Mid Winter Feast XVII

We tend to think of seasons as being external – after all, it only snows in winter, and it seems pretty safe to assume that the axis tilt of the earth is both real and beyond our control. Certainly, the earth does tilt, causing the changing lengths of light and dark hours and associated changes in temperature. However, seasons, much like time, are quite arbitrary divisions of these external observations.

In the tropics the seasons are often simply divided into “wet” and “dry”, and even in places with the traditional four season division these begin variously on the 1st day of a month, or with the solstices and equinoxes. In Australia, director of the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens Dr Tim Entwistle has suggested that we abandon the seasonal divisions imported from Europe and adopt ones that align with changes in the land around us, resulting in five seasons of different lengths (two flowering seasons, a long summer, plus autumn and winter).

However, Entwistle’s system would still not solve the Australian National University Mountaineering Club issue: that the Mid Winter Feast is often snowless. The traditional feast run by nude photography enthusiast Mika Kontiainen, now in its 17th year, was held at the Gooandra Homestead near Kiandra on the last weekend of July – the middle of the our calendar winter. According to Entwistle’s proposal, this date would be at the end of winter. And according to the solstice, mid winter had passed in June.

Yet there was, as is more common than not, very little snow.

The last feast saw us abandoning the skis halfway, strapping them to our packs, and walking the rest of the trip to the homestead.

This year’s feast saw us arrive at a dry carpark, the little snow around half-melted and refrozen in scattered patches. Stubbornly optimistic, we strapped skis and ski boots to our packs anyway, willing to carry the extra weight in the vain hope that we’d receive a dump of 30cms overnight. Being only a 5km walk, it wasn’t too arduous a task, and we were soon dropping the burden at the homestead.

Well, we got our 30cms… even if it was a little wetter than we could have liked. From late afternoon onwards the rain bucketed down, dissolving any snow that had remained before night had set in, and it continued all through it. Meanwhile, inside, we feasted and made merry. That is, all of us except for our poorly leader, whose guts were churning as much as the weather and who retreated from the homestead early in the evening.

The rain did eventually turn to sleet in the morning – enough to inconvenience the walk out. Still, a few keen skiiers managed a run of a few metres in the 5cm snow of the best sections. It was truly an Australian celebration of mid winter, by any understanding of the season.

See also the photos from our tame professional photographer, Jason.

And from our less tame but more wordy blogger, Chris. Bonus points for spotting me in some of his photos!


3 thoughts on “Mid Winter Feast XVII

  1. There is definitely something of an arbitrariness to the way we nominate seasons. But in this day and age of climate change, these set dates – appropriate or otherwise – at least assist in the provision of hard data, evidence that our climate is changing (in spite of what the deniers say!). I would be hesitant of changing seasons as a way of ameliorating this data (and I wouldn’t put it past our politicians – remember when John Howard was trying to get “climate shift” to catch on, somehow giving the impression it was all natural and nothing to worry about?)

    Having said that, if we were to be a little more flexible with our seasonal definitions, then adopting the seasons recognised among the Indigenous peoples would be a great option. Though of course this would mean different seasons in different places! Maybe a state-based system could work? Lots to consider, anyway!

    • To be honest this was mostly a tongue-in-cheek reference to the arbitrary nature of seasonal divisions. As much as I think it interesting to talk about them, I agree that if we were to change them we would have to change them on a local scale, which would just be confusing. While Entwistle’s proposed system does see “spring” starting with the flowers, it also sees “winter” end at what is realistically the beginning of the ski season!
      Seasons really perform the function of a stereotype: stereotypes are never going to be absolute on an individual scale but nevertheless work to help us generalise things, so they have a value in that.

  2. Pingback: Mid Winter Feast XVI | words and wilds

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