Recently, I went on a vacation to the US Virgin Islands. When I left Paradele, it was early spring, so it still felt like late winter. On the island it was summer. When I returned home, I wondered how my body and mind must have reacted to this leap ahead and back in seasons.

People who spend a great deal of time outdoors become “outdoor acclimatized.” These persons are affected less by heat or cold extremes because their bodies have adjusted to the outdoor environments. Acclimatization usually occurs over a period of about two weeks in healthy, normal persons

On the winter side of things, similar to other animals, the human body naturally transforms to undergo an insulin-resistant state. This aids our system to be more fuel-efficient and optimally perform for extended periods of time with a small amount of food. This is a natural occurrence during seasonal changes in all vertebrates. This survival mechanism has been going on for almost 400 million years of evolution. It’s clear how important it is to regulate our metabolism. When seasons change, our brain sends signals to our body to increase its insulin resistance. Our liver can boost fat production, and our adipose and non-adipose tissues can store fat to prepare for winter.

The command-and-control area of the brain is located deep in the spot between our eyebrows, close to the hypothalamus. This low brain area, which maintains the hypothalamic dopamine activity, is vital for maintaining the insulin-resistance state. It may sound weird, but a decreased level of dopamine activity has also been discovered to be associated with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. For certain people, this annual cycle of insulin resistance turns back to an insulin-sensitive state usually during late winter and early spring to prepare for the summer season and the abundance of food.

And what about our brain’s reactions? Scientists have long believed the brain is vulnerable to seasonal shifts. For instance, headaches are more frequent in the fall and spring, mental health may decline during winter, and some symptoms of brain diseases such as multiple sclerosis vary with the seasons. If a change of season affects your mood, you may also experience a loss of appetite, low motivation, and a change in sleeping patterns.

It is believed that less sunlight can affect the production of serotonin and melatonin in some people, which can cause difficulties with sleep and mood [Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD]. Serotonin production depends on daylight. Melatonin (for sleep) is triggered by the darkening of the day into night but the process actually starts its cycle when you wake p and encounter daylight. Negative shifts in production usually occur when you move into autumn and winter and spend less time outdoors and in sunlight. Of course, that’s not the case for people who live in St. John kinds of tropical climates, or for people who are outdoors during the day in the colder months anyway. Though those people may not be exposing much skin to sunlight, it often affects us through the eyes.

The longer spring and summer days allow more endorphin, testosterone, and estrogen to be released.  It has been suggested that this seasonal readjustment of hormones stresses our bodies and we react with a feeling of tiredness.

My reading on all this seems to indicate that it takes about two weeks for the brain and body to adjust. My ten days of summer on the island weren’t enough to go into summer mode, but it must have had an effect on me. And then the return to cold weather must have flipped the switch back.

I never feel affected by the setting back or forward of clocks as happens to some people. I do feel drawn to water in spring and summer. Are you feeling any spring fever this week? How about cabin fever?

We had some summer weather for a week this April in Paradelle. temperatures in the high 80s. People out in short pants and T-shirts. People sitting outside at cafes. Then the following week, it was back to the low 40s. This weekend, I had to pull in my flats of seedlings because at night it was in the low 30s.

Oh, my poor brain and body. What are these seasons doing to you?

Not Measuring the Days, Weeks, Months and Years

This year I got one of those birthday cards that has a little almanac of things that happened the year you were born. It’s a silly thing to read since I don’t recall any of those things. R.E.M. (not the band) was discovered. That totally went past me in my crib. The U.S. and North Korea signed an armistice ending the Korean War. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain was crowned. I was much more interested in eating, sleeping, and pooping.

This card also told me that on that day “You have been on the planet for 25,185 days.” That is a bit overwhelming. That’s a lot of wake-ups and I don’t feel like I have accomplished enough.

I converted that to 3,588 weeks but it still sounds like I must have wasted a lot of weeks doing nothing much. For example, I basically did no writing at all during the first 260 weeks. That’s enough time to write a novel.

But I like that it was 828 months. That seems a more reasonable number. Of course, in years it is an even smaller number, but I have never been very concerned with the years. At times, I have even told someone my age in the wrong number of years (though it’s an error factor of + or – one).

Even better is thinking that I have made it through 276 seasons. Like the planet, I have tilted a bit every year. The Sun keeps seeming to move even though I know it is not really moving at all. As I started writing this, it was shining through the patio doors right on my lap. The Sun will be setting when this post is sent out into the universe. I’ll be outside cleaning up the last of the garden and turning the soil with some compost and leaves and thinking about next spring. That is 108 days away or only 15 more weeks – and just one season away.

A very nice engraving showing the Earth’s progression round the sun source

A New Season Falls into Place

September is the ninth month of the Gregorian calendar, but the month’s name is derived from septem, Latin for “seven,” which was its position in the early Roman calendar.

September is the month of the Autumnal Equinox which occurs on the 22nd at 9:03 PM. Is it always on September 22nd? In the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox falls on September 22 or 23. In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox occurs on March 20 or 21.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the equinox is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator going south. In the Southern Hemisphere, the equinox is when the Sun moves north across the celestial equator.

Today we move into autumn, also known as fall in North American English. Which word do you tend to use? The origin of “autumn” and “fall” for the season is interesting. Did you know that at one time (and still in some places) the season is called “Harvest?”

This transitional period from summer to winter is when (unless you’re in the tropics) daylight becomes noticeably shorter and the temperature cools considerably. This is best known as the time when the leaves of deciduous trees change colors as they prepare to shed. Early predictions for Paradelle here in the northeast is that a lack of rain this summer will mean a less-than-spectacular color foliage show.

Temperatures now seem to switch between summer heat and winter chills, but that is true only in middle and high latitudes. In equatorial regions, temperatures generally vary little during the year, and in polar regions, autumn is very short.

Celebrating the Solstice and Endless Summer


As a year ends, we often look back on what we have experienced. That review may bring to mind what we have accomplished and good memories. It may include regrets, things undone, and things we wish we could forget.

In this month’s writing prompt at my Poets Online e-zine, I noted an old poem (1784), “New Year’s Verses” by Philip Freneau, in which he blesses the calendar maker who came up with the idea of a year.

Blest be the man who early prov’d
And first contriv’d to make it clear
That Time upon a dial mov’d,
And trac’d that circle call’d a year;

Do you bless or curse the coming of winter?

December is filled with holidays that mark the Winter Solstice and the end of the year. That solstice is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the shortest day of the year. But you only have to move south of the equator for it to be the start of spring. and winter won’t arrive there until June.

In my brief youthful surfer days, the film The Endless Summer was a cult classic documentary. In 1966, I had that day-glo poster on the wall at the foot of my bed and stared at it every day. The surfers in the film were in search of the “perfect wave” but what interested me more is that their travels showed that you could follow summer around the globe. It could always be summer if you moved from hemisphere to hemisphere.

That was a few years after I had figured out the chords to The Beatles’ “I’ll Follow the Sun” which in my mind was saying the same thing. I didn’t keep surfing and never really progressed very far on the guitar and never did get to follow the Sun. I suppose it became more of a metaphor than a reality. Follow your bliss. Head for the positive.

Though some of us in the North might be sad to see summer and autumn ending and winter starting since ancient times astronomical winter and the solstice was a joyous celebration. After the solstice, the days get longer building daylight hours until the vernal equinox and the start of spring.

Societies globally have held festivals and ceremonies marking winter solstice which was seen as the day of the Sun’s rebirth. Symbolically, fire or light is often a component. Other symbols include things representing life and death, the rising Sun, and the Moon.

A good example is Yule which was a celebration of the ancient Norsemen of Scandinavia and it ran from the solstice through January. You might know about Large Yule logs which were set on fire at one end.  More modern and tamer versions have taper candles inserted into a smaller log and decorated with evergreen clippings, holly, mistletoe, or ivy.

log burning

Bonfires also figure into many ceremonies in order to encourage the sun’s return. There is a large fire traditionally burning on Mount Fuji each year.

Hanukkah is another happy celebration that features light via the fire of candles or oil lamps.

In the Hopi tradition of Soyal, the Sun Chief takes on the role of announcing the setting of the sun, after which an all-night ceremony begins with the kindling of fires and dancing.

The Winter Solstice arrives on the 21st mid-afternoon here in Paradelle.  If that isn’t appealing, head south and enjoy summer’s arrival.

The winter solstice (also called the hiemal solstice or hibernal solstice) occurs when either of Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. This happens twice yearly, once in each hemisphere. For that hemisphere, the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. If you are at the North Pole on the 21st, you’ll experience continuous darkness or twilight.

I don’t love winter, but I have lived with it all my life. The four seasons are strong reminders of cycles – birth, maturity, aging, death, rebirth. There is something about losing summer that makes its return all the more miraculous to me.

As the Sun Crosses the Equator This Afternoon…

the autumn equinox officially occurs. It happens in 20 minutes at 3:20 PM ET here in Paradelle. Of course, we won’t notice anything happening at 3:20 PM or earlier or later in the day. Unlike this week’s Full Moon which you can see, you don’t see the equinoxes or solstices. Actually, you often don’t even feel them. The weather here feels very summerish this week and I’m glad, even though autumn is my favorite season.

As usual, my post is Northern Hemisphere-centeric. Today those in the Southern Hemisphere are moving out of winter and into spring.

Astronomers tell us that the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect now as the Sun crosses the equator. That event pushes us into two seasons. Solstices initiate the other two.

Celtic year
Image by Witchgarden from Pixabay

Summer haze cools into fall. You can celebrate the Celtic autumn equinox festival, called Mabon. It’s part of the annual sacred Celtic celebrations, which date back to ancient times. Mabon marks a time to celebrate and rest after the labors of harvest. It is a good time to finish projects and also clear out emotional and physical clutter. Doing that can bring a winter that is peaceful and restorative.

Some extended summer in the north is welcome. A warm autumn is also a good thing, as is a gradual drop in temperature as we move closer to winter. Nature colors change to the yellow/orange/gold part of the spectrum instead of the vernal green. Days are shortening and nights are lengthening.

John Keats says to autumn in his ode,
“Where are the songs of spring?
Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

The music of autumn is:

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

But I’ll be like the optimistically-incorrect bees in Keats’ poem who see late flowers and “think warm days will never cease.”

Autumn Comes But Twice a Year

autumn sunrise

Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

I suspect your calendar says autumn will arrive on September 22, but it arrived on the first of September along with some violent weather that arrived in Paradelle.

By the meteorological calendar, the first day of autumn is always  September 1 and the season ends November 30. The meteorological calendar defines the season quite cleanly as spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), autumn (September, October, November) and winter (December, January, February).

Most of us were taught that the seasons change with solstices and equinoxes.  Those are the astronomical seasons that follow the position of Earth in relation to the sun. Meteorological seasons follow the annual temperature cycle and match our Gregorian calendar.

The dates of the Equinox and Solstice aren’t fixed due to the Earth’s elliptical orbit of the Sun. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is closest (perihelion) in early January. In early July,  it is most distant (aphelion). That always seems odd to people. Closer is not warmer. Farther is not colder.

On the autumn equinox, day and night are of roughly equal length. Nights become increasingly longer than the days – something you are no doubt are already observing. The pattern reverse with the spring equinox.

So, when is it really the start of autumn? For those of us living on the top half of the Earth, I say it is with the autumn equinox when the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the Sun. That means less direct sunlight hits us so temperatures cool.

The end of summer in September – and hopefully early October – is one of my favorite times of the year.  In some years and in some places in the north, we may get what has become known as “Indian Summer” – that imaginary season that occurs when temperatures are more summer than autumn from late September to mid-November.

I love it when summer gets a second chance. Sometimes the universe doesn’t play by the rules of meteorology and astronomers.