Winter.Pent6B.2018

© Rex A E Hunt
Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship, Kirribilli, NSW
1 July 2018

NO ONE SAYS MUCH GOOD OF WINTER: SEASONS AND SELF…

It is said no one says much good of winter.
Except as something hard that exaggerates the Spring reprieve.
        No one says much of it.
        It just is.

Take trees for instance.
If those trees are the imported kind, their coloured clown suits of leaves
will have already turned winter brown or yellow,
and as if to sacrifice their life,
fallen to the ground to become spring fertiliser.

Take snow for instance.
We don’t get snow on the coast. That’s reserved for hills and further inland.
On farming land. 
Indeed, it used to be said farmers called snow ‘the poor man’s fertiliser’.
It was next year’s water.
It was next year’s crop.

Take grass for instance.
My front lawn has a strong brown tinge to it
as it copes with cold frost-like mornings.
But amid it all several pestilent patches of green weed-grass
are making a bold protest.
Remember us! they seem to say.

Dull. Cold. Bare.
No one says much good of winter…

oo0oo

Seasons are as much a cultural phenomenon as food, music, religion and dance.
In reality, the delineation of the year into four seasons—Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter—
        is as arbitrary as starting them on the first of a certain month. 

Due to its size there is not one single seasonal calendar for the entire Australian continent.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology the temperature can range
        from below zero in the Snowy Mountains in southern Australia,
        to extreme heat in the Kimberley region in the north-west of the continent.

Over all, summer is the warmest season of the year, falling between spring and autumn.
Warm weather, days at the beach, and the start of an extended holiday period
        herald summer’s ‘southern’ arrival.

According to ‘astronomical summer’ the season occurs
on or around December 22 in the Southern Hemisphere,
        when the South Pole is tilted toward the sun,
        and when night and day are approximately the same length. 

But there is another definition for summer.
A meteorological season is defined as the 12 months of the year
being divided up into four season with three months each.

June, July and August are considered summer, north of the equator,
while December, January and February are summer to the south.
Which of course means the latter makes for a different Christmas!

By contrast, the southern Hobart 'winter' brings with it overcoats, beanies, and umbrellas…
And on at least one occasion - snow on a summer Christmas Day!
        But up north, in Darwin City, an average winter (or ‘the dry’) temperature
        is often more than 31 degrees celsius.
                        As southern states folk like to whine: how that qualifies as 'winter' is anyone's guess!

Then there are the between-times.
Autumn’s gone but winter has not quite come
        calendars to the contrary…

People tend always to read, think, and understand
from their particular place on the planet.
        But it goes further. 

The natural seasons not only have symbolic value they also affect us physiologically.
Seasonal changes in temperature, sunlight,
precipitation, barometric pressure, and lunar cycles
        all have demonstrable effects on our moods and physical functioning.

oo0oo

Indigenous Australians have a different system of seasons
according to whereabouts in Australia they are from.

Close to where I was born and raised is a low mountain range called the Grampians,
or the Gariwerd, home of the Djab Wurrung and Jardwidjarli clans. 

These clans do not have specific names or dates for the seasons
such as autumn or winter, instead their six seasons were described
by what was happening at the time.
            ’The wattles are now flowering so we know that the eels are on the move’. 

Other clans came up with a different delineation according to
the rhythms of nature in their own areas:
The Walabunnba people from north of Alice Springs
has three seasons. But some kilometres north
the Jawoyn people from the Katherine, has six.

The actual length or timing of the season depended on the environment and climate.
“The unusual patterns of animals and birds or the flowering of plants were observed closely and became indicators of a change in the weather or a specific extreme such as a flood or drought.”

oo0oo

Like Earth, we too have our seasons marked by change
and often best reflected upon by the poets and liturgists in our midst.
Because human beings are ‘storytellers and scenario spinners’.
        “Now I am not so very young,
        and time runs faster that it did.
        I am much more mortal than I was at ten…

        “It takes a little while to know how much of life is death
        and not to dread it so.
        To sense the equilibrium of the earth,
        To be at home in time, and take the limits
        of both life and love…” (Coots 1971:61, 62)

As one grows older it is often referred to as entering the ‘autumn years’.
The younger version of me always dreaded the idea of growing older.
        But now that I have not only knocked on autumn’s door,
        but opened the door and taken a few steps inside,
                    I admit to being some-what pleased to have made it this far!

“No matter how old one is,” writes HuffingtonPost blogger, Judith Rich,
“we’re always standing at the edge of the unknown. There is no certainty, not even about taking the next breath. But growing older affords one a certain perspective on life, not available from the earlier parts of the journey. Gratitude comes forward, front and center, as the prevailing consciousness. What could be better than that?” (Rich 2011)

And then comes the end of life as we know it…
Death. Our death.

Few people think about death. Their own death, that is.
It is considered a taboo subject.
        When it is talked about, most of the time the conversation
        is shaped around death as an abstract principle - a dispassionate facet of Life.

But when death becomes personal through someone
we have known, respected, and loved,
        it comes in a variety of guises
        and triggers varying emotions.

As a progressive and a religious naturalist
my understanding of the universe is, the natural world is all there is.
        Death is part of the life process.
        There is no heaven and no afterlife.
                    This life is all there is.

Traditional and fundamentalist Christians will blame all this on Charles Darwin,
but there is no scientific evidence of anything supernatural.
        Neither is there any credible evidence that humankind
        is a unique creation by a deity,
                nor any basis for the existence of a ‘soul’.

So it matters far more to come to terms with our end
than to be preoccupied with ‘metaphysical speculation’
about what might lie beyond this life.
“Death is present and palpable, a matter of evidence. Not only are there no good grounds for anticipating immortality, but also doing so distracts us from the life that we do have.” (Aronson 2008:151)

We all die.
And all of us dies.
Seasons of the self.

oo0oo

Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion,
has a couple of interesting, if detailed,
comments about our ‘seasons’ and ‘self’. 

As I share his comments I invite your careful listening…
He writes:
“We contain in us—in all of ourselves after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations—the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe.”

He then proceeds to ask the question: ‘How old are we?’ His response:
“[p]henomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years.” (Peters 1992:412)

To the additional question: ‘How long will we continue?’ Peters adds:
“[p]henomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5 billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never… It all depends on how we think of our selves.” (Peters 1992:412)

Peters answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things.
And reminds us that the seasons of nature is in us as much as we are nature.
“We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos… As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…” (Peters 1992:412)

When I think of my own life—my own ‘seasons’—I know
I want to exist as long as I can in a healthy way in my present state,
fulfilling the possibilities of my own existence, and
contributing positively to my culture, to my family and grand children,
to the environment.

And at centre stage is a sense of wonder and acts of celebration.
        The world—a circus of forms—of gum leaves and desert rocks and butterflies,
        and human fingers with or without arthritis.

The celebration of life—the whole of life.
And dumbstruck by golden wattles in early spring!

But then... as Marx has said - Groucho Marx that is,
or as my seven year old grandson would prefer, Captain Underpants:
     'Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old.
     All you have to do is live long enough.’

No one says much good of winter!

rexae74@gmail.com