In Which I Question The Adequacy Of Our Seasons


I don’t mean to suggest we don’t have bigger problems. Also I agree we have smaller problems. The medium-size problem I’m looking at here is: do we have enough seasons? I mean in the year. I mean weather seasons. I know we’ve got all sorts of sports seasons, like baseball and football and preseason baseball and basketball and postseason baseball and hockey playoffs. I mean seasons like spring and summer and stuff. We’ve got four of them, and been trusting that to cover the whole year, and I’m just asking if that’s enough to cover the year as we’ve got it these days.

Take spring, for example. We know it as a time for spring cleaning, which we get around to once we’ve run out of other things to do in spring. And yet for all that cleaning, we never get around to anything else with spring. We never set aside a season for spring curating, for setting our springs out in a thoughtful manner that lets us appreciate them. Or just see their development. Maybe come to understand how new spring technologies have come and changed the way things spring. This paragraph belongs in a different essay written on the same starting point, and doesn’t fit the mood of the one I’m writing at all. But I like it as it is, and so I’m sticking with it. You can go ahead and imagine the essay that goes off in this paragraph’s direction.

The big old blocky names for seasons works fine for some period during them. But when they get a little changing the categories break down. Like, right now we in lower Michigan are in early autumn, or fall, depending on whether you’re east of US 127. That is, we’re in the time of year where it’s autumn, or fall, between 9 pm and 10 am every day, but then it’s summer between 10 am and 2 pm, and again from 5 to 7 pm. Between 7 and 9 pm it’s free pick, the days alternately sunny or ice-monsoon. There is no weather between 3 and 5 pm, as that’s too late in the day to finish anything before rush hour.

The period lasts a while and it’s not fair to call that ‘autumn’ because so much of it is not. All it really has to call it autumn is that we buy more cider than we’ll have time to drink. It’s not like late October, which is some of the most autumn-nest weather you’ll find. That’s when the sun emerging from the clouds somehow makes your skin feel colder. We handle that by around the 24th of October putting the sun behind a cloud, from which it doesn’t emerge until March. Which is another seasonally-elusive time of year, when the cloud-covered sky feels warm on your face, but touching the ground causes a sleeve of ice to run up your boots and cover your legs.

Granting these kinds of periods have enough identity we need to give them names, what names? The early one in the year seems easy enough, since we could go with ‘sprinter’ or ‘wing’, depending on what fits the sentence. The one this time of year is tougher to make the syllables match. ‘Sumtumn’ sounds like the year is a fat baby we’re teasing, and maybe some years are like that but I’m through with teasing 2020 for anything ever.

And I know giving these parts of the year names are going to inspire other problems. Like, there’ll be a part of the year that’s not really summer yet but still not sumtumn. What do we call that, summer-sumtumn? Keep this up and we’re going to end up with seasons given names like summer-sumtumn-summer by half-winter, or something. I didn’t mean ‘something’ as a season name, but maybe that’s where we’ll end up.

You know maybe I should have written that other essay instead, the one where I come up with like four zany seasons of doing mildly quirky behavior. Too late to rewrite it now. All I can do is think back about it during the season of regrets, which is all of them.

The Most Wonderful Thing I’ve Seen About Equinoxes All Year


So I think I had the question everyone has about equinoxes, which is, how does the fact that the solar year is just about 365 days and six hours affect on which date the equinox happens? So this brought me to the web page about it on Calendarpedia (“Your source for calendars”, which is definitely marketing to me). And of course I’m glad to know that my guess about how leap days affected the equinoxes basically panned out. But more, the page offered this chart:

Table showing the dates of the Fall Equinox from 2014 through 2024, along with the number of days away it is. Disclaimer at the bottom of the chart: Data provided 'as is' without warranty
Table provided by Calendarpedia’s “When Is The Fall Equinox?” page. They also provide a chart of the equinoxes and the days of the week.

And I am sitting and thinking about its disclaimer, data provided `as is’ without warranty. Where would I go if I needed a projected fall equinox date with warranty? If I had the warranty and fall didn’t arrive on that date, who would I send the unused portion of the season to, and what kind of form would I fill out?

Oh Yes, Something Remarkable About Summer


OK, so here’s something I should have mentioned last week. You know how they talk about the solstice being the official start of summer? This is as opposed to the unofficial start of summer, which is when you have the first argument about whether to put the window air conditioner in the bedroom. (People with central air never unofficially start summer. They just live in a year-round haze of air that smells like the inside of a regional claims-adjustment facility.) OK, but did you know which office is in charge of starting summer? I bet you figured it was the National Weather Service, or at least someone in the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Maybe NASA. Possibly someone affiliated with the Census. But you’d figured wrong! Bet you didn’t see the paragraph taking that turn, did you?

The responsible agency (in the United States) is the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, a part of the Federal Communications Commission whose purpose is to provide for emergency communications networks using registered volunteer ham radio operators. “And what the heck,” Congress said, when drafting the enabling legislation for the service. “They can set the start of summer, too.” Mind, they haven’t spent a great deal of time working on the start-of-summer problem. They set the official start during a 1954 meeting, and haven’t revisited the decision yet. Now and then someone suggests revisiting it, but then everybody gets to arguing about ham radio equipment, keeping them out of trouble. Other countries have different offices, and thus, different seasons. Great Britain, for example, has summer officially set by the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, and they’ve chosen their start of summer as “eight days after the last American tourists give up and leave”.

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that ICE is a criminal organization that should be disbanded and all its members jailed. Enjoy the summer, where applicable!

Some Astounding Facts About Summer


  • The mean time from the summer solstice to autumn equinox is nearly a day longer than the mean time from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, and both are three days longer than the mean time from the autumn equinox to the winter solstice, and that’s nearly a full day longer than the time from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox. And what the flipping heck, Earth’s orbit? What are you doing with stuff like that? How can it be longer from spring to summer than from summer to fall? Longer from spring to fall than from fall to spring? Does this work in the southern hemisphere too? I’m getting dizzy thinking about this and I have to go lie down a while now.
  • The only common word in the English language that ends in s-e-d-e is “supersede” There are eighteen imaginary English words that do, too, among the most popular of which are “blockosede”, “snorsede”, “fluorosede”, and “logosede”. This has nothing to do with summer but I’m still working on that whole length-of-the-seasons thing. I feel like I must have written that astounding fact down wrong.
  • The sun appears to rise higher and higher in the sky until the summer solstice, which is triggered by the sun’s ever-greater fear of heights. Then it start sneaking down again until the winter solstice. That happens when the sun is as low in the sky as it can get without triggering its fear of heightlessness. “Wait, you’re being irrational,” the Sun’s friends tell it. “You get way lower than that around sunrise and sunset.” This causes the Sun to glare at its friends and insist they aren’t even trying to understand.
  • No, no, I went back and checked the book and that’s what it said about the lengths of the seasons. I just … sheesh, I don’t know, you know?
  • In the original Star Trek series episode And The Children Shall Lead, someone says “chocolate wobble and pistachio” and not a single person knows what exactly that’s supposed to mean. From context it’s got to be some kind of dessert but what’s a dessert wobble besides some joke about tripping when you’re carrying your turtle brownie over to the table?
  • Because of the differences between land distribution in the northern and the southern hemispheres … yes, yes, I know that thing above didn’t have anything to do with summer. I just needed to fill in something while getting another reference on this lengths-of-the-seasons thing. Look, they were talking about ice cream in that Star Trek episode, that’s mostly a summer thing, right? I mean apart from the peppermint ice cream we only get at Christmas because it feels so Christmas-y. That’s got to be the opposite for the southern hemisphere, right? Where summer-to-fall is shorter in Australia than winter-to-spring is? It couldn’t work any other way, right?
  • Although the solstice is the longest day of the year, the latest sunset may happen some other day, including in early July or even the middle of February, owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the analemma of time and what your latitude happens to be and oh this is even more crazypants than the length-of-seasons thing and I can just not right now.
  • Ah, right, here we go. The Ancient Athenians tried to start their new year with the summer solstice. They also tried to start their months with the New Moon. So there was this nasty stretch near the start of any year where they were trying to get the moon to hurry up to new-ness, or fall back to its last new state. Given the state of cosmological engineering at the time all they could do is try to toss people up and get them to push the moon in its orbit some. This resulted in lots of Ancient Athenians being tossed from the top of a really tall hill and plummeting right back down. (Don’t worry about them. They were much younger Ancients in those days, and could take it.) The year started as it was figuring to anyway. There’s a lesson in this but once again, heck if I know what it is.
  • No, no, the book still says that stuff about the season lengths. I don’t know.

Local Architecture Critic Derides Seasons, Nature


I’m sorry to get to this late, but other stuff kept coming up. Remember the architecture critic for the local alt-weekly? The one who took his mandate to ridicule shabby and run-down buildings around town as a chance to explain how ugh but the vertically oriented windows do not work with the lines of the house? He’s still at it.

In a recent issue he named the Eyesore of the Week — “our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing” — to be Power Lines and Trees, found “everywhere”. He says:

With autumn in full flush, one’s eyes are naturally drawn upward to enjoy the resplendent colors of the season. Unfortunately, that view is diminished when the bright colors are pruned away to allow for the unrestricted distribution of utility lines.

So my headline here is a bit unfair since he isn’t actually decrying the natural progression of seasons. He’s more protesting that we have power lines. To be fair, the city was hit badly by an ice storm two winters ago that knocked out power for a lot of the area. Some homes were without electricity for up to 23 months and reverted, Flintstones style, to having their cell phones charged by trained pterodactyls on bicycles hooked up to generators. And underground power lines would have a harder time being knocked out by ice storms and falling branches. And then we wouldn’t have to trim branches so as to better knock out power lines during ice storms.

Anyway, the cover story of last week’s issue was Art Infusion: Public Art Is Popping Up Around Lansing, But Where Is It Coming From? The question suggests that city officials just patrol the streets each day, and occasionally run across some bright-orange pile of twisted metal girders, and phone the main office to report, “Yeah, looks like we got some new public art on Eight Street. No, don’t think it’s actively threatening. I did hear a rumor of a Dali-esque melted-clock installation at Cedar and Kalamazoo, going to check that next.”