BEING SINGLE AND without children for much of my adult life, I could get around Christmas without getting caught up in many of its trappings. One year, getting my holiday greetings out late, I launched my annual letter with “A happy Ground Hog’s Day to thee.”
That’s particular calendar date had seemed so weird, until I discovered there are “solar seasons” as well as the ones our calendars show. In solar winter, for instance, the solstice comes at the middle of the season, rather than the beginning; so Christmas would be right around the middle of solar winter, even though it’s at the beginning of the calendar winter. Why does my brain ever go into these bizarre leaps? Oh well, as long as we’re at it: If my calculations are right, Ground Hog’s day comes at the end of solar winter. Follow that? In other words, as far as the amount of sunlight falling on the Earth is concerned, winter is over, even if we wind up getting another six weeks or so of cold and snowy weather, right up to the vernal equinox. So what I really began asking was whether Punxsutawney Phil, the official ground hog those Pennsylvanians in tuxedos and stovepipe hats bring out every year, is stuffed or live. He sure looks stuffed in the official portrait the wire services move, but what do I know? One of my coworkers, who has witnessed the event, claims it’s a living critter.
Awareness of solar seasons puts other events into perspective. Halloween, for instance, acknowledges the beginning of solar winter. May Day brings solar summer. The Midsummer’s Day or Night, ostensibly announcing the beginning of calendar summer, really does come at solar midsummer. The beginning of August is the invisible event in our awareness.
(Neo-Pagans, incidentally, put their own significance into this alternative alignment of seasons.)
Dwelling in northern New England, as I do, presents another awareness of seasons. They are not evenly divided across the year, as a calendar would do, but are instead of unequal duration. Winter, for instance, begins around Halloween and lingers until the beginning of April – five months, rather than three. Summer, on the other hand, opens around the Fourth of July and ends by mid-August – all of a month and a half. That leaves three months for spring and two-and-a-half months for autumn. Within that there are other divisions. Winter, for example, ends with Mud Season, Black-Fly Season, and Mosquito Season. Or some Mainers see the year as Freezin’ Season, Black-Fly Season, and Road Construction Season.
It’s easy to make the leap to the emotional dimension of the seasons. Skiers and ice fishermen can view deep winter with their own appreciation. I revel in the glorious mutations of October foliage, while another friend dreads its appearance, knowing all too well the gloom that will follow.
Some creatures, of course, will hibernate.
For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.