Beltaine, Li Xia (立夏)

May 5th, 2010

Today was the astronomical midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. The day has different names in different languages and cultures, but the idea remains the same – today is traditionally reckoned to be the start of summer by northern Europeans and Asians. I like the idea of beginning the four seasons on the Cross Quarter Days much more than beginning them on the solstices and equinoxes. Each season then has a noticeable progression. For example, we normally have some hot days in May, becoming more and more frequent until the beginning of July when it’s hot most every day. Then one day in mid-July I notice the sunlight seems more subdued and golden, growth in the garden has slowed, and I sense that the hot weather won’t last much longer. By mid-August there will usually be a cooler day that signals the autumn weather to come. The Japanese make great use of this concept in the structured poetry of  haiku, where they recognize 12 seasons, further dividing Spring, Summer, Winter and Autumn  into early, middle, and late.

Keith Heidorn, The Weather Doctor, makes a good by-the-numbers argument for beginning the seasons on the Cross Quarter Days:

A good second choice for seasonal markers would be the solar year as measured by length of daylight or potential daily solar energy received. Now, if I divide the year into quarters and define the quarter with the most solar light/energy as solar summer, the least solar light/energy quarter as solar winter, and two transitional quarters of springing sunlight and falling sunlight, I would find the following:

1. The midpoints of solar winter and solar summer would fall on the solstices and the midpoints of solar spring and solar autumn would fall on the equinoxes.
2. The start/end dates of these four seasons would occur about 45 days either side of the midpoints. These we will call the cross-quarter days.

Or how about a completely different calendar – one with 19 seasons? Kathy Purdy pointed out a remarkable website recently, Nature Calendar. According to that calendar, here in Virginia we must be in Iris Season. Well, I see bearded and Siberian irises and peonies blooming, but some of the other indicators are out of sync. The forest colors have been more-or-less solid green for a couple of weeks. The meadow flowers have yet to bloom. Perhaps we can’t exactly map the Northeast seasons onto the Mid-Atlantic seasons, or maybe this is just such a strange year for weather that everything is out of sync everywhere. Of course, if I kept a good nature journal, I could compare this year with previous years and be a better judge of this. (Hey, that’s a good idea for a blog!) If I needed additional inspiration to write down a few nature observations, an excellent place to start would be Your Nature Journal. Just take a look, for example, at the suggestions for getting started in the spring.

With that in mind here are a few things I noticed today.

  • I heard and saw a Northern Parula, one of the many migrating warblers.
  • The Blue-eyed Grass has started to bloom.
  • The first Red-spotted Purple butterfly of the season.
  • The first Red Admiral butterfly of the season.

Postscript: I’ve written on this topic at the beginning of autumn ( 2006, 2007, 2008)  and the beginning of spring (2007), but this is my first time commemorating the beginning of summer.

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