All about differences of seasons

Published 10:23 pm Friday, August 30, 2019


Coffee with Mimi

You can feel it in the air for sure — summer is over. The first sign was a chill in the night air. Throughout the summer, the days were hot and the night air was steamy, too. Trips outside in the middle of the night with the pup offered little comfort that the new day would be any different temperature-wise than the previous day.

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Here we are in late August and the signs point to a change of the seasons.  We open the windows to let fresh, cooler air in early in the morning. You can throw on a light sweater to bridge the gap between sleeveless attire and a jacket. It might be warm outside, but it feels different.

Seasons are clearly defined, sort of. There is meteorological winter, spring, summer and fall. This is a practical delineation as the first day of the season is set on the first day of the month in which there is an equinox and a solstice. For those who don’t keep up with this sort of scientific information, winter is December, January and February; Spring is March, April and May; summer is June, July and August; fall is September, October and November.  All you need to know is right there for color coordination in your wardrobe and seasonal home decorations. Should you be unsure, there are ample publications in the check-out lines at the grocery store to guide you.

While strolling on the internet, I landed on some interpretations of seasons around the world. For example, the Hindu calendar in India divides the year into six seasons. Summer, winter, spring and fall plus pre-winter and monsoon.  The Chinese calendar has five seasons, separating summer into two sessions — early and late.

No matter where you reside, the seasons are scientifically characterized by climate changes, the tilt of the planet, the amount of daylight. Our planet year is fairly predictable. Tilt of the earth results in a consistent pattern of daylight and darkness, heat and cold, but that isn’t the whole story.  Look no further for evidence than the need for the Indian calendar to specifically carve out a named season for monsoons.

In the southern coastal areas of the United States, we refer to a hurricane season, but we don’t give it a name on the seasonal calendar. For Indians, monsoons are more than a weather event set in a larger picture. In daily living, the seasons are closely tied to our cultural and historical patterns.

In our area for example, fall is time for football, harvest festivals, orange colors. As ridiculous as it may seem, the first football game is right at the end of August.  It doesn’t matter at all that the average football gear weighs approximately 20 pounds — it’s almost fall and that spells football. The daytime temperature may still likely rise into the upper 80s, but pools are closed for the season as activity shifts to a sport requiring nearly complete body coverage head to foot. 

Tail-gating and half-time snack menus are prominently featured in magazines and TV food shows.  Articles appear to assist planning ahead for Thanksgiving dinner, all events featuring foods which are associated with the historical harvest of the region.

Always interested in food, I looked a little closer at the Chinese calendar.  It is clearly defined seasonally by a medicinal approach to eating throughout the year for maximum health benefit. Beginning with the two-season summer, in early summer the focus is on light and cooling and late summer on hydrating and cooling.  In fall,  foods are suggested which are warming. In winter, the emphasis is on resting and digesting. In spring, it is time to cleanse and detox — it makes total sense. The body must be nourished to function, but we think and act differently at different times of the year. Our food selection changes, as well, perhaps subconsciously craving a mental shift which actually lines up with the seasons.

In our modern world, we can eat just about any food item at any time of the year.  Strawberries are harvested locally in late May, but I can add them to a holiday fruit tray in mid-December as they are just a cargo plane ride from any number of sources to my grocery store produce bins. We comment on the quality if they are good as they really belong in another climate and we know it.

When the calendar and the night air say fall, I haul out the cast iron pot and load it up with stew meat, stock, onions, herbs, potatoes, celery, mushrooms and carrots. It slow simmers on the stove, heating up the kitchen.

What was it the Chinese said about fall? Warmth. I don’t think they refer to physical warmth alone, but the comforting effect of a slow-down preparation of dinner as the light wanes and there may be a fire in the fireplace.

A decent, nourishing and quick summer version of dinner with virtually the same ingredients would focus on an outside grill full of meat with an aluminum foil packet for the vegetables. Cool and light as we relax in the shade at twilight.