Micro seasons – I had never heard of such a thing until R. explained the concept to me and immediately it made sense. Four even seasons, neatly contained within three-month blocks, is far too wide a cut to allow for any of the nuance that cusps between seasons can bring. How on earth can we unpick the very different personalities that can rise and fall within the same season if we confine ourselves to only four? Early summer is often tentative, like a child who has had its stabilisers removed from its bicycle. Late summer can be lazy and sprawling, it can flop in the corner like a teenager with an attitude problem and mid summer can often have a crisis in confidence, sulk and hide in its room. So, yes, straight away I liked the concept of a micro season, the leeway it gives. R. explained to me that it’s an ancient Japanese way of looking at the natural world. They divide the seasons into 24 blocks – roughly the passage of two weeks at a time. Fourteen or fifteen days, said to be about the length of time that the cherry blossom lasts in spring, and the period for which the vibrancy of the autumn foliage holds its colour in autumn. Not long at all. Yet long enough to be distinct. If you remember being around a new-born baby, you’ll know just how transformational a two week slice can be.
Living, as I do, in a climate that does not present one consistent autumn, or any other season for that matter, this closer analysis makes a lot of sense. Take Ireland, where I’m presently back visiting. The last few days here, on the north coast, have seen a noticeable change from one micro season to another. Monday night was full of bluster and bruise as I took the high path, walking west along the cliffs by the end of the beach. It was far from a gale but it whistled a definite reminder that gales often tunnel through at this time of year. The following day, the wind had distilled down to a soft stoke and I walked the same beach at low tide, watching the high cloud crack open to expose a gash of duck egg blue. The day was laden with a promise that was fulfilled.
Curious, I looked up some of the names given to the Japanese micro seasons; they match up well with local weather patterns and the cycle of nature. Early September: ‘Dew glistens white on grass’; Late September: ‘Swallows leave’; Early October: ‘Thunder ceases’; Late October: ‘Insects hole up underground’. Closely watching the seasons this way stitches a poetic thread through the fabric of the year. No longer do we make sweeping statements, true but bland, about autumn being full of apples and harvest and turning leaves. Instead, watching meticulously gives us the freedom to create numerous blink-or-you’ll-miss-them seasons. We are forced to examine around us, note miniature changes, pinpoint when the land awakens and sleeps, blooms and wilts, charges forward and retreats.
And here’s another thing, in a world where the older one gets the more likely one is to bemoan the speeding up of time (‘where do the days go?’), I have a suspicion that dividing the year into two week blocks, as opposed to four simple seasons, might well have the effect of putting the brakes on time’s march, even a little. As we attune to what each fortnight brings, maybe time will pull back from a gallop to a trot. Whilst each of the four seasons has its unique job description (which it often doesn’t live up to), micro seasons are not prescribed and predictable. And therein lies some of the attraction for me: the delight to be had innotknowing what’s to be served up in two weeks time. Yesterday, my workout took the form of sweeping the back yard, a task that might be around for more than two weeks as we enter a micro season that I’m calling ‘herding leaves’. Maybe in two weeks from now my friend S. will be wakened by the sound of one of her favourite micro seasons, one I shall call ‘the song of the Whooper Swan overhead.’ But I must catch myself from looking ahead, refrain from guessing what each micro season might bring. Rather, I shall wait and watch, and won’t that be much more fun?
Autumn Gale, John Hewitt
All day a strong gale rushed north-west by north,
herding stripped leaves in corners, wiping dry
the bare lanes, and over crumbled earth
spreading a crisper surface, scudding by
and flicking skirts of shadow on the ground,
till breath was an adventure bravely borne,
despite the bitter winter’s forecast found
in crowded berries on the whistling thorn.
Then as the sun dropped down, his tilted light
raking the rocking treetops, the black crows
whirling in gusts were each that moment bright
against the wind’s face as they sank or rose,
as this which seemed some March-fresh interval
played havoc with the dying fall.