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The Traditional Seasons and Inventive Microseasons of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 18, 2019

In this info-packed little Twitter thread, science writer Ferris Jabr reminds us that the four “traditional” seasons of summer, autumn, winter, and spring are not universal and mainly only apply to the mid-latitudes. Other places on Earth observe different patterns. For starters, the polar year is split into light and dark while the tropics typically have a wet and a dry season.

The traditional Japanese calendar, borrowed from the Chinese, splits the year into 24 seasons and 72 microseasons, each lasting about 5 days. Some of those microseasons:

February 9-13 - Bush warblers start singing in the mountains
February 24-28 - Mist starts to linger
March 26-30 - First cherry blossoms
June 11-15 - Rotten grass becomes fireflies
July 29-August 2 - Earth is damp, air is humid
October 18-22 - Crickets chirp around the door
November 22-26 - Rainbows hide
January 30-February 3 - Hens start laying eggs

Indian calendars used in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have six seasons: summer, monsoon, early autumn, late autumn, winter, and spring.

The Cree calendar has six as well, augmenting the usual four seasons with late spring and ice freeze-up.

In some climates, there is a period in the spring called the “hungry gap” between when the winter vegetables run out and the spring veggies aren’t yet ready to harvest.

Indian summer is the term generally used for a warm microseason that sometimes occurs in the autumn after a hard frost, but I prefer the similar Gaelic season “little autumn of the geese”.

Members of the Gulumoerrgin language group in Australia observe seven seasons, including heavy dew time, big wind time, and spear grass & goose egg time.

Velvet season refers to a spring period in the Crimea that is pleasantly warm but not hot, just the right time to wear velvet (instead of fur).

I wrote recently of Kurt Vonnegut’s assertion that the northern parts of the US have not four but six seasons, which dovetails nicely with the seasons here in Vermont:1

Vermonters know these six seasons all too well, although they give the two extra seasons different names. What’s going on right now and will continue into mid-to-late December is “stick season”. All the beautiful fall foliage has fallen off of the trees and we’re left with not-so-beautiful sticks until the snow flies regularly enough to call it winter. Between winter and spring — what Vonnegut calls “Unlocking” — is called “mud season” here. That’s when the dozens of feet of snow that fell during the winter, rapidly thawing ground, and Vermont’s rainy season collude to wreak havoc on unpaved roads and driveways, turning them into mud pits, some of which are impassable for a month or more.

See also The Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter. (via @circa1977)

  1. This year, we’ve mostly skipped stick season and gone right into winter. It snowed the first week of November and we’ve had continual snow cover and below-freezing temperatures ever since.