March 18, 2004

Springing?

A post on Chuck’s new weblog is entitled Springtime in New England.

One of the clever (but anonymous) commenters declares:

Umm… Chuck, Doesn’t spring start this saturday??

And that got me thinking about spring. And how spring pretty much starts when you want to say it starts. Is there reason to be a stickler about the seasons, and when they begin or end? The short answer is, “No.”

The Heavens

Astronomically, spring is one of 4 seasons that divide the year based on what part of its orbit the Earth is in. The actual effects observed during the seasons is governed by the tilt of the Earth, which can be assumed to be basically constant. As the Earth moves, the tilt causes the place where you live to get the Sun’s rays at varying angles.

In the winter, the angle is very shallow, so the rays become weak and the Sun appears low in the sky. A lower-in-the-sky Sun makes the days shorter because the sun spends more time below your horizon. In the summer, the Sun is high in the sky, days are longer, and the Sun’s rays are shining on us more directly.

OK, that’s all good stuff. But it’s an astronomical definition of “season,” which is not the only definition. In fact, the astronomical definition of spring, while very useful to scientists, is of very little use to you in your everyday life. You can’t really be blamed if you don’t think it’s spring until the snow is long gone.

Varying Definitions

In Ireland, the seasons traditionally change on month boundaries, not in the middle of the month. This makes a lot more sense from a human standpoint because it’s one less thing to keep track of. And your everyday person thinks about the seasons more as a weather-related thing than an astronomical phenomenon.

Then there are holidays that people perennially call “the official start of the summer season” or “the last weekend of the summer” based partly on weather, but also on social calendar events. The beginning of school, the last planned cookout, the first visit to the beach, a strategically-placed 3-day weekend… all these things have an impact on how people perceive the seasons.

We even talk about seasons sometimes being missing completely. Many times here in New England you will hear people complain that we don’t have a spring. We’ll have wintery weather until March, and suddenly the temperature will shoot up to what we expect in our summers. (New Englanders are a lot less ready to jettison autumn. It’s in the blood.)

Extreme Cases

There is, of course, the famous New England year without a summer (Described here briefly and here in some more detail). “Eighteen hundred and froze-to-death,” as it were.

Even in normal years, local weather varies widely across the globe, with some areas more reasonably dividing their seasons based on “dry vs. rainy” or other factors. Of course, the southern hemisphere is experiencing its summer when we northerners have our winter. To their eyes, the subjectivity of the seasons is obvious.

When it comes down to it, there is enough ambiguity that you are well-justified in ignoring all of the conventions of season-change. Choose your own. If you said “Let’s have a cookout this summer” would anyone really reject a date in June just because the solstice had not yet occurred? If so, that person would likely find his cookout invitations diminishing in proportion to how often he clung to his argument.

Do Your Own Thing

Ed King and I have an ongoing jibe about this. He sees the first good weather of the year and declares “Spring is here!” But then I find some silly reason to call it autumn instead, pushing the blurry line to a ridiculous degree. But, in reality, we have agreed that there is not much basis in telling someone it’s not spring if they want to consider it spring, especially anywhere near the traditional spring months.

Wikipedia entry on spring (the season)(season)

Posted by James at March 18, 2004 2:43 PM
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Comments

Hiya James,


But, in reality, we have agreed that there is not much basis in telling someone itís not spring if they want to consider it spring, especially anywhere near the traditional spring months.

I was the anonymous poster. I agree with you. Nothing I say is going change chuck's mind if he thinks it's spring and why would I even want to? As you and Ed have an ongoing jibe... I was just jokin with Chuck. Of course I should've posted my name... and I thought I did :P.

After reading your 12 Reasons archive I'd like to make a motion that from here on out we change chuck's name to Phyllis and make him wear a tuna suit... For some reason, when he suggested that, it just stuck in my mind and won't leave.

Finally, Is there a reason to be a stickler about the seasons? Well my short answer is maybe. It depends on how you view the world doesn't it? Are there not religions that celebrate the changing of the seasons? I'd think they'd need/want to be sticklers of the day a season changes.

But I whole heartedly agree... do your own thing and let others do theirs. :)

Great blog you have here James.

Posted by: Jay at March 20, 2004 9:38 AM
... I'd like to make a motion that from here on out we change chuck's name to Phyllis and make him wear a tuna suit... For some reason, when he suggested that, it just stuck in my mind and won't leave.

You poor bastid. :p

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 20, 2004 11:25 AM

Jay,

I think the two best reasons to be a stickler about the seasons are:

1) If you have some sort of celebration.
2) You're a farmer

A formal version of #1 might be celebrating the Winter Solstice, like the Fraggle Festival of the Bells. An informal version would be saying "It's not summer until we grill our first steak!" I don't have any argument with either, and I love steak. But it highlights the malleability of the seasons.

#2... well, I don't know much about farming. So I'm not going to pretend I know the difference between a frame mounted residue manager and a gravity wagon.

Joking with Chuck is like dancing about the Cha-cha. I don't know what that means, but maybe Phyllis can put on some music.

Glad you like the weblog! I try to keep it interesting, which is a challenge since it is often about me.

Cheers

Posted by: James (DrM) at March 20, 2004 11:28 AM
Joking with Chuck is like dancing about the Cha-cha. I don't know what that means...

That makes two of us!

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 20, 2004 1:44 PM

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