Rethinking the Seasons

leaves hang on rope

Rather than do a typical haiku commentary post, this week, I wanted to reflect on the ways in which my commitment to haiku practice over the past few months has impacted my perception of the seasons as I experience them. It’s been seven months since I launched this project, and while my haiku practice and saijiki study go beyond the scope of food, the framework of this blog and podcast is where I come to work out my ongoing understanding of kigo.

I’ve written elsewhere on the blog (my intro post is just one example) about how my direct experience of the seasons doesn’t always line up with what the Gregorian calendar says. This was in part influenced by geography (Cleveland has long winters, Austin has even longer summers), but also a sense that dividing the seasons according to equinoxes and solstices didn’t truly account for the way the climate felt.

One of the reasons I was intrigued by the haiku (lunar) calendar was because the seasons all began roughly six weeks earlier than I was accustomed to; the equinoxes and solstices were in the middle of the seasons, rather than the initiation point for each season. As I’ve delved into this seasonal exploration, I stumbled across Naturalist Weekly, a blog which, among other things, talks about the 72 micro-seasons. While I think micro-seasons vary from climate to climate, I think they are a fascinating framework for how to study and experience one’s own surroundings, and I’m brainstorming with ways to work with micro-seasons in 2023.

This year’s study of saijiki and kigo has shown me a great deal of how I experience the seasons. The biggest takeaway for me is that the way I perceive the changes in time relates to fluctuations in daylight. On some level, I’ve known this for a while. My last few years in Cleveland, I struggled a great deal with seasonal depression. Living in Austin, I didn’t struggle quite as much because it wasn’t as cold, but I also noticed I felt demoralized by the lack of daylight. Both ends of daylight savings time make me feel jetlagged, and when it ends in the fall, that abrupt plunge into early darkness is really rough on me.

The author in front of a waterfall in Ohio.
Slightly under-dressed for a Thanksgiving visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

In December 2019, I also observed that while the Gregorian late autumn (ranging from mid-October to the winter solstice) is particularly tough for me, I start thriving again fairly early in January. While many people I know struggle through the cold, snowy first quarter of the year, my mood and motivation are consistently on the upswing. Maybe it’s because I love what New Year’s symbolizes (even though my celebrations are a lot more toned down than they used to be), and that gives me a mental boost. But I think there’s something more, and it’s that even though the days are still short and the nights are still long, it’s already getting brighter. And my body is well-aware of the gradually increasing days.

In the haiku calendar, winter starts more or less on November 5th. The lunar New Year generally takes place in early February, with actual celebration periods varying based on the specific traditions of Asian countries. The New Year period gives way to spring during a time that is still solidly winter based on the Gregorian calendar.

The author standing on a mountain in Mexico
A January day in Real de Catorce, Mexico. Even 9,000 feet up, it was fairly warm in the daylight.

As I wrote back in that initial blog post, I was flummoxed by how spring could start in February, when everything is still snowy and dormant. Yet the first blossoms of the calendar year aren’t that far off. But what I think is more significant is that the days are getting incrementally longer.

Based on the haiku calendar, the December solstice is the middle of winter, and is the official turning point, sending us down the path to spring. So while a few months ago, I was flummoxed by February being considered a spring month, when I think about the increase in available daylight, it makes total sense.

Even if it’s a struggle for me to classify November as winter instead of autumn, ultimately, the seasonal label doesn’t matter as much. What’s important to me is the insight of how the changes in daylight affect my body, mind, and spirit. And I don’t know if I would have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t embarked on this process in my poetry.

(But . . . can we do away with DST already? Or keep it. I don’t care. Let’s just pick one and stop switching the clocks twice a year, okay?)

One thought on “Rethinking the Seasons

  1. Hi Allyson, Thanks for sharing your experience with the seasons. I will agree that I struggled with February being the beginning of spring, but then it started to make sense as I observed what was happening in the environment. I have also found that noticing the subtle changes during the year has added so much joy to the passage of time. My outlook has shifted from “let’s just get to the next season” to “Did you notice that the Juncos have returned?” and “Did you hear the difference between oak leaves and beech leaves in October?” It has been so good for me.
    Have a great weekend!

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