Living in Season
The official newsletter of School of the Seasons
February 6, 2008
My Season: New Year Pledge
Cool Link: Messages from the Universe
Living in Season: Practice Phenology
New Year Gifts:
- French Republican Wall Calendar
- Natural Planning Journal (email)
- Eostre Holiday Packet
- Slow Time Book: Second Chapter
Signs of Spring
Subscribe - Unsubscribe
Welcome to my semi-monthly newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life.
Please forward this newsletter if you enjoy it. If a friend sent you this newsletter, welcome! You can subscribe for free at my website:
We never rent, sell or give away subscriber information.
The February sunshine steeps your boughs
and tints the buds
and swells the leaves within.
William C. Bryant
My Season: Starting the New Year
I always feel February 1 is the true start of the new year. I had the joy, besides attending a lovely Brigid ritual complete with a fire and water from St Brigid’s well, of smelling the first scent of spring on February 1, this year. A sweet box was blooming near the front steps of the house where we met.
Last night I got together with friends to make my annual New Year’s college illustrating my themes for the year ahead. I also make a pledge every year. One year I pledged to take one day a week as a Sabbath. On that day I was only permitted to do things I wanted (no obligations, work commitments or dutiful tasks). Another year I wrote a haiku every day.
This year my intention is to write an essay a month about getting to know the flowers in my urban neighborhood. Besides making my commitment public, by sharing it with you, I’m also going to write about it at my blog. Each month I will announce and focus on a different topic. In March, I’ll be learning how to identify flowers, in April how to draw them. I’m really looking forward to June when I’ll drink flowers (dandelion wine, elderflower cocktails and chrysanthemum tea) and September, when I want to learn how to make perfume.
For the month of February, I will be writing about phenology, that is the science of tracking changes in the natural world (see article below). I’m already noticing the swelling of cherry buds (they are like unpopped popcorn, just displaying a thin seam of pink at this point) and the green shoots of daffodils are about two to three inches tall (I’ll have to measure them more exactly, I think, to be a phenologist).
May new growth appear in your life this spring,
Messages from the Universe
All this past year, I’ve been enjoying daily messages from the Universe. My favorite is this one: “Oh boy, Waverly, are you ever going to laugh when you find out your were perfect all along…. The Universe.” But everyone is a gem. Some make me cry. Most make me laugh. Almost all make me hum with pleasure.
Try it yourself. It’s absolutely free. Sign up at: www.tut.com
Living in Season: Practice Phenology
(This is a reprint from January 2004, with some new comments)
For years, I've been inviting visitors to my web site to submit signs of the season without realizing that I was encouraging you to practice phenology. That's the science of tracking seasonal changes.
Phenologists note and record the date of unique seasonal events: first snow that stays on the ground, ice breaking upon a lake, sightings of migratory birds, the appearance of buds and then blooms on particular plants. Birders have lifetime lists of bird sighted. Phenologists maintain charts showing the dates of the same events, year after year, so they can identify patterns and say things like "the lilacs are blooming two weeks earlier this year."
Gardeners, of course, have been phenologists for centuries, carefully noting dates of first and last frost and that particular moment in early spring when a piece of dirt pried from the ground retains its shape when squeezed in the hand, indicating that the soil is ready for planting.
The trickiest part of being a phenologist is figuring out what's a unique sign of the season. For instance, I have a theory that the squirrels in my neighborhood are more active in autumn but if I simply record the number of squirrels seen per day I might only be capturing the positive effects of temperature or the results of a squirrel population explosion.
Here are some unique markers that phenologists have studied: First leaf, first bloom, ripe berries, first appearance of insects, birds, and frogspawn, and first cutting of lawns. Autumn markers for trees include first tint, full tint, leaf fall and bare. To help people making these observations, phenologists have created specific descriptions of these events, for instance, first leaf is defined as the date when the widest part of the newly emerging leaf has grown beyond the ends of its opening winter bud scales. First bloom (for most flowers) occurs when the petals are open enough so you can see the stamens. Berries are ripe when they are soft to the touch or beginning to drop.
Because of the wealth of natural phenomena, phenologists often focus on a particular place, which reminds me of the first assignment given in most wilderness awareness programs, where you're asked to locate a "secret spot," a place where you can sit quietly in nature for at least 15 minutes a day to watch what unfolds around you.
I decided to focus on my city block since I walk around it at least once a day with Pepe the Chihuahua (my daughter’s dog). I purchased a permanent Book of Days and started marking down my observations. My first observation in every year usually occurs on the day I first smell the first scent of spring. It’s a particular fragrance that I noted for years before I finally identified it, in 2004, as the flower of sarcococcus humilis, or sweet box. Since then I’ve caught my first whiff of the scent of spring on January 22nd in both 2004 and 2007, while it was January 30 in 2006 and February 1 this year.
As an easy way to incorporate phenology into your routine, you might simply note observations in your daily planner. It would be fun at the end of the year to find among your appointments, phone numbers and to-do lists, a note that says "ripe berries on the rowan tree." Since I started recording natural markers, I’ve noticed that June is prime time for the baby crows to leave their nests. Every June I record incidents of dive-bombing parents, young birds hunched over in inappropriate places (like on the railing of my balcony or the roof of a parked car) and much raucous crowing by parents trying to coax them into moving out of danger.
Phenology has many benefits, besides the simple pleasure of living more closely attuned to the natural world. Phenologists in Great Britain can demonstrate that spring is arriving earlier every year, probably the effect of global warming. Last year’s spring was one of the earliest on record.
Phenology helps birders, farmers, gardeners and others by correlating natural events. Farmers know to plant peas when the daffodils bloom or corn when the apple blossoms fall. Gregory Scott in his article on phenology, says morel mushroom hunters in north central Wisconsin know when developing oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, they'll be able to find morels.
"Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their responses to the sun, phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land's inner workings."
- Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945 (1947)
On the Web: Phenology Links
A phenology network in Great Britain coordinated by the Woodland Trust and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology which encourages readers in the British Isles to sign up as recorders and send in their observations. The "live" maps show the pattern of current sightings. I notice that no snowdrops have bloomed as of 2/5/2008 while last year the first snowdrop appeared on January 18, 2007 in Wales. I guess, according to a true definition of bloom, my snowdrops have not yet bloomed either, since you can’t see the stamens of the flowers.
A fabulous list of links compiled by Steve Diver for the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, including links to regional lists of plants in bloom, appearance of insects and birds, plus a link to all the other resources I've listed, including activities for kids and articles, columns and radio shows.
Scott, Gregory, "A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven," originally published April 1995, in Wisconsin Natural Resources
A wonderful article about the records kept since the 11th century of the blossoming of cherry trees in Kyoto and how they helped scientists chart average temperatures, plus a charming sidebar on one family’s personal relationship to the blossoming of the cherry trees. The range of flowering has shifted over the centuries and ranges from late March to early May.
For more on cherry blossoms and festivals, read the comprehensive article on cherry blossoms at the World Kigo (Kigo are the seasonal words that appear in traditional Japanese haiku poems) web site:
A project which collects information on the first leaves and blossoms of over 58 plant species. You can print a plant list for your area and submit your data. I will contribute this year.
New Years Gifts from School of the Seasons
Though I spent a lot of time exploring options, I just wasn't able to pull off the Calendar Companion Weekly Journal. Sorry. I hope to find a publisher who will do it for me so I can provide it next year. But I am very happy with the two items I did create: the French Republican wall calendar and the Natural Planner.
French Republican Wall Calendar
Last chance to order this beautiful wall calendar. The first thing everyone notices are the incredible photographs by Christine Valters Paintner, which illustrate the themes of the French months (right now we’re in Pluviose (rainy)). You can see how gorgeous it is by looking at these sample pages:
The new system developed by the French Revolutionaries in 1792 assigned an item to each day of the new 30 day months. Every fifth day has an animal, every tenth day a tool, and the days in between are usually plants, but sometimes minerals. These are surprisingly seasonal and applicable two centuries later. I enjoy the scavenger hunt aspect of looking for these items in my daily life or meditating on their importance to me.
There's both a print version (which costs $16) and a download version (for $10) which you can order through our Store.
Living in Season Natural Planning Journal
For 2008, I'm launching a new email service that I'm calling the Living in Season Natural Planning Journal. This will be a way of formulating themes and goals for each season and moon cycle and using those natural rhythms (and the balance between action and rest they offer) to accomplish your dreams.
The service will include four weeks of preparatory assignments via email in January, to help you identify your themes and goals for the new year. (Those of you who start your new year in a different season, can do this at any time.) For the rest of the year, email messages will arrive shortly before each new season and new moon, suggesting possible themes for the season or lunation, and reminding you of your intentions at the start of the year. You will have the option of posting your responses to a list-serve, if you would like to share the experience with others.
Sign up for a full year for only $120 ($10 a month). You can also sign up in modules. Each season will be $40. The introductory module, "New Year Wishes," is also $40. This will be a new adventure for me and I'm looking forward to seeing how it works.
You can order it through our Store.
Eostre/Easter/Spring Equinox Holiday Packet
It's time to order the Eostre packet if you want to receive it in time to celebrate the joyous mid-spring feast also known as Norooz, St. Joseph's Day or Spring Equinox. Easter is very early this year (just a few days after the equinox) but Passover (also included) is April 20.
This illustrated portfolio contains 50 pages of ideas for celebrating including how to:
Make tansy pies, hot cross buns and other traditional Eostre foods
- Decorate eggs the Ukrainian way, using symbol and ritual
- Use food items and plants to create natural dyes
- Play traditional games like cracking eggs, egg rolling and pace egging
- And much more.
I've reproduced the pages on the sacred meaning of dyed eggs, and on my Ukrainian egg decorating ritual from the Eostre packet as free samples on the website. You can download them at:
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.
Slow Time Book: Second Chapter
My new Slow Time book is a great gift for yourself or someone you know who’s already wishing for more time in the year ahead. It provides twelve weeks of ideas plus gentle exercises for working with different intervals of time from the moment through the lifetime. To see the book, read an excerpt or order a copy, go to:
If you’re willing to take this process slowly, you can download a chapter of the book every month from the website. By the end of the year you will have the complete book. The second chapter which explains the key differences between natural time and artificial time is now up at this link:
Signs of Spring
I was premature in announcing the signs of spring last newsletter. We are still getting occasional snow showers, icy hail and cold winds here in Seattle, but nevertheless the plants are responding to the increasing light. The white bells of snowdrops are unfurling and the green shoots of daffodils are poking out of the ground. I love best the imperceptible blush of color that appears in the twiggy branches of the trees and the way the buds begin to swell.
What’s happening where you live? Do you see any signs of spring yet?
Where ever you live, send me your signs of the season and I will post them on the website at Signs of the Season. If you no longer wish to receive these emails, or you wish to update your profile, please click below.
Copyright © Waverly Fitzgerald 2008
All rights reserved. You may reprint material from
Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as
long as you credit me and provide a link to:
Please send me a copy of the publication.
Getting On and Off the List
To subscribe, fill out the form on this page:
To make sure you get the next issue of our newsletter, please add the email address firstname.lastname@example.org to your address book.
If you no longer wish to receive these emails, or you wish to update your profile, please click below.