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This post and all other posts on our website are snippets from Firth's writings on Substack.

Imbolc, Publishing, and The Coming of Robins

One publisher responded, “This may be one of the finest written manuscripts we have yet received,” but then did not invite me to publish because I have a mere 1,500 followers on Instagram.

The modern farm is an amphitheater of noise, and fragrance. A seasonal soliloquy. In the spring, it smells of distended plans, infinitely long to do lists, and diesel oil. In the summer, the mounting exhaustion is scaffolded by the excitement of the first harvest. As the temperatures cool, the spring’s sounds and smells return, but summer’s work never does. Autumn has arrived.

Autumn is the realization that stillness is good enough, for now. Winter days then silently swim between the odors of flame and salt on cast iron and the cold darkness that lays on the unfamiliar end of the bed’s many and stacked quilts. Stews and broths bubble against the early nights and dreams descend upon healing bones. But, in the spring, once or twice a week and only at certain moments in the lengthening days, the wind bears a low, humming smell, a wild invitation, to reawaken, to start new, to slough off the quilts, slowly, and to give the now rusted and collagen-caked cast iron a moment’s rest.


Today is Imbolc.

It is the Gaelic festival that separates Oíche Shamhna (Ehyeh HOW-nuh)—the long and dark night of Samhain (SOW-un) with Beltane—the first day of summer, the fire and purification festival. Today is the first day of Spring and splits the winter in half.

Imbolc has been Christianized into St. Brigid’s Day and no matter how you live this day and no matter where you let her live, we live today together under the fertile hope that spring is here, she is slowly wakening, and she is unhurriedly sloughing off her winter quilts. But first, the old must pass.


Imbolc came for me this year at a strange time.

I have been more inactive on Substack recently than I would like, due to the fact that I am finishing up a manuscript for my next book. I am writing nearly six hours a day and lifting my head to do much else has been, well, hard to do. Morgan (my wife) and I yet have a 400-acre Wildland to run and three kids to love and hold. Winter is our time for stories and the evening fire casts many memories through generation’s genes.

The first chapter is longer than my first book, Wild Like Flowers and the first three chapters are larger than both Wild Like Flowers and my third book, Dark Cloud Country, combined. It is a large writing project and longer than I anticipated at its outset.

But it has also been the first book I have tried to traditionally publish. Six months we have spent querying and proposing and conversing with agents and publishers and, it now seems, the biggest contention with the work is my lack of a platform. My indie-authored books of the past four years have won many awards, lived atop Amazon’s charts, and have sold dozens of thousands of copies apiece. But it is the sad numerical reality of my techno-social platforms that stand stalwart against publishing, it seems.

One publisher responded, “This may be one of the finest written manuscripts we have yet received,” but then did not invite me to publish because I have a mere 1,500 followers on Instagram.

One publisher responded, “This book has the ability to truly break new ground, to change the world in a deeper way,” but then did not invite me to publish because 1) I was not on twitter and 2) my Substack has only 263 subscribers (and I love every one of you by the way! I don’t tell you all enough…) “We only publish authors with larger audiences,” they wrote.

Hadden Turner and I discussed bits of this on our recent podcast together, if you are interested. Dougald Hine and I discussed the modern penchant to spin and carry the world on the back of numbers and “the science” in another recent podcast. Scientists, I think, examine charts that live in millions of years with microscopes—they look at large expanses with one eye closed. Both of these podcasts may be worth listening to if you have the time and interest.

The connection between an author’s audience and their mind and heart’s creative, mythic, and ancient soul has little connection, I think. Martin Shaw has long proposed that “the business of stories is waking up. Bad storytellers make spells. Good storytellers break them.”

Publishers need to make money. That is true. Good books need to wake readers up. That is also true. Sometimes, and not all the time, these two realities struggle to co-exist. Surely, these two realities struggle often to co-create. In olden days, I am told, books were written to be read. Today, I fear, books are written to be sold. Maybe one publisher will prove me wrong. Will you? Prove me wrong? Please.

Authors who published within the modern age but before social media’s rage are wonderfully placed.

This is in no way a sob story, to be sure. Rather, I think, Imbolc is speaking, she has always been speaking—the spring is waking up. And so I would like to provide you one of my favorite poems by Christina Rossetti. Let us today consider “the light that you and I can show.” Not “will show” but “can.” Let our lives live this difference.

Cold the day and cold the drifted snow,
Dim the day until the cold dark night.

Crackle, sparkle, faggot; embers glow:
Some one may be plodding through the snow
Longing for a light,
For the light that you and I can show.
If no one else should come,
Here Robin Redbreast's welcome to a crumb,
And never troublesome:
Robin, why don't you come and fetch your crumb?

Here's butter for my hunch of bread,
    And sugar for your crumb;
Here's room upon the hearthrug,
    If you'll only come.

In your scarlet waistcoat,
    With your keen bright eye,
Where are you loitering?
    Wings were made to fly!

Make haste to breakfast,
    Come and fetch your crumb,
For I'm as glad to see you
    As you are glad to come.

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