Forest Spaces

Grounded in Research. Rooted in Nature.

Sensing the Seasons

with Tara Tiger Brown

Mono-no-Aware

Between 2017 and 2020, I lived in Tokyo, Japan. I had a glimpse of being part of a new culture, language, and traditions. It was also a time that I felt the most in tune with the more-than-human world. I became aware of more seasonal shifts than the four seasons.

Heart Cherry Blossoms

Chasing cherry blossoms, observing dahlias synchronized with Animal Crossing, silent walks with mountain monks, and forest therapy – all these experiences deepened my connection with my surroundings and introduced me to the beauty of mono-no-aware – the awareness of the ephemeral nature of life.

My first iNaturalist submission in Vancouver, B.C., was of the street tree in front of my residence. However, I misidentified it; it’s a Norway Maple.

Sit Spot

After living in the US and Japan for decades I returned home to Vancouver with my family in the summer of 2020. It was during the height of the pandemic and we had to quarantine for two weeks. I found solace in a “sit spot” on my front steps, facing a street tree. This spot became a sanctuary, a place to connect with neighbourhood critters and observe the subtle shifts in nature – from the dance of leaves in the breeze to the daily routines of birds and bees.

Slowing Down

Historically, our survival hinged on an intimate understanding of nature, where early humans developed the ability to quickly and instinctively evaluate their surroundings for survival.

We continue to rely on this deep-rooted connection in urban environments for physical and psychological well-being.

Our lives can be significantly enhanced when we enjoy a positive experience in nature.

The call of a bird, the vastness of the night sky, a bee landing on a flower, discovering a frog beneath a leaf or the majesty of a whale breaching continues to evoke a profound sense of awe and connection.

My first iNaturalist submission in Vancouver, B.C., was of the street tree in front of my residence. However, I misidentified it; it’s a Norway Maple.

Research Roots

This personal journey supplements my doctoral research into shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and its health benefits. My “72 Seasons of Nature Connection” project reflects Vancouver’s subtle natural shifts inspired by the lunisolar calendar and other traditional time-keeping systems. It aims to capture the essence of the changing seasons, acknowledging the diverse perspectives on seasonal change, such as those of the Coast Salish peoples.

Calendars

There are four types of calendars: lunisolar, solar, lunar, and seasonal.

Most pre-modern calendars are lunisolar. Seasonal calendars are based on environmental changes rather than lunar or solar observations.

The Islamic and some Buddhist calendars are lunar. In contrast, most modern calendars are solar, based on the Julian or the Gregorian calendars.

Lunisolar calendars synchronize the solar year with the lunar months by “integrat[ing] the solar-based unit of the year with the lunar-based unit of the month…[paying] attention to the waxing and waning of the moon while also observing the solstices and equinoxes ” (Dalby, 2007).

The Chinese Agricultural Calendar is a lunisolar calendar from 1050 BC. It divided the year into 24 solar terms, each approximately 15 days long, derived from the sun’s position in the zodiac and reflecting the changes in climate, natural phenomena, and agricultural activities.

1729 Japanese calendar, which used the Jōkyō calendar procedure, published by Ise Grand Shrine

24 Solar Terms

Japan has used the Gregorian calendar (西暦, seireki) since the Meiji modernization period in 1873, however from 604 to 1872, Japan’s calendar was adapted from China’s lunisolar calendar. 

Japan’s calendar system was introduced from China via Korea in the mid-6th century.

Shibukawa Shunkai, Japan’s first official astronomer, developed the Jōkyō calendar in 1684 based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, dividing its 24 periods into three to create 72 micro seasons, each lasting about five days.

Japan’s 72 Seasons

These 72 microseasons were more closely aligned with Japan’s local natural changes, such as flower blooming, animal behaviours, and weather shifts, unlike the Chinese calendar, which focused more on agricultural cycles. 

In a significant cultural shift on December 2, 1872, the Emperor of Japan declared the lunisolar calendar inaccurate and an impediment to knowledge. The following day, January 1, 1873, Japan adopted the Gregorian Calendar. This change explains why some microseasons, like “Suzukaze itaru” (Cool winds blow) from August 8–12, seem out of sync with the actual climatic conditions in mainland Japan, where this period is typically hot and humid.

Tara Tiger Brown. Polar Bear Swim, Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, BC

Adaptation

This project is not just about tracking time; it’s a journey through history, acknowledging the past and its impact on present ecology. It’s a tribute to nature’s resilience and a reminder of our shared history with the Earth.

In 2024, I am documenting my daily interactions with the more-than-human world, creating a personal narrative of seasonal change in my environment. This ongoing project, which I share through my blog and newsletter, is a record of my observations and a template for others to adapt and connect with the seasons in their regions.