find  the kettle boiling for a warm drink or a hot meal already prepared. And that is worth celebrating. Why should the fun – and thankfulness – end after Christmas?

For those who no longer go out to work at a job, or who live on their own and do not have anyone coming in, we are still all needed and valued in the grander scheme of things. Perhaps you have a neighbour who would be much worse off without your friendship, or maybe you keep a cat or dog or feed stray animals, or have grandchildren, or neighbours children who look for you or need you in some way. And there are always the wild birds. Putting out a bit of bread, seed or a fat ball or two can make such a difference to your local bird population. Watching them feed can also provide a great deal of entertainment and satisfaction… some of them can even become quite friendly – if not downright cheeky! – and provide a huge source of pleasure.

But don’t forget the water – regardless of the season, in times of low or no rainfall, or when everything is frozen solid, wild birds and animals – and also insects, like our beloved bees –  frequently find it very difficult to locate sources of good clean drinking water which is easily accessible. So if you do nothing else, please provide a shallow bowl or plate and replenish it with fresh water every day – and if there is hard frost, perhaps more than once during daylight hours as it might freeze very quickly.

If you have time on your hands and are relatively active/mobile, you might like to adopt the bit of lane or road outside your house. Or if you feel really expansive, your whole street! Get a pair of rubber gloves and go and collect any fallen litter every day. If their are weeds growing in the cracks, you might want to pull them up – or conversely nurture them and help them to flower. Or if there are some unloved, muddy green patches, you might like to scatter some flower seeds there, or put in a few bedding plants. Yes, cats might scratch them up and dogs do antisocial things on them, but we all have to live and it is all part of the cycle of life. And if you see anyone on your regular endeavours, always give them a smile and bid them good day… speak to them… that way you might get to know your neighbours better or even make new friends. Yes, some people might think that you are a bit cookie, but so what? who cares?

If all you can do is sit in a chair or a bed and look out at the world, then do that; notice the different moods of the weather and the gradually changing seasons. Open the window and smell the scents of life going on around you – and yes, that may include exhaust fumes, but it is still a sign of life going on. Listen to the sounds of your neighbourhood… vehicles, machinery, voices, laughter, children playing, animals, birds singing, music playing… give thanks for it ALL and feel a part of it.

And then you can always attempt the most difficult task of all. If you have no one else around you, you can always make friends with yourself… something that not many of us even think about. We travel around in these much overused and frequently abused bodies of ours and give them not a jot of thought or consideration. So detached are we from our physical forms that when we develop a pain or other symptoms, some of us cannot even tell where the problem actually is.

Lastly, there is your inner self. Your feelings and emotions that so many of us tamp down and try to ignore, deny, supress… right down to that little voice which often says things to us in our inner ear or heart, the information which comes to us intuitively but which we also often deny and ignore. Yes, if we are really solitary – or even just as we are now – there is always ourself to befriend, come to know and understand, reach out to, listen to.

Whatever you are doing today, celebrate it. Rejoice that you are alive. Christmas might be past, Midwinter might be rapidly receding as the fresh new light of January takes a hold, but excitement, appreciation, thankfulness, pleasure and joy are definitely here to stay!

As we imperceptibly move towards the very faintest murmurings of earliest spring, feel your own energies and inclinations turn towards the light and reach out to the living beat of the universal pulse. Feel your own sap beginning to rise, your own self to come alive again… for it is a universal truth that ‘if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’

Take care, enjoy whatever you are doing…  loving blessings to all.

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A lovely article. I have really enjoyed reading it. Thank you.x