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The Signs of the Seasons

We live in a world of air conditioned buildings, and cars, and stores, etc., etc., and to a certain extent we've become a bit removed and insensitive to the changing of the seasons. It used to be that our ancestors knew when to plant their corn and potatoes based on natural clues rather than based on a calendar date. They knew when storms were coming, when spring or fall would be early or late: they knew the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. Thankfully, that is a sensitivity that each of us can reclaim, and it is not only a useful attainment but a very rewarding process too.

So, the first thing you will need to do is turn off your virtual reality and go outside with your eyes open and your senses turned on. You will need to do this regularly, not just once. Pay attention to what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel.

  • What birds are around and what are they doing? -- Birds change their behavior as the seasons change. Are they nesting, mating, flocking, foraging, etc. Here the European starlings flock in the fall and mate and fight with each other in the spring. Flocks of starlings are a definite sign of fall.

  • What insects are around and what are they doing? -- Not all insects are around all year. Here the crickets are a really great harbinger of fall. When the crickets start singing summer is waning. We also get an influx of spiders moving into the house in the fall.

  • Which weeds are up and how are they growing? -- There are early spring weeds, spring weeds, summer weeds and fall weeds. Some weeds will grow in summer or fall but their growth habits change: lambsquarters that start growing in the fall seed out at a much shorter height than spring or summer lambsquarters.

  • How are the animals behaving? -- Our barn cats, who are generally absent for milking time during the summer, have started to show up for a daily ration of milk. One of our cows is actually pretty scared about the winter and goes through a nervous time every fall. It shows up as steppiness during milking, a different steppiness than fly irritation or needing to pee.

  • How do things sound? -- Fall air is different than summer air and carries sounds differently. Pay attention to the changes.

  • How do things smell? -- Have you ever watched how a dog scents the air? They breath in short rapid little sniffs. I wondered about that, so I tried it and I discovered that the first little bit of every breath is the one that transmits all of the scent information, the rest of the breath is just good for oxygen acquisition. Try scenting fall air and winter air and spring air and summer air. Very, very different.

  • What's the weather like? -- The weather follows seasonal patterns that you'll be able to recognize: what direction do storms come from in the winter, spring, summer and fall? What kind of storms are they? How long do they last? Etc.

  • Where is the sun? -- The sun's angle changes throughout the year. In the northern hemisphere it will rise later in the day and further south during the winter, and earlier and further north in the summer. In the winter it will be much lower in the sky all day long and much higher during the summer. We have a spot in the front room that we call the winter sun spot because it is bathed in sunshine all winter long (delightful for napping in), but the sun spot goes away in the spring and is absent all summer. We're starting to see sun in the sun spot so winter is on its way.

Ask lots of questions, notice what's happening in the world around you, pay attention throughout the seasons. As you do, you will not only be able to plant your potatoes on time regardless if the spring comes unseasonably early or late, but you will also develop a deeply satisfying connection to the natural world around you, one that will help you, heal your spirit and nurture your soul in a way that nothing else can. So, turn off your ipod on your morning run, sniff the air like a dog, and really, really experience this fall!

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