Sunday, June 1, 2014


It's the first day of winter today. Now, if you're in the northern hemisphere you probably have no idea what I'm going on about here. Unless you're in the UK!  Actually, I shouldn't be too hard on British weather. June can be a beautiful month in Britain, with the blossoming of flowers and berries, a warmth and freshness to the air, and a lengthening of daylight through to the summer solstice. I have some very fond memories of June. At least until Wimbledon starts and the British monsoon fortnight takes over!

"There are 2 seasons in Scotland: June and winter" - Billy Connelly

To be honest, I'm a bit confused by winter and summer dates. It used to be that the solstice marked the beginning of those seasons, though the winter solstice can also be seem as midwinter. However here in Australia the seasons run on a purely monthly basis with June to August being winter, September to November being Spring, December to February as Summer and March to May as Autumn. So I'm going to try to get to the bottom of this. Should winter start on the 1st June, or should it start on the solstice which this year is the 21st June? And just when can we expect the bleak midwinter?

"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" - John Steinbeck

Well, according to the Herald Sun, today marked the first day of winter in Melbourne, and they ran a story on crazy people who decided to mark the occasion by swimming in the cold sea. But is it right to suggest that June the 1st is the start of winter? However, other countries including the USA and British nations seem to be believe that winter starts on the solstice, and you can check the dates for these online.

The problem is that the solstice represents midwinter, though meteorologically this is incorrect as the coldest part of the year occurs after the solstice. Countries which believe that the solstice represent the midwinter include Scandinavian countries and Ireland. So really there is no agreement, and a number of southern hemisphere countries reckon the same way as Australia do and start winter on the first of June. To complicate things more, there are theories which advocate more than 4 seasons. For example, the Hindu calendar has 6 seasons, spring summer, monsoon, autumn, early winter and late winter with 2 month cycles rather than 3 month cycles. Then there are non calendar based seasons such as 'ecological' which look to events happening as marking the changes of seasons. For example, flowers blossom in spring while bears hibernate in winter, and observation of these natural cyclical changes is used as designating seasons, Typically ecological systems have 6 seasons, spring, high summer, late summer, autumn, winter and early spring. Interesting stuff!

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire; it is the time for home" -Edith Sitwell

Winter is an old German word which has been in use in the English language for well over 1000 years and as much as we moan about it, it is a necessary season in the scheme of things. And there's much comfort to be taken about winter. There are warm and cosy winter clothes, hearty foods, and fires to sit near. In fact, it can be argued that as uncomfortable as winter is, it is easier to stay warm in winter than to stay cool in summer. I guess it depends on the person. I appreciate the warmth of Australia, but I have nothing against the winter either. I think living without seasons would be a tedious thing for me now and I'm looking forward to travelling further south next week to Tasmania and colder temperatures. I'm rather spoiled in Australia, because winters are not harsh, or long, so I'd better make the most of it while it lasts! And the best thing about winter? As Shelley said "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

And to keep up a positive note about cold and wet weather, a last poem by Robert Louis Stevenson which talks about both good and bad in winter.

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

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