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Lev Parikian: The man who tracked the 72 seasons

Why not monitor the year’s gradual changes more closely? Why not divide it into smaller chunks?

We have four seasons. Everyone knows that. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. As entrenched in our consciousness as the days of the week.

We also know that the spring of early March – daffodils breaking clear of their sheaths, fresh cherry blossom bubbling up, birds checking their voices still work – is not the same as the spring of late May, with its screaming swifts, frothing wisteria and knackered blue tits ferrying caterpillars by the hundred to their demanding chicks. 

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Why not, then, monitor the year’s gradual changes more closely? Why not divide it into smaller chunks? Twenty-four, perhaps, as the Chinese did with their ‘solar terms’ back in the day. Or take it a step
further, and divide each of those 24 into three, for a neat(ish) year of 72 ‘microseasons’? Five days each, with a few six-dayers to hoover up the spares. 

This calendar seems to have arrived in Japan sometime around the sixth century, and while it’s not a system in common use, the idea serves as a handy prompt to pay more attention to the natural world. 

It needn’t take much. How I did it was this: I set an alarm for the beginning of each microseason; made sure I spent at least one hour in those five days looking, listening and paying attention, and recorded what I saw. 

You don’t need to live in a ‘nature hotspot’ for the natural world to be worth exploring. My home is in the south London suburb of West Norwood. A fine place, but few would champion it as a wildlife paradise. 

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But by opening my eyes and being sure to explore as many nooks and crannies as I could find, I found not only the obvious green places, but odd little surprises in corners I hadn’t even considered. 

As a keen birdwatcher, I’m used to paying attention to them nearly all the time, monitoring the arrival and departure of migrants in spring and autumn, noticing the flurry of nest-building from March to May and listening out for the blackbird’s mellow twilight song. But broadening my horizons opened up a new world. 

Light Rain Sometimes Fall
Light Rains Sometimes Fall: A British Year in Japan’s 72 Seasons by Lev Parikian is out now (Elliott & Thompson)

The Japanese microseason calendar gives each season a name: East Wind Melts The Ice; Bears Start Hibernating In Their Dens; Light Rains Sometimes Fall. So I followed suit, using one memorable aspect of each season as its defining point. The results were of course not quite the same as the Japanese calendar – there aren’t many bears in West Norwood. But names like Starling Hullabaloo, Snowdrops Poke Through Soil and Christmas Trees Are Released Into The Wild made handy hooks on which to hang each little package of days. 

Sometimes the changes are close to imperceptible, but close inspection is rewarded. The leaves on that tree – weren’t they smaller last week? I’m sure those plants weren’t in bloom last time I was here. Oh dear, dead fox. 

But they can also hit you in the face, like the time I came back from my morning walk to find the peonies in the garden had exploded with a HELLO, WE ARE HERE LOOK AT US, AREN’T WE MARVELLOUS. 

And sometimes it’s the weather that defines a season, like the four days of stifling, muggy heat in August 2020, which I spent watching the weather radar, begging for the blessed release of a proper thunderstorm. 

I chose to write a book about that year, but you needn’t take it to such lengths. You can write brief notes on what you see, photograph it, record a voice note or make a collection of found objects. It’s the noticing that’s important. I think it’s important, what with the state of everything in the natural world, that people acknowledge nature, get to know it, nurture it. 

If I have a manifesto, it’s this: that everyone, no matter who they are, might be at least on nodding acquaintance with the nature in their local area, that they might say hello to it, the same way they say hello to the barista or postal worker or shop assistant (we all do that, right?). 

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It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the names. Nobody’s born knowing everything, and while for some it can become a badge of honour to be able to reel off lists of species names, for others it’s enough just to say “Ooh look, the gothbirds are hassling the diving murder-falcon again” (crows and peregrine, if you prefer). As I say, it’s the noticing that counts.

You can buy Light Rains Sometimes Fall: A British Year in Japan’s 72 Seasons from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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