We’re hobbling slowly towards the end of the year, and what a year it’s been. I suppose you could say that I’m looking forward to a 2021 that’s slightly more positive. Just slightly. Not too much to ask…
On the plus side, this year of lockdown has led people to appreciate the outdoors and nature more; my social media feeds have been full of photos of flowers, butterflies, gardens and wildlife….As a society, we’ve remembered how to grow our own produce and make our own food again, to notice the turning of the seasons and revel in them.
And that’s an age old way, familiar to humanity, that somehow we’ve lost through the centuries. With that in mind it was a pleasure to illustrate Lia Leendertz’s super-popular Almanac for 2021 throughout the lockdown period.
An Almanac is a book, traditionally used by farmers since Medieval times, that takes you through the year month by month. There’s advice on what to plant and when, what to look out for in the natural world and information on phases of the moon, tide times, seasonal recipes, songs and stories.
The Almanac, published by Octopus imprint, Mitchell Beazley, has been an annual publication for a few years now. Each one has a different theme and the 2021 version focusses on migration and movement – something that has been difficult for many of us during 2020. Throughout the book, Lia connects with the life of travelling Romanies, historically always on the road, and she includes many old Romany recipes.
Every month has a different decorative chapter opener so I used traditional Romany tarot cards as inspiration for the format. The central images show the life of a Romany woman from a baby in January to an old woman in December. She travels in a Vardo (a Romany caravan), finds love at the horse fair, helps with the harvests and cooks on an outdoor fire – all images researched using archival photographs found online. Months are named both in English and Romany with the Romany meaning alongside. Bita Kaulo Munthos/February – Little Black Month, Parne-Kareskero/May – Month of the Hawthorn. Giveskero/August – Month of the Corn. So evocative of a hard life, lived outside and on the road.
Most chapters include a hand drawn map too. Sometimes a natural migration…
Sometimes a human pilgrimage, both Pagan and Christian. All have a natural rhythm and a time of their own.
Maps are not the only way to help you travel. A glorious starlit sky or the pale face of the moon can show the right direction. Navigating using natural phenomenon is age-old knowledge and every chapter gives advice.
An Almanac reminds us to tune into our environment, be sensitive to the earth and its seasons. A loss of awareness of the natural world creates crisis and we feel lost. In turn, in times of crisis, awareness of the natural world is exactly what we return to in an effort to find our way back.
Lia Leendertz’s Almanac 2021 is out today. Hitch up your Vardo and let it lead you along the path of next year, following the stars, the swifts and the Painted Ladies…