The Turning Seasons of Our Days
Exploring Seasons, "Microseasons," and the Wayfaring Poetics of Being-in-Tune (Listening Time: 13:42 / Read Time: 5:00)
Greetings Good Travelers and Wayfarers:
Frank Inzan Owen coming to you from the Hidden Mountain Studio. It’s a lazy Sunday here, after an overnight ‘rumblethrough’ of thunderstorms. Although still a bit steamy here in the Appalachian Piedmont of north-central Georgia, I have been sensing subtle shifts in the green world of the forest that suggests that autumn is just around the bend.
On a long hillwalking session yesterday I covered close to eight miles, I noticed a definite change in the slant of the light coming through the trees; alterations in the sound of some of the cicadas was also quite noticeable. I also encountered five snakes — all of the nonvenomous variety: an Eastern racer, two kingsnakes, a corn snake, and a Carolina watersnake, and all of them seemed quite ‘on the move’ rather than “lazing about” as they have been doing the rest of the summer.
I also woke up this morning to what I have come to think upon as “pain days” — days when the arthritis from injuries I sustained from a bad car wreck from years ago becomes quite pronounced. And, though chronic pain is an ever-present “koan” in my life, it has occurred to me that what I call “pain days” actually occur most often in these transitional phases between seasons. So, today, my heart-mind is quite reflective about the seasons themselves.
Because Nature dwells at the heart of the Wayfaring Poet Path, it stands to reason that the seasons play an especially important role. With poet-ancestors in the Chinese Daoist and Chan branch of the tradition, and in the Japanese branch of the tradition, the seasons, if not overtly referenced and “called out” in a poem, it’s at least hinted at via some subtle description. Here are a few examples:
from Yang Wan-Li (1127-1206) (considered one of the four masters of the Southern Sung Dynasty poetic tradition)
At sunset the green mountain
is pale one moment, dark the next,
brushed by layers of floating mist.
Thousands of cloud scrolls enfold the peak
in a screen of red brocade.
Spring is early this year —
it is here ten days before Spring should come.
Before Spring should come —
falling plum blossoms like snow;
little red petals of wild peach.
The old man doesn’t care that the new Spring makes him older.
His only plan is to get good and drunk and fall down among the flowers.
Fall down among the flowers —
the boy supports him, takes him home.
When he sobers up, the window is filled with morning light.
“Sitting At Night on the Moon-Viewing Terrace”
This autumn the days have been hot
but each evening cool weather returns.
The last few nights I have sat outside
until the water clock struck the third watch.*
(*the third watch is from 11pm and 1am)
Brisk wind, stars glittering and fading;
floating clouds, welcomed and seen off by the moon.
When I pursue happiness I can never find it;
now, happiness has come of itself.
Then a few from Santōka, a wandering Japanese Zen monk who lived from 1882-1940.
Silently, in the mosquito net,
Eating my rice.
Drunk, I slept with crickets.
I enter the green forest
Thinking of Ryōkan
Who also passed this way.
Potato gruel —
Its warmth! Its good taste!
Autumn is here.
And a few from Grandmother Lotus Moon, Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875):
When will it sing?
In this ancient village,
the cuckoo conceals itself
until the sixth month.
I’ll be changing into my Summer robes today
but my heart is still stained
with the color of Spring blossoms.
Clearing the soot from the beams,
sweeping the dust from my hearth,
getting ready for the New Year.
So, all of these poems — and every Wayfaring poet has a few — express the sentiment of Matsuo Bashō that we should strive to “be a good companion of the seasons.”
Here’s one of mine entitled “Dharma Rain”:
sin and regret
the soul-stung traveler
for the shining light
clears the Deep-Seeing
of the True Heart-Eye,
opens the Deep-Hearing Ears
to the sermon being sung
on the other side of the screen.
So, the four seasons can be a creative and a spiritual teacher. Like brother Roy Mattson’s song title for this episode, I think of the seasons as “the pulse of the current” of Great Nature (Daishizen). Each season has its distinctive energies, its distinctive lessons, teachings, attributes that invite us to mindfully attune to what is happening in Great Nature around us. And yet, if we really make the seasons a precise meditation and awareness practice, like the ancient Japanese poet Saigyō did on his wanderings, we realize there isn’t just the primary four seasons. There are all sorts of subtle shifts and happenings that are communicating with us even within a given season. This has led to the idea in Japan that there are actually 72 “microseasons.”
Below is an article and an interview that explore these microseasons. I invite you to take some time with these things that I’ve curated and then to contemplate the following questions:
What are the microseasons where you live?
What are the natural happenings that inform your intuitive sensibilities that shifts in the season are happening?
How do you experience that externally?
How do you experience that within your own body?
Are you being a “good companion to the seasons,” within and without?
How might you orient your art path and/or spiritual path in a more intimate way with the turning of the seasons?
An article exploring Japan’s 72 Microseasons at Nippon.com: Japan’s 72 Microseasons
An interview on the Books on Asia Podcast, sponsored by Stone Bridge Press, hosted by author and long-distance runner Amy Chavez, wherein she talks with Robert Weis, curator of the Luxembourg Natural History Museum, about an exhibit entitled “Spirit of Shizen” that explored the microseasons in Japan:
SOUND MAP FOR POST