Seasons are straightforward, yes? We learn in school that there is spring, summer, autumn and winter and that they change as the earth moves around the sun. Simple?
Nope… Otherwise why would I need a blog post about them?! Seasons are not a static concept, they have changed through history and throughout the world. For example, the ancient Egyptians had three seasons; winter, spring and summer. These marked three important events in the year; the flood, the time of growth and the time of low water. In some parts of the world today there are still only two seasons; wet and dry.
Le Rouge’s Grant Kalendrier from 1496 shows the four seasons we are familiar with but the titles he uses for each season shed some light on the focus for each. Winter – the season of woodburning. Spring – the season of flowers. Summer – the season of harvest. Autumn – the season of vintage. From these images we get a real sense of the importance of seasons to our ancestors. They were not arbitrary lines drawn in the year with little impact of our lives, these were the way they knew when to sow and gather certain foods and thus they were literally a matter of life and death. Indeed, the word seasons apparently comes from the Latin serese, to sow. The changing of the seasons was often accompanied by rituals and marked the importance of the earth and her gifts to the community.
From my own life as a farmer’s daughter, the changing seasons meant changes in how we spent our time. Summer meant more jobs for us, it meant picking fruit, it meant going to country shows to sell strawberries and it meant very long days for my dad. And as well as seasons, there are other markers in the year which were historically used. For example, you don’t pick asparagus before St Georges day or after midsummer’s day. After that, you would leave it to go to seed, thus providing you with a harvest next year.
Some Asian counties have six seasons which mark spring, summer and autumn but also early winter, late winter and monsoon or early and late autumn.
For indigenous Australians, the number of seasons varied from group to group depending on where in the country they were. Some have two, wet and dry, but those people in more variable climates have more. These seasons tell people when to move to another place, when the fruits of certain trees will be ripe, when the fish will be easy to catch, when to hunt certain animals and so on. The stars which were visible at certain points of the year also mark the changing seasons, for example for the Pitjantjatjara the rising of the Pleiades at dawn marks the start of winter.
Other cultures, such as the North American Indians, also incorporated natural events into their calendar. For example, seeing the ducks leave on their migration was a sign of winter coming.
Today, whilst a lot of us in the west live detached from seasons in the agricultural sense, they do still hold crucial information about the timing of events such as the hurricane season, the wildfire season and flood seasons. I also find that trying to attune myself to the seasons helps ground me in time, helps me feel more rooted to where in the year we are.
To live in tune with the seasons can help to create a balanced life. Most of us can’t always be “on”, be extroverted and be sociable all the time. Equally, most of us don’t thrive well if we are always alone. In this way, letting the seasons guide us, gives us time to be with people and time to be with ourselves. I am reminded of the bear from the wild unknown animal spirit cards and her wisdom about having times of inwardness and outwardness, times of activity and times of rest.
“There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.” – Rebecca Campbell
To mark the transition from one season to another makes us more aware of these changes, it makes us more attuned to them and the subtle differences that build on each other. To celebrate the season which has left and to welcome the season that comes is to acknowledge the wonder in both. Being more conscious of the changes has helped me to go with them, not to fight my urge to retreat when winter comes. To embrace it and to allow myself time to do so means I am more restored when spring arrives rather than exhausted from battling against it. And I know that as I slip into hibernation mode as the days grow dark that I will not be there forever, that when spring arrives, as it will, with it will come a time of activity.
Living with the seasons means embracing a cyclical life, one of balance and for me this means one of self care. Our years are filled with seasons, but so too are our lives. If the season you are in now is difficult, you know that it will pass.
Autumn steals the summer’s warmth
Hibernation tugs at souls
Slowing into desolate months
All things pass
Skelton trees, bleak shadows of former selves
Finally, Orion, Greek hunter, pierces the dark
Pinprick beacons of hope
All things pass
Sunlight revives winter weary bones
Fresh, vibrant shoots burst through soil
A patchwork quilt of colour surrounds
All things pass
At last, sunrise to sunset stretches
Ahead with possibility and energy
Perseid meteors scatter short-lived nights
All things pass
I’d be really interested to know what marks the seasons for you and I am going to ponder this a bit as well.