the seasons down under
I've been thinking how arbitrary the traditional seasons are. It's neat, and we're used to dividing the year into four even parts of three months each. The seasons come from the solstices and the movement of the earth round the sun, but these four seasons don't necessarily correspond to what is happening on earth in any given place.
The Australian Aborigines have five or six seasons, the details of which vary according to their geographic location. As traditional hunter gatherers, their understanding of seasonal changes in the environment were vital to their survival. For example, they needed to know when berries ripen, when eels are around, and when they had to move to another place because of heat or cold. Their depiction of the seasons reflected their lived experience.
Tim Entwhistle, Director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, argues for a new schema for the seasons for Australia. He sees the traditional 4 seasons as a carryover from Australia's colonial past. He proposes five seasons that reflect the actual growing times for plants, and the seasonal activities of wildlife. It applies to the southern and eastern parts of Australia, because the climate of the continent of Australia is so varied.
Summer isn't 3 months, Tim argues. It's longer, more like 4 months. Autumn and winter are shorter in reality, barely 2 months each. In Australia spring starts earlier than it's supposed to, a month earlier, and is replaced by sprinter and sprummer, 2 months each, in between winter and summer.
Sprinter is the time of renewal in the natural world, when we see lots of flowers and wattles reach their peak. The start of sprummer is cool, but it gradually warms up as summer approaches. Summer is the hot time of the year but still the flowering season for popular garden plants like crepe myrtles and camellias. Snakes, flies and mosquitoes thrive in the heat. Autumn sees lower temperatures and shorter days, with the appearance of fungi, spiders laying their eggs and deciduous trees losing their leaves. Winter isn't as cold as northern Europe or the north of North America, but it's cold, and it's when biological changes are going on inside plants that will show up later in sprinter or sprummer. Some Australian plants flower in winter: banksias, greenhood orchids, correas and others.
Weather and climate are complex, and the seasons cannot be used to predict exact environmental conditions. But if the seasons are a better match to conditions on the ground, maybe we can use them for tracking changes in the environment as the climate changes over time.
I'm writing this towards the end of July - end of winter and beginning of sprinter. This makes sense to me. In the garden I notice lots of new growth, tiny self seeded parsley plants, lots of borage springing up but no flowers yet, a few buds here and there, my only deciduous tree (Crabapple) still without leaves but you can see tiny red spots that will grow into buds then flowers then fruit. But it is still cold and the days are still short. I had to stop gardening and come inside at 5.30 today because it was so dark I couldn't see any more.
|Hellebores infested by aphids|
PS A friend just sent me this picture from The Sunday Age, a Melbourne newspaper, published way back in 1995. It's slightly different to Tim's schema, but is the same kind of idea.