The first Hiking the Wheel of the Year guide I worked on was for Imbolc, as it's when I first got the idea. At the time, we had been living in Tennessee less than a year, where the climate was even warmer than our old home in Virginia.
Imbolc means something different in Maine. In my guide, I speak of looking for early flowers; in the south daffodils start to bloom in February. Forsythia shoots deepen, and buds on trees start to wake up. Looking for these signs on a hike for this cross-quarter day was obvious.
In Maine, we are having to learn new signs that the wheel of the year is in fact still turning. The ground is still coated with snow, we go weeks without seeing the temperatures rise above freezing, and snowshoes or microspikes are still very much a necessity for any time spent on trails. I know, scientifically, that due to ocean temperatures this is also the coldest time of year. But in a southern climate, "cold" is relative, and the lengthening of days combined with sustained daytime temperatures above freezing influence the rebirth cycle in a way the frozen north won't see for several more weeks.
Imbolc has always been, to me, a celebration of subtlety. It's internal; both personally, and in the earth. I always find this, of all the pagan Sabbats, hardest to put into words for this reason. "It's about...milk?" I fumble, and usually just say it's the midway point between winter and spring.
But after years of trying to articulate what this season is about--reading other blog posts, writings by elders, spellbooks, seasonal guides, infographs, and pinterest boards, my own meditations, the one word that best describes Imbolc is stirring.
If you are a person who has been pregnant for at least 4-5 months, it is the quickening. Those small, butterfly beats of movement that you can feel long before anyone else can see what is happening. But on the inside, there is life and motion and change. There is proof of something new.
If you have not been or cannot become pregnant--imagine bread. If you are not paying attention, you don't see it as it first starts to rise. It's easy to blink and miss the transition from a ball of wet flour into something puffy and ready to bake. The yeast comes to life during the period of rest. Tiny movements, undetectable to the eye, but growing, growing.
Imbolc is the reminder that these stirrings are happening. To go out and walk and look for them. Even where flowers are months away, we know the days are longer. The sun burns higher in the sky, the light a little bit brighter than the low beams of midwinter. There is color starting to emerge in the forest in the new growth on tree branches, and the brighter greens of evergreen needles.
So yes, hike. Look for these signs of rebirth, as your climate allows. Make plans for the hikes you want to do for the rest of the year--what you want to do while it is still cold. Where the trillium and mountain laurel grow. When the peak bloom of flame azaleas is. The best time to eat ripe blueberries as the low bushes brush against your ankles. Come in from your hike and plan, and dream, and sip tea and look out at the barren woods and know that this stillness is coming to an end.