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3 March 2023

Season by Rebecca Tamás

In this exclusive extract from 'Season' by Rebecca Tamás, a slow, moving meditation on ritual and the nonhuman life which opens our spring issue, Wasafiri 113, we see the seasons change – from spring to summer – during the early days of the pandemic. Read the full article online, or in Wasafiri 113, which is available to purchase via our shop.

[I]t is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we really experience the world. Only then do we feel touched, moved, alive. A world that is fully known, in which everything has been planned and mastered, would be a dead world.—Hartmut Rosa

In the glow of the first, strange, pandemic spring, I was not at home. My partner and I had left our flats in different cities to shelter together at his parents’ home, a working sheep farm in Exmoor, rural North Devon. The weather, as you will likely remember if you were in the UK, was unnaturally, surreally beautiful—golden light, Yves Klein blue skies, day after day. The paths around the farm grew so hot that I’d often find adders basking in the middle of them, their vine green bodies open to the unexpected sun.

The long weeks that went by were not easy – my mother was on the vulnerable list, sheltering and seeing no-one, and my father was gravely ill in another country – sending spools of worry out from my hiding place and into the world. But alongside the shared fear, there was something else I couldn’t help noticing. Those weeks at the farm were the longest time I’d ever spent in a rural environment, and that time, that space, that room for attention meant I noticed and experienced the change of seasons in a way I never had before. I saw the cool, bare branches of late winter begin to crack and creak with the buzzing, glitching energy of spring. I saw and felt that seasonal shift, not as an idea, but as something that came up and through my own body. I smelt the scent of the wet air in the morning, a finely tuned instrument producing a new note every day, a new melody being knotted together with each thread of spring growth.I felt the strong undertows of life and death – normal, essential but often unseen – the chickens killed by foxes late at night, left in bloody piles, the mole dropped by a passing bird of prey, the lambs that we helped pull from their mothers’ wombs with stinking, bloody hands. The creaking of the great body of creation could be heard more clearly without the thud of city life: the rustling of black soil, the frothing of the sea tugged like a hungry lover by the hangnail moon.

Not being religious, Easter Sunday was not a day I usually marked with much vigour, but that spring, without thinking why, I took myself up onto the hill for some time alone in the landscape. All around me the hills vibrated green, wild garlic shed its thick genital scent, lambs hopped and gambolled as if audition-ing for a picture book, crocuses shouted their silent songs of growth. It was Eostre more than Easter—the name of the pre-Christian goddess who gives the festival its name, goddess of spring and renewal, her feast attached to the vernal equinox. It felt as if the skin of the day had been peeled back, and its pagan roots had become suddenly visible — the Easter bunny giving way to Eostre’s rabbits and hares, ancient symbols of fertility; and the chocolate Easter eggs giving way to spring’s fresh birds’ eggs, symbols of new life and renewal. My own Eostre ritual was paltry, consisting merely of going up to a high place to sit along-side the day, to watch with it. But in doing so, feeling the heat of the sun on my face, watching the movement of light as it shifted between oak trees and the blossom coming into themselves, listening to the hum of the filling river, I experienced spring in away I never had before. My attention, my small marking, gave me a way to not only witness it, but enter it, experience the thrum of change in my own animal body for a moment, before worry and work blotted it out again. This spring ritual did not last long, but it stayed with me, even when I returned to the city, to other spaces and to other seasons. It made me consider what is offered by the seasonal rituals that, even in this modern era, people keep coming back to, with leaves in their hair.

The more I thought about what ritual – specifically seasonal ritual – makes possible, the more I realised that ritual is a way of pushing back against the mentality of control that defines a capitalist relationship with nature, the attitude that encourages us to see the natural world as our possession, and not our equal. The attitude, of exploitation and resource extraction, which has led to the climate crisis we now face. Ritual can certainly not wipe away this attitude in one fell swoop, but it can challenge it – offering us a way of connecting to nature that foregrounds strangeness, relationality, and meaning – an intimacy with the forces of life, of that which is not us. Seasonal ritual recognises our reliance on nature without pretending we have mastery over it. Such is the mystery of nature confronted, rather than solved ...

Rebecca Tamás is the author of the poetry collection WITCH (Penned in the Margins, 2019), which was a Poetry Society Choice and a Paris Review Staff Pick. Rebecca's essay collection Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman (Makina Books, 2020) was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2021. She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at City University, London. Wasafiri 113 remembers author and professor Sara Suleri with touching tributes from Kamila ShamsieAmina Yaqin, and others. Also featured in the issue are the winners of the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize and the 2022 Essay Prize, interviews with Lorna GoodisonCristina Rivera Garza, and Sarah Booker, plus our usual range of fiction, life writing, poetry, and reviews. Photo by Paul Lincoln on Unsplash          
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