Timeless Observations of the Sun and the Season from Americans Henry Beston and Charles Burchfield

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the sun shines through a frosty forestAfter what Charles Kingsley just gave us, would it harm to tarry on the phenomena of nature–and our responses to them–just a little more? In 1927, while living in a two-room house on Cape Cod, recent Harvard graduate Henry Beston would muse that

A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimage of the sun.

That “pilgrimage of the sun” is followed, as he said, more closely by some than by others. In A Hat Full of Sky (2004), British author Terry Pratchett would observe, breezily wresting a bit of imagination from the mundane, “The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it.” A writer as brilliant as Alexandre Dumas could not have put it better. In February 1946 artist Charles Burchfield wrote in his journal,

The other day, starting with December 21, and working in opposite directions in time, I placed opposite each other the corresponding dates in their distance from the solstice. Thus today is equivalent in the slant of the sun’s rays to November 2–and yet, what a different quality to the sunlight; now it is powerful, waxing and expanding, and in November it is fading, and waning. It cannot be just a state of mind. I am sure that if after a period of oblivion, I should suddenly be set down on a sunny day in February ( even if there were no snow) I would know what season it was.

a wide view over a winter landscape with low-lying fog but the sun shining brightly from a clear sky aboveIn 1952 he wrote in his journal to lament even then what so many Americans missed and neglected:

The great difficulty of my whole career as a painter is that what I love most (i. e. weather, change of seasons) not only holds little of interest for most people, but in many of its phases is downright disagreeable, and not even to be mentioned! I love the approach of winter, the retreat of winter, the change from snow to rain and vice-versa; the decay of vegetation; and the resurgence of plant life in the spring–These to me are exciting and beautiful, an endless panorama of beauty and drama.

Let me then pose a question pertinent to February: do you, as Burchfield put it, “love the approach of winter, the retreat of winter, the change from snow to rain and vice-versa” . . . ? For another “panorama of beauty and drama,” hear how the winds of the seasons blew according to Hermann Zilcher in 1939.

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