• Katie Traill

Go With the Flow: Powerful Seasonal Signals from Nature

We’ve all heard it many times before – we’ve developed a lifestyle in the Western world that is go-go-go, denying the benefits of rest, and it is wreaking havoc on our health and wellbeing. We should stop. Slow down. Take stock. Be kind to ourselves. Listen to our bodies. But how do we actually do this? I mean, really implement the changes we crave to achieve more balance. As per usual, Mother Nature has the answers if we listen carefully.

When you spend a lot of time outdoors observing things like weather patterns, rainfall, plant growth, animal habits, or surf and swell, you accrue valuable information over time, consciously or otherwise. When we collate these many little pieces into a bigger picture over a season, a year, a decade, we can learn so much about how the natural world around us copes with change. Seasons exist everywhere but vary greatly in their length, characteristics, frequency and even interpretation. That is before we add the major influences that human-led climate change is, and has been, having in all parts of the world. As living breathing creatures of nature, we are no less connected to the seasons than the flowering gums in the park or the vegetables in our gardens. It just takes slowing and listening to notice the subtleties and, as we become more skilled at this, a better, easier way of living unfolds.

Here in Victoria where we typically have cold (sometimes wet) winters and hot, dry summers, often speckled with frosts and bushfires, we see great variability in plant behaviour and expression. By sensing temperature and chemical changes in their environment, plants can alter their behaviours accordingly – this is how they know when to drop leaves, when to ‘leaf out’, when to conserve water, redirect sap flow, and when to flower/fruit. Pretty amazing stuff! Taking perhaps the most obvious example, a deciduous tree, we can see straight away some obvious changes that occur over a year. Just before the coldest months, they will return valuable compounds from their leaves down into their roots for storage, dropping their carbon-rich leaves to be recycled back into soil. Sap flow initially runs downwards, storing the goodness of seasons past in preparation for hibernation and slowing right down. Here in the depths of winter, soil temperatures plummet (especially where snow falls), almost halting life’s activity altogether as microbes and enzymes fall back. This is a time for rest and preparation inside the tree, conserving vital energy until the first warmer, frost-free weeks of spring begin to arrive, bringing with them a rise in soil temperature and vitality. In mild, wetter months, the tree pushes out a fast flush of new growth as sap, now flowing upwards, bringing with it the stored nutrients and ample energy from last summer/autumn. As days become warmer, soil temperature and microbial activity rise, aiding development and progress far into late summer, until the cycle again restarts, and cool season preparation begins again. So, what does this all mean for us?

It is well known throughout non-traditional health fields, ancient teachings, and environmentally minded folx, that humans are cyclical beings and biologically follow a similar pattern to that just described. You may well be familiar, in this fast-paced society of perpetual growth, the innate nagging to slow down in winter – eat a little more, spend more time indoors, and sleep in. Conversely, warmer seasons tend to bring more ease in rising early, attending more social events, and exercising more. It is the belief of myself and many others, based on experience, that we not only should take a leaf from Mother Nature’s book and adjust our behaviours according to seasons, but also that we can use these to our advantage. By acknowledging those gut feelings of wanting more or less sleep, heartier or lighter meals, or curling up with a book versus going on a run, we can become more in tune with our body and mind’s needs to conserve or use energy, reducing the risk of exhausting ourselves (as we so notoriously do!). A huge bonus of using Mother Nature as a guide is that we need to spend more time present, focused, and outdoors – factors which have been proven time and again to improve our mental wellbeing.

Recalling that we, as humans, are nature, that we have only become separated from it through our perceptions and habits, we can reclaim the power of cycling with life. In 2020 this is perhaps a radical choice, to go against the grain and what we are perpetually told we must do. It’s not about reducing productivity or being lazy, but about deep listening in order to maximise our efforts. As the tree does, we can rest and conserve energy over the cooler months, spending more time in quiet inward reflection, in order to leaf out with vigour and beauty come springtime, where we can be most efficient in outward, external actions. What a beautiful way to approach life! What is your body, nature, calling to do right now?

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- Katie

Note: It is important to acknowledge that the typical four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring – are of western influence and belief, but do not necessarily serve in all latitudes, regions or cultures. It is worthwhile noting both that climate change is having a significant impact on seasonal presentations, with drier overall weather and higher intensity, randomness and frequency of extreme weather events. Also, here where I reside on Wadawurrung country, there are six seasons acknowledged by the traditional land owners. These provide great insight into an alternative view for non-indigenous peoples, and I acknowledge their basis on thousands of years of deep connection and relationship with land, water and country. You can read more on these six season via the link below.

Aboriginal Seasons of Victoria