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. Read more

Feel the Chill with Charles Kingsley’s Ode To The Northeast Wind

snowy sprucesIt is rare to encounter verse that places winter storms in a positive context, isn’t it?

Around 1900, the international writer Lafcadio Hearn gave lectures on English literature and poetry at the University of Tokyo, and I can think of no better introduction to this author and poem than the one he gave. Read more

French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

Get Affirmative and Transformational Results When You Consider the Social and Psychological Side of Gardening

a tray of seedlings showing sprouts just about an inch high

Here are two stories about fitting in, standing out, and being yourself, one from Scotland and one from Wales. Both stories align with this adage from Bernard Baruch that I hope you know already:

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

Then there’s this query from author and speaker Ian Wallace:

“Why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Coming from Scotland, Tom Smart makes some really fine points about gardening and the pleasure of being outdoors. He describes a recent conversation with a person who complained about cutting his lawn Read more

Sound of the Season: Music for a February Sky

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a painting of a city street lined with trees called Night in February (1901) by Charles Conner
Night in February (1901)
Charles Conner

In England, there’s a group of contrarians who oppose “blue-sky thinking” by helping people appreciate the beauty of clouds, which makes you realize a curious aspect of our language. Although we commonly use the term “landscape,” we only rarely encounter the term “cloudscape.” Yet we look up all the time, and gardeners in particular often look skyward and spend time thinking about what kind of weather will come. And all this means Read more