Silk’s Post #77 — Is it still snowing or freezing somewhere back East? I’m sorry, I truly am. Happy St. Patrick’s Day anyway – at least the beer is green.
Since this was the first winter in several years that I didn’t get to escape for a couple of weeks on a sunny beach somewhere else, I am more than ready for spring. I have that hopeful, restless, let’s-get-on-with-it feeling that always comes upon me at this time of year. Obviously I’m not unique since there’s a familiar name for this state of mind: Spring Fever.
I want to get out and do something different. Clean up old messes and begin something fresh. Unburden myself. Sweep my brain clean. Fly in the air. Restart, recycle, reset, replenish, recreate … all those ‘re-‘ words. It’s the season of renewal and ascension, and it has me thinking about how important these cycles are.
People who live in places with real seasons are fond of saying they couldn’t live in places without them – even though those who can afford it tend to turn into snowbirds when the arthritis kicks in. The great temperate climatic band that circles the globe is home to most of us on Earth, and our rhythms are organically tied to seasons and cycles.
There’s not a culture that doesn’t have these cycles embedded within it – and, of course, religions have expropriated the ancient annual milestones for their own observances. But these cycles are anything but arbitrary. Human survival has historically been dependent on doing the right things at the right time of year. Planting, tending the flocks and crops, building, reaping, preserving, sheltering. Aesop put this timeless truth in story form for children with the fiddling grasshopper and the industrious ant.
The fact is that life is not linear – it’s cyclical. We acknowledge humans’ self-sustaining circadian (24-hour) rhythms. We know that the monthly cycle of the moon affects the tides of people as well as oceans. And even though we’ve largely become an urban, rather than agrarian, species, I think annual cycles are so deeply ingrained that they create their own ‘social weather’. Everyone knows this intuitively, even if they don’t think about it.
But how many writers embed all these cycles into their stories? Those who are able to imbue their writing with a sense of natural cycles add resonance to the context of their stories. They deepen their plots with an extra, more textured layer of time and place. Their characters are more human, more visceral, because they have more organic, more complex – and less controllable – influences driving their feelings and actions.
Even stories that are set in cities and play out over very short timeframes can have seasonality. So, you say you’re writing a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story that takes place in an underground world beneath the ruins, so there are no day and night, no lunar cycle, no seasons? Wait – maybe there are. The obvious signals may not be in evidence anymore. But people’s internal rhythms don’t depend exclusively on literal cues like weather, dark and light, sun and moon. (If that were the case, there’d be no such thing as ‘jet lag’.)
Is this starting to sound suspiciously like astrology? Whether you consider it superstitious mumbo-jumbo or ancient wisdom, astrology reflects a deep species’ memory of the inextricable links between human life and natural cycles. Spectacular, improbable pyramids, obelisks and pre-historic monuments from Tikal to Stonehenge immortalize our relationship with the heavens and earth – and the cycles that keep us spinning through the universe.
Have we become too sophisticated to worry about this antique worldview? Have we learned, through our boundless technology, to control our environment so successfully that we’ve rendered these natural cycles irrelevant? Aren’t we essentially different from our more primitive ancestors?
Well … no.
Think about it as you drink your green beer to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Or – if you’re more into cycles than saints – as you toast the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox, which occurs on March 20th. Now, isn’t that a funny coincidence?