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First Day of Nothing

March 20, 2013

Today is the vernal equinox, often celebrated by balancing eggs on their ends and holding orgies around bonfires. A more sinister observance is to call it the first day of spring, and then comment on whether or not it feels like the first day of spring. This is something I would like to see ruthlessly stamped out. The real meaning of the seasons does not lie in astronomical demarcations. They don’t suddenly switch from one to the other. They don’t divide up the year equitably among themselves according to some scientific statecraft. They fade into one another as they will, variably from place to place and from year to year. They are meteorological, biological, ecological, sociological, psychological, phenomenological and otherwise -ological, but not plain logical or astronomical, even if they find their origin in the tilt and turn of the earth.

We usefully divide the year into strict units: months, weeks, and days. Lent, hunting season, the school year. These are enough. No reason to make the natural seasons confirm to our temporal cages. Let them live. If we must delineate them precisely for some accounting purpose, for example when we want to decide what the hottest summer on record was, then we should do as meteorologists actually do in such cases (or so I have read) and just use three-month spans — June, July, and August for summer, so on for the rest. This has the merit of being obviously arbitrary while conforming, for the most part if not always, better to our intuitive sense of the seasons. And no one will be tempted to confuse the first days of March, June, September and December with those of spring, summer, fall and winter. And the solstices and equinoxes can be freed of the burden of first-dayism and returned to the care of the pagans and nerds who appreciate them for what they are.

Here in Virginia, winter was fairly mild but it lingered on a bit longer than it usually does. But spring is beginning now. Beginning not begun, an ongoing process and a project that happens every year but every year is its own accomplishment, an achieved regularity that makes a schedule rather than conforms to one, and that can be received with a gratitude that is not due to a calendar or a clock.

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