This Ancient Calendar Marks 72 Seasons

Climate change requires closer attention to the changes in our environment.
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YES! illustrations by Delphine Lee

It’s a rare person who can’t remember a time when a season’s weather was different. Summers used to be shorter, or longer. Or colder, hotter, wetter, drier. Autumn leaves have been changing later in recent years as a result of higher summer and autumn temperatures. Noticing those changes is good news. A reasonable start for dealing with the climate crisis is first to get people to notice their environment at all, as well as its natural rhythms. How else can you be alarmed at what is not normal?

From the Fall 2019 Issue
The Death Issue
Issue cover

For the past year, I’ve used a phone app called 72 Seasons to help me see more subtle seasonal changes beyond the basic winter, spring, summer, fall. The app follows an ancient Japanese calendar that recognizes 24 sekki, 15-day seasons, further divided into 72 specific seasonal shifts. Every five days, the app updates me with poetic precision on the changes I could be noticing around me.

A calendar of 72 seasons makes sense for a culture steeped in seasonality and respect for nature. Why limit ourselves to only four when seasonal shifts are constantly occurring, from the way light shines on a mountain in April to the feel of morning air in the second week of September? Of course, a single calendar can’t predict changes and dates everywhere in the world. But the point is that microseasonal shifts happen no matter where you live. By being reminded to watch for them and even to name them, we can train ourselves to live in tune with them. Food seasons are an easy way to notice nuanced shifts. In the Pacific Northwest, I watch for the first Copper River salmon to arrive toward the end of May, and the second week in June is when cherries are ripening. You can redefine your seasons by all their microseasonswherever you live.