Is it the color of the wind that comes with spring-the threads of the green willow are dyed greener with each passing day”
-Willow Poem for the First Month, Fujiwara Teika
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven”
-Turn! Turn! Turn!, The Byrds
If the past year has taught me anything, it is that not only the natural world, but one’s inner world goes through a changing of the seasons. Seasons of joy and of doubt, of activity and rest, of contentment and of longing. The first fall frost will come no matter how much we wish for just a few more warm days, and similarly the seasons of one’s life will change as constantly as the moon. You can grumble about the cold, or find beauty in the patterns of ice on panes of glass, or a frosty field glowing ethereally in the morning sun. Working in harmony with, rather than fighting against the seasons, both physical and internal, provides opportunities to learn about ourselves and appreciate the hidden beauty in all things.
I have been fascinated by the changing of the seasons since a young age. Growing up in Virginia, I remember joyfully discovering the first signs of spring. Like a detective, with sharpened senses I would catch a whiff of that wet smell of the ground thawing, and later the fruitiness of wild grape hyacinths by the river. Glimpses of purple wood violets, white grass lilies, and the ubiquitous yellow daffodils that escaped the confines of the garden years ago to take root in wilder provinces. The sound of burbling water and distant turkey gobbles. The taste of a nettle pie, only made once a year. The delicious touch of a warm breeze after a long winter. Everywhere I have lived I’ve gone through the ritual of observing the plant and animal harbingers of each new season. Here in the Smoky Mountains, I find no greater pleasure than revisiting my favorite hiking spots to watch the trilliums and trout lilies come up in spring, to pick wild blackberries and sun myself in a field of bee balm and mountain mint in the summer, to see the glorious leaf colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn, and to watch birds foraging for winter berries and pine cone nuts in the winter conifers. Each leaf and bud, flower and seed, each migrating bird is something made all the more precious by its fleetingness. The seasons keep me grounded in the earth and in my body, appreciating the transience of life and looking forward to the beauty that is to come.
I can trace my interest in having pots that correlate to the seasons back to a trip to the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian Institute. Each year during the Pottery on the Hill show that I have been involved with for the past ten years in DC, the invited artists take a trip to the Freer Gallery to look at it’s incredible collection of Asian ceramics. In one particularly memorable visit, we went down into collections, where we were able to handle pottery from all time periods on a special foam table, some going back thousands of years. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but the piece that really captured my attention was a small incense box made by Ogata Kenzan, brightly painted with a crane and chrysanthemums in the style of the Edo period. What struck me was that the piece was designated for the “tenth month”, a reference to a sequence of poems by medieval era Kyoto courtier, Fujiwara Teika (1162–1241) This sequence, Birds and Flowers of the Twelve Months, presents a poem for a flower and bird associated with each month. The tenth month incense box was part of a series of boxes decorated with different motifs for each month, explained curator Louise Allison Cort. These poems inspired not only ceramics, but also painting and even clothing in the Japanese court. They also inspired me.
May you gracefully embrace each of life’s new seasons!