One of my daughter's favorite books is about a mouse named Frederick who makes up poems to entertain his family through a long, cold winter. Many bedtimes I've read the last of Frederick's poems, which celebrates "four little mice who live in the sky."
One is the Springmouse, who turns on the showers.
Then comes the Summer who paints in the flowers.
The Fallmouse is next with walnuts and wheat
And Winter is last... with little cold feet.
Aren't we lucky the seasons are four?
Think of a year with one less... or one more!
It might be hard for Frederick (and us) to imagine a year with more or less seasons, but maybe it shouldn't be. According to fun recent Twitter thread from science writer Ferris Jabr, across the world cultures divide the year and its changing weather very differently, divvying it up into six, 24 seasons or even 72 seasons (hat tip Kottke).
Imagine a year with 72 (or 3) seasons
Those who are truly impatient with seemingly endless winter, for instance, should consider ancient Japan. There you definitely wouldn't complain the seasons were too long.
In ancient Japan the year was divided into 24 seasonal stages and 72 microseasons, each lasting a few days, with names like, "mist starts to linger," "wild geese fly north," "first lotus blossoms," and "deer shed antlers" pic.twitter.com/g7doEBp0O9-- Ferris Jabr (@ferrisjabr) November 14, 2019
If dozens of seasons overwhelm you there are plenty of alternatives. In Cree culture, native to northern parts of the U.S. and Canada, the year was divided up into six seasons: spring/ice break-up, late spring, summer, fall, ice freeze-up, and winter. Similarly, the Hindu calendar recognizes six seasons. Speakers of the Australian aboriginal language group Gulumoerrgin have seven seasons, including "big wind time" and "heavy dew time."
Or, if you tend towards the minimalist, you can follow in the footsteps of the ancient Egyptians who had just three seasons, all dictated by the flow of the Nile. The Thai also divide the year into three.
You don't even have to venture to different cultures to find different ways of dividing up the year. Author Kurt Vonnegut insisted there were actually six seasons in Vermont, Kottke points out. "November and December aren't winter. They're Locking," Vonnegut claimed. Then, after the true winter of January and February, comes "unlocking" in March and April. (When I was a kid in upstate New York we called this "mud season.")
Finally, there is the holistic, earth-scale view of the seasonal ebb and flow, which Jabr captures beautifully with this tweet.
There's another way to think of seasons: holistically. If we zoom way out, we can see certain global rhythms: the ebb and flow of light; the bloom and wither of plants; the expansion and retreat of ice. Earth has a million seasons, or just one, depending on your perspective. pic.twitter.com/N5qvs8nS60-- Ferris Jabr (@ferrisjabr) November 14, 2019
If you're a word nerd like me, you need no justification for reading all this. The novelty of new words is reward in itself. But for the less language obsessed there are more practical reasons to spend a second, like Frederick and his family, pondering a year with more or less seasons.
First, as the Norwegians can testify, how you think about a season affects how you experience it. They have lower rates of seasonal depression despite their harsh winters because their culture focuses on the cozy, fun aspects of snow rather than the discomfort and limitations. Maybe by thinking about December as "locking" or in Kottke's formulation "stick season," you'll appreciate it with fresh eyes.
Second, science tells us that the more words we know, the more accurately we can model the world in our minds, which helps us better regulate our emotions and responses. A bigger vocabulary isn't just about showing off or acing the SAT. It's about having more ideas on hand to play and work with. That's as true for weather as it is for emotions.
So next time winter is starting to get you down, try for a second to reconceive the seasons for your part of the world. Are there better ways to divide up the year? Better names to capture each season's character? Perhaps by noticing more closely, you'll appreciate even the less obviously pleasant periods a bit more.