12 Seasons


Flickr: Jorge-11's photostream.  The Prague Orloj

Flickr: Jorge-11's photostream. The Prague Orloj

Scott Fullerton once worked as a choker-setter in Northern California.  He pointed out to me that we really have 12 seasons and that 4 seasons don’t really capture the nuances of the slow changes in nature.   Since I’ve been bike commuting I have come to recognize those 12 different seasons.


Winter starts with Dark and Bleary Winter.  This micro-season, if I may coin that term, starts about mid-December and it runs to mid-January.  The Sun sets at 4PM and rises about 9AM it seems.   Once it does rise, it scoots along the Southern horizon so low that Noon sunshine ducks under the eaves and in our front bay window, scuttles across our living room and settles on the floor half-way across our dinning room.  The Sun, during the brief period it is up, has as much warmth as a nightlight.  We all start running low on vitamin D and cheer.

Dark and Bleary Winter is followed by Bright and Chilly Winter.  This is the season we are in now.  Bright and Chilly Winter runs from mid-January to mid-February approximately.  The Sun is higher and actually caries some warmth.  Daylight is returning.  Today, we will have 10 hours of daylight.  There is light in the western sky at 5PM when you leave work.   We still get thrust into the deep freeze by the “Polar Express” – cold winds that come down from the Arctic Circle, unfazed by the expanses of Canada, to land in our back yards.    But there is Sun and deep cold is more tolerable when the Sun is more courageous.

B&C Winter is followed by Sloppy Winter.  Sloppy Winter is full of melting snow that refreezes and heavy wet snow that falls and gets instantly packed into ice.   There are brief periods of brown and gray followed glop then cold once more.   Sloppy Winter is the Winter of our discontent.  It is the Winter when you start thinking, surely Winter will go away soon only to have another 6 inches or 16 inches of snow fall and the temperatures plummet again.  

Sloppy Winter lingers until mid-March when it gives way to Brown and Muddy Spring.  You can see the plants are starting to wake in Brown and Muddy Spring.  You see the fine light-green haze of buds that are just waiting for the nights to warm a bit more and Sun to gain a bit more courage.  

There is one day, early in Brown and Muddy Spring, when you are out and you smell the warm rich smell of damp earth.  The ground has thawed and a warm wind is coming from the Southwest up from the Gulf of Mexico.  You smell damp earth and you realize that winter seasons have passed and you also realize how much you have missed the air smelling like some warm and liquid.

The very earliest of plants start poking their tendrils out.  The early Spring Crocus decide to make their move along with Snowdrops and a few of the most courageous tulips.  The song birds start to return.  This is a time of migration – warblers and sparrows start flying through bring bright songs to the hedgerows.  

It is also time of migration for the last of the snow and mud.  Snow begins its retreat leaving a muddy tide behind.  All of the sand and grit and car parts that have been bound up through all the Winter seasons are left behind on streets and parking lots and lawns in miniature glacial moraines.  Dog toys, not seen since December, reappear in a sodden and forlorn heap.  Brown and Muddy Spring is the first promise that the Winter seasons have actually gone.  There is one more snow storm, wet and heavy, that will bend over daffodils and flatten the crocus but it will melt in a day or two.  The Sun has now girded its loins and it is ready to face another year.

Then comes Kablooie Spring about mid-April and through mid-May.   All that pent up energy that has been stored up in frozen soil suddenly explodes out through every branch and twig, bulb and root.  Lilacs, Forsythia, Magnolia, you-name-it, it is now game-on for the Spring blooming plants.  Mid-April to Mid-May the air is sweet with spring flowers.  The birds are singing their heart’s devotion to each other.  The spring peepers and letting the world know they survived the Winter and water is fine.  

This is Spring.  When one thinks of Spring they think of Kabloooie Spring.  The bunnies are out and frisky.  You see your neighbors our in their yards and you stop to chat and recount the events of the various winter seasons.  When you are in the midst of Sloppy Winter and you think, “Enough of this muck!  I can’t wait for it to be Spring”, you are really wishing for Kablooie Spring.

But we are in Bright and Chilly Winter now.  B&C Winter brings days when we never get above zero degrees (F) but they are tolerable and even enjoyable because the Sun is high and shining.  It also brings days like yesterday.  

Yesterday was sunny and a warm 40F.  Yesterday was a day that you think about opening windows or sitting outside on the porch in the glider and reading.  Yesterday was day that can make you think that Kablooie Spring is just around the corner.  But, it is wise to remember that there are two more seasons before we get to celebrate the arrival of Kablooie Spring.