Living in Season
The official newsletter of School of the Seasons
August 10, 2007
August Calendar Update
Blog is Back
My Season: First of Fall
Living in Season: Alternative Seasons
What I’m Reading: Song of the Crow
Great Links: Wild Grasses
Flower of the Month: Dahlia
Holiday Packet: Harvest Packet
Signs of Autumn
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Welcome to my semi-monthly newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life.
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Leaves fall early in the autumn wind.
Butterflies are already yellow with August
A pair flies over the grass of the West garden.
Seeing them hurts my heart.
Li Po, Chinese poet of the 8th century, “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”
August Calendar Update
The August calendar is up featuring holidays like the Nemoralia of Diana, O-Bon, the Blessing of the Grapes, Assumption, Weaver Woman, Volturnalia, Detective Day, Artemis-Hecate and the Moon of the Hungry Ghosts. To learn more about these and other holidays, go to the August calendar.
My Season: First of Fall
I just returned from a wonderful Lammas festival held at a farm in rural northern Washington. The days were sunny and bright and scented with the coumarin-sweet smell of grass drying in the sun. The nights were cold and damp but quite magical. The sky was studded with stars. I saw the Milky Way and a few early Perseids, including one shooting star whose trail sparkled like diamonds for minutes after it streaked through the night sky. We sat around the fire until late into the night, listening to the hypnotic beat of the African drums and watching the firelight glow on the bodies of the young women doing African dances. (You can read more about the festival at Joanna Powell Colbert’s blog.)
On the last day I went for a swim in the river that runs through the property. The water was so cold (in the words of one participant: “20 minutes from the snow”) and the current so strong I couldn’t swim upstream against it. I lay on my back with the sun on my face, drifting downstream and watched the yellowing leaves of the cottonwoods dropping from the trees and spiraling down around me. It was a clear sign of the start of fall, with the sense of melancholy and relief that brings.
A few weeks earlier my 29 year old daughter (yes, she’s in the middle of her Saturn return) came home and announced that she was moving to northern Michigan with a man she had just met. After a week of preparation she left, and the following week was one of desolation and grief for me. The things she left behind, which before I would have nagged her to put away, were now sweet memories of her presence. Another week passed and she came home, realizing that her situation was untenable.
It has been great to have her back but I realize that it is only temporary and that it is time for letting go. Strange that it has taken me this long to recognize both the difficulty and the necessity of this process for it was one of my themes for the year. Like the start of autumn, it will be bittersweet and tender.
Thanks to all of you who responded to the survey I created using Survey Monkey. I got 100 responses (the maximum I could receive) in one day and was gratified to learn how much you appreciate Living in Season.
Most of you liked things just the way they are, with this newsletter getting the most votes of approval, followed by the monthly calendar. In terms of products, you liked the holiday packets the most (so do I). Those interested in the Slow Time book would like to see the chapters posted on the website and available for download (I’ll start doing that as soon as it’s edited and formatted) with second choice being a perfect bound book (I’m working on that as well). The suggestions were great and included more materials for children and teenagers, more links, more book reviews, and more ideas for celebrating with children.
There were a few questions about orders I wanted to answer. One reader outside the States said she couldn’t order because I didn’t publish my rates for international orders. Actually I was never able to figure out how to get Paypal to calculate separate postal rates so I charge the same amount for all orders, no matter where I send them. So please take advantage. Another reader said she didn’t want to order online. It’s always possible to order any item by mail. The address is listed at the very bottom of the store page. The address is 1463 E Republican #187 Seattle WA 98112
I promised to give a gift certificate to one survey responder chosen at random but I did not realize that Survey Monkey did not provide a convenient way for you to send me that information. A few of you managed to slip it into the last comment box and others wrote me directly to give me your names, but to make it totally fair, I thought I would give everyone who responded to the survey another chance to enter your email in the Survey Contest. Just send an email to me at Waverly@schooloftheseasons.com with “Survey Contest” in the subject line. I will announce the winner next newsletter.
Blog is Back
I took a great class on blogging at Richard Hugo House from Rebecca Agiewich, famous for her blog and book, The Breakup Babe. Thanks to her technological savvy, homework assignments and encouragement from her and my fellow bloggers, I’ve revived my blog. Recently I’ve been posting about my attempts at drawing flowers, that is, until Lunaea tagged me to publish eight random facts about myself. You can read my latest entries here.
Living in Season: Alternative Seasons
The beauty of spring,
the brightness of summer,
the plenty of autumn,
the rest of winter
Americans are accustomed to dating the beginning of a season from the solar holidays. We say that Autumn begins on Autumn Equinox. But in medieval England, autumn actually began on Lammas (August 2).
The clearest evidence for this ancient system of dividing the year comes from the old names for Yule and the summer solstice. The Christmas feast in England was always known as the Midwinter feast. Likewise, June 23 was called Midsummer's Eve, because June 24 was Midsummer's Day. If June 24 is the middle of the summer, then the summer must begin at the start of May. This makes August 2 the first day of autumn, November 1 the first day of winter and February 2 the first day of spring. There is good evidence for these older seasonal markers as there are clusters of ancient religious and political holidays that occur around these dates.
I have been using this new understanding of the seasons for several years now and find it much more satisfying. In Seattle, buds are apparent on the trees and a few crocuses are evident by February 1. The spring equinox is the height of the flower explosion: Daffodils, tulips, azaleas, some rhododendrons, cherry trees, plum trees, quince, hyacinths, etc. Right around May 1, the hawthorn (or may) trees begin to flower, along with lilies of the valley and lilacs.
At first I thought that August 1 was too early to consider the start of Autumn. In Seattle, we often have our most glorious sunny days in August and September and the leaves don’t begin to turn (or fall) until October. But what has changed is my understanding of Autumn. I now see it as the time of harvest rather than the time of falling leaves, which seems an appropriate signal of the approach of winter, which begins with the gloomy days of November and continues through until February 1.
I like to divide each season into two parts, for instance, Early Autumn (Aug 1 to Sep 22) and Late Autumn (Sep 22 to Nov 1). Early Autumn in Seattle is a time of sunshine and abundance, although the dark falls sooner and the nights are cooler. Late Autumn has the feel of the more traditional Autumn, that sense of scurrying around trying to gather nuts before the winter begins. The leaves will all be gone from the trees by the end of Late Autumn. My mentor Helen Farias liked to use the old word “-tide” for these segments of the year. Right now, we are beginning Lammastide.
Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, my seasons are very much like those in the British Isles, from which this system derives. In other parts of the world, the seasons are quite different. For instance, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s now Spring. But even within the continental United States there are tremendous variations.
Nancy Venable Raine, author of After Silence, wrote about her disorientation in time after moving to the San Francisco area from Boston. Summer seemed like winter (because of the gray skies clouded with fog), October was summer and February was spring.
Several of my New York correspondents sent me different dates for the seasons. Although they all live within the western part of the state, each defines the seasons differently. Pam, who lives in Rochester, thinks the dates for the seasons should be Winter (Nov to Mar), Spring (Apr and May), Summer (Jun to Aug) and Autumn (Sep and Oct). Anne, who lives just a little further west in Kenmore, decided to try out March 1, June 1, September 1 and December 1 as the starting dates of her seasons. Margaret who lives in Seneca Falls defined seven seasons: Cold/No Snow (Nov-Dec), Not-So-Cold But Lots of Snow (Jan, Feb, early Mar), Early Spring/Thaw (late Mar/Apr), Late Spring (May), Early Summer (Jun), High Summer (Jul/Aug) and Autumn (Sep/Oct).
When does autumn begin where you live? And how do you recognize its presence?
What I'm Reading: Song of the Crow
Song of the Crow by Layne Maheu, Unbridled Press 2006
Layne was one of the students in my blogging class. His publishers wanted him to start a blog to promote his book, which features a crow’s eye view of the Flood. Even though I’m a huge fan of crows, it sounded like a weird premise, that is, until I started reading it. What a delightful and magical book. I’m hooked on the plot, savoring the delicious language (crows have a very earthy appreciation for life) and thoroughly enjoying the experience of life as a crow. It’s one of those books which I am forcing myself to read slowly because I don’t want it to end. Those of you who are also crow fans will appreciate the bibliography at the back and the crow epigraphs at the start of each chapter.
Here’s an excerpt, to give you a taste of the style and atmosphere:
Winter came, and it delivered the deep, tranquil sleep known as the Phenomenon of Crow Leaves.
The phenomenon occurs when the leaves of fall abandon their branches. Then the bare winter trees foliate at night with crows. Only then can we assume the lofty attics of the Giants’ psyche. Trees learn what it is like to travel far and wide and gather bright, useful knowledge of the world. And crows experience once again what is second nature to them, to lean quietly into the sky with a gentle, enormous repose, to spread their wings, this time not to fly but to gather those who can. Yes, trees love their green summer leaves, but in winter, without their Crow Leaves, they become lonely and depressed.
Also, we came to the Roost to gain a hook-hold into the vast knowledge of the world and to bicker over the arcane principles that held it in place. Here in the clash of nasal calls, I learned to decipher the many trills and squabblings of foreign dialects. At the Roost we learned of who had died, who was now oldest, who had braved a journey to the Tree of the Dead. We learned how to pluck an eagle midair, how to begin a storm at sea (by dropping a pebble from a specific cypress into the bay), what animal of the underworld looked most like a crow (the elephant), and what animal was spiritually most like a crow (the elephant). As dusk darkened to night, I sat in the branches heavy with crows and listend to all the stories that wove the world up into its illimitable fabric.
Great Links: Wild Grasses
One of my readers wrote and asked me if I knew of any resources for identifying wild grasses. What a good question. Especially since I always celebrate the holiday of the Assumption (August 15) by gathering the wild grasses growing on my block. (See the calendar for an explanation of why I do this.)
I’ve only found one book that mentions wild grasses and that’s Mary Blocksma’s book, Naming Nature, which I reviewed in an earlier newsletter.
She has a few entries in July where she explains how to identify some common grasses. My regional guide to Northwest Weeds also features a few grasses, but not as many as you would think.
Luckily we have the Internet. The best website I’ve found is this one from the UK.
I also found a great interactive guide for identifying grasses in the Columbia basin, which is not too far from where I live.
Try typing “identifying grasses” into your search engine. I’m going to feature the results of my research in my blog over the coming weeks.
Flower of the Month: The Dahlia
The flower of August is the Dahlia. And you can find the article I wrote which surveys the Dahlia’s origins, mythology, history, cultivation and arrangement, here.
Holiday Packet: Harvest
The Harvest holiday packet contains over 50 pages of ideas on how to celebrate the Autumn Equinox, including the:
- Ancient celebrations of Harvest and Michaelmas
- The meaning of the Harvest Moon
- The September Full Moon holidays of Mid-Autumn Moon and Sukkoth
- Transformation mysteries of beer and wine
- Recipes for gingerbread, ginger beer and other traditional Harvest foods
- Instructions for creating wheat weavings, a corn dolly and a basket to honor Demeter
- And much more.
Download sample pages from the Harvest packet here (PDF format).
It is available in an email version for $10 (sent within 24 hours) or via snail mail for $15 (please allow 10 days for delivery). Order through our Store.
Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
This is a graceful way to incorporate spirit and seasons into your life. Use it along with your usual planning tools and calendar to help you:
- Slow time down
- Consult your soul while creating your schedule
- Make time for what's truly important in your life
- Move in rhythm with the seasons and the moon
Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.
Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.
$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. To order or to see a sample reflection, go to our Store.
Signs of Autumn
“It feels like fall,” said one woman to the barista in my favorite coffee shop yesterday. I wanted to say: “That’s because it is!” The leaves are falling, the dahlias are blooming, the rowan berries are red and the back-to-school commercials are all over the television.
Where ever you live, send me your signs of the season and we will post them at the website at Signs of the Season.
Copyright © Waverly Fitzgerald 2007
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