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The Swallows Leave
and we find ourselves tilted neither toward nor away from the Sun
I am late in getting this post out - no excuses. All I can say is that I tend to think of the authentic New Year occurring with the autumnal equinox rather than with the Gregorian calendar’s odometer flip. Somehow, the first of January seems entirely arbitrary and born out of Western civilization’s attempt at celestial accounting practices rather than related to the exquisite rhythms and hums of the universe and our own divine bodies. So, in the greater spirit of slowing down, resetting, and moving forward again, I am making an equinoctial pledge to send the Stirred posts out every week, “as most beautifully and originally planned.”
There’s a sweet congruency between the pile of unfinished drafts and un-penned thoughts and the unripe blackberries now hanging on withering stalks of the Himalayan shrubs. On the verge of a seasonal shift, I find these drupelets standing firm, sporting mid-tones of pinkish greens and reddish browns. Looking closely at them, I imagine that they most assuredly intended to thrive, fill themselves up and offer something gorgeous. Yet for whatever reason, their energy went elsewhere, which is another great reminder to forgive each other, ourselves (most especially ourselves) and our surroundings for not always delivering the expected harvest.
In that vein, I am sending out an olive branch to the resident southpaws and right-handers alike to pre-emptively forgive them for not yet throwing any cones. You see, it’s customary here for September to arrive accompanied by the sound and fury of conifer cones being thrown by Douglas Squirrels from the upper stories of our bountiful canopies. I look forward to those furry acrobats climbing and scurrying, grabbing a brimming cone, and throwing it down to the ground, in order to gently loosen the morsels hidden inside.
But here we are, three weeks into September, and not a single cone has been thrown in my general direction. I have to say, I am a little disappointed. I look forward to those fibrous missiles careening down as the dog and I make our way to the mail box. I have come to depend on those cones coming down at me - not just one, but one after the other - as the official start of the autumn season. Yet, the truth is that there is no walk and no season that can ever be repeated. No matter how much I want to experience a particular stretch of the earth the same way I did a year ago, it cannot happen. The woods are not the same, and neither am I.
In the fall of 2018, I found the tiniest of light pink mushrooms growing on a redcedar trunk which curved ever so slightly over a steep slope. At first, I just admired them as I walked by, catching a brief glimpse of their miniature hoods shining over the bark’s striations. On the third day, I had enough sense to take a quick photo with my phone. The next day, the mushrooms had disappeared. In my innocence, I said to myself, ‘Well, at least I’ll see them again next year.’ But I haven’t seen them since. I look for them every fall on that trunk, but they are not there. Even so, I am certain that the pulse and essence of those mushrooms still thrive in the vast veined network of the forest floor, waiting for the next opportune occasion to once again lift their tiny, pink hats.
It is true that nothing ever returns exactly the same way as you might wish it would.
I recently discovered the Japanese ancient tradition of breaking down the four primary seasons into 24 major divisions, or sekki, which are then further divided into 72 micro-seasons, or kō. Each kō is a four-to-five day increment within a sekki, specifically named to describe the intricate transformation and movement of the surrounding elements. My understanding is that the description of the micro-seasons originated from the Chinese names for the same spans of time, but may have been updated based on differences in climate and geography.1
Some of the Japanese micro-seasons include:
January 25-29: 水沢腹堅 Sawamizu kōri tsumeru - or, ‘Ice thickens on streams’
March 1-5: 草木萌動 Sōmoku mebae izuru - or, ‘Grass sprouts, trees bud’
May 21-25: 蚕起食桑 Kaiko okite kuwa o hamu - or, ‘Silkworms start feasting on mulberry leaves’
October 28 - Nov 1: 霎時施 Kosame tokidoki furu - or, ‘Light rains sometimes fall’
Discovering this ancient practice has set me to wonder: could I possibly undertake the same exercise and describe/define the micro-seasons of the place I call home? Do I possess the discipline and insight to bear unabashed, objective witness to my surrounding spaces, and honor each brief segment of time with a poetic phrase that defines its essence?
Well, dear Reader: I can certainly try.
So, there it is - my autumnal equinox-cum-New Year’s resolution: with the beginning of this new season, I resolve to watch and listen much more closely; to receive and relay the goings on about me—the whirring, curling, purring, grazing, flagging, drying, departing, deflating, flighting, fighting, furling, undoing, brewing, climbing, descending, recoiling, and otherwise floating in and out of the world. In short, I challenge myself to describe the micro-seasons of this southern tip of an island I have come to love.
And while it’s likely that what transpires this year won’t necessarily happen the next, or the year after, or maybe ever again, isn’t that even more reason to pay notice and tell its small story? Like everything else, we are here briefly and never repeating who we are day to day. We owe it to each other to acknowledge what we revere in our shared spaces and our finite time together.
Happy New Year, Everyone.
Until next week, here a few recent videos from Champagne Trail.
Thank you for reading Stirred, Not Shaken. Your attention is invaluable and important to me. Leave a comment, share, and/or if you’re so inclined, become a paid subscriber to receive exclusive paid-only posts, access to my complete archive, and invitations to the quarterly Stirred Zoom soirees where we’ll talk about what’s going on in your neck of the woods.
Cassidy, Startled - 08.06.23 (she takes after her sire, Robert Redford - so beautiful)
Two Pileated Woodpeckers, and a small plane going somewhere - 08.23.23
Two Does, Kissing in the Night, 09.06.23 (ignore the incorrect year on the video - this is an error with the setting on the trail camera)
Buck Rogers, Curiously Sniffing the Trail Camera
I’m new to this idea of micro-seasons, their origins, inspired identities, and how they came to be so if anyone has more information on or insight into this, please leave a comment and educate me. In the meantime, enjoy this week’s micro-season, whatever it is, wherever you are…