In agricultural days, staying in-tune with the seasons was important. When should we plant seeds? When should we harvest? When will the rains come? Are they late this year? Knowing what was happening with nature was the difference between a plentiful harvest and a barren crop.
Prior to the Gregorian calendar, farmers in China and Japan broke each year down into 24 sekki or “small seasons.” These seasons didn't use dates to mark seasons, but instead, they divided up the year by natural phenomena:
Start of spring
Ground thaws, fish appear under ice.
Snow recedes, mist lingers in the air.
Going-out of the worms
Bugs surface from hibernation.
Sparrows start to nest, cherry blossoms bloom.
Clear and bright
Geese fly north, the first rainbows of the year appear.
Rain for harvests
Reeds sprout by rivers, rice seedlings grow.
Start of summer
Birds and frogs start the songs of summer.
Flowers and plants bloom, wheat ripens.
Seeds and cereals
Praying mantises hatch, fireflies come out. Time to seed the soil.
Longest days of the year, irises bloom.
Warm winds blow, young hawks learn to fly.
Summer heat at its strongest, accompanied by great rains.
Start of autumn
Cooler winds blow, thick fogs roll through hills.
Rice has ripened, the heat of summer, forgotten.
Drops of dew on grass.
Day and night are of equal length.
Temperatures begin to drop, crickets stop chirping.
The first frosts, maple leaves turn yellow.
Start of winter
The ground starts to freeze.
Light snow, the last leaves have fallen from trees.
Cold sets in, bears hibernate.
Shortest days of the year.
Temperatures quickly drop.
Ice thickens on the streams, hens huddle together.
Living in cities, most of us don’t need to know if the rains are late this year, or when the bushwarblers will start warbling.
But it's nice to have a more fine-grained way of thinking about the year; dividing such a big span of time into four big seasons feels really clumsy. Thinking in two week sekki seems to match how my life and environment changes a lot better.
I'd love to push this idea further, to make it more useful for people. If you have ideas of how you'd like to see this stuff, throw a note on this Github repo.