Bring Up Seasons – What can we tell about these four

Life is always accompanied by changes, making change probably its most loyal companion. We are so often exposed to them -and always have been- that we developed ways to categorize the changes that keep reoccurring. These are the changes we call cyclic. As in the cycle of water where water keeps on changing forms, from vapour to solid and everything in between. Each of these changes has been attributed specific names, which are, in order, evaporation (or transpiration), condensation, precipitation and surface runoff. From surface runoff, evaporation can once again proceed which closes the loop. This cycle is believed to be able to persist forever or, at least, for as long as water remains. Now let’s drift away from the cycle of water, so we can enjoy a broader vision of the changes that surround us. For one, a change that I am especially keen on welcoming every year is warm weather. When I mention warm weather, what probably pops in your head right now is the summer season and this is exactly what I was referring to. However, the temperature is not the only thing that keeps changing through seasons. Let’s plow through each season by pointing out each of the major changes that they carry along with them.

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First of all, let’s agree to present seasons by order of encounter starting from January to December (our calendar year). January and February in North America are accompanied by undeniable cold, especially if you live in Québec. This drastic temperature change unequivocally marks the arrival of winter. In Québec, the average temperature resides around -10℃, but there are huge day-to-day variations. One day can be marked by a dreadful -24℃ and the next a comfortable 2℃, you never really know. Apart from the noticeable and persistent presence of cold, our winter is marked by a significant accumulation of snow, which you know by now is a form of precipitation (read Bring Up Snow). The snow is accumulating because the soil has frozen, thanks to the ever tenacious cold. Nevertheless, the total amount of precipitation is still lower than any other time of the year. winter is particularly dry, which explains why our skin becomes so dried-up and flaky. If we add the wind factor to the equation, winter becomes even worse. The speed of wind can reach an average of 13km/h which is the fastest we can record during the year. As if winter season was not dreary enough with its cold, dryness, and windiness, it also has to encompass all the shorter days of the years, decreasing naturally available light. Moreover, we can observe an increase in cloudy days which can block most of that light. It is of no wonder that winter is being framed as the darkest month of the year, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Fortunately for us, winter does not last forever. With March comes spring carrying all of its renewing properties. From the moment Spring deploys its wings, the temperature rises to a satisfying average of 1℃/day. The resulting warmth is sufficient to unthaw the soil and melt the leftover snow abandoned by winter. The increased water supply and the warmth becomes essential factors that permit the growth of new vegetation and the awakening of trees. Not only are plants pleased by these changes but animals too. Animals hibernating are now coming out of their dormant stage and are joining in the feast that nature is bringing them. Days are becoming longer and less cloudy, contributing to more natural light being able to reach us. The wind also seems to calm down creating a more tempered climate. I sincerely love spring. Spring is not only the time when I can finally celebrate yet another birthday, but also the coming back of leaves in the trees. I must say that the event ignites in me a feeling of total admiration and joy,  am I the only one feeling this? As soon as May knocks at our doors, I begin to be actively alert for the first sight of green appearing on branches. Yet, there is something else happening slightly before the first greenery that makes me really pleased to welcome spring: the opening of Sugar Shacks. I know this probably makes me sound very Canadian, but I am, and why deny my true nature? If you happen to come by Québec in spring, make sure to taste our sweet sweet nectar of the gods, namely our maple syrup. You can also enjoy it under its toffee form which is a real treat served on fresh snow.

Though I really like spring and all that it offers, I also really enjoy summer. As you may now know from previous articles, I’m fairly intolerant of cold and summer is anything but cold. Beginning in June, the heat increases at a speedy but steady rate, plateauing at around 26℃ by July 26th. Still, summer has other attributes that are at least as impressive as its remarkable change in temperature. For instance, let us give an honourable mention to the longest day of the year, which happens every year, varying between 20-21 June. This date marks the Summer Solstice, harbingering the summer season. This year the longest day will be on June 20th. From the province of Québec, you will be able to witness the sunrise at 5:06 am and the sunset at 8:47 pm. In the Summer, the daylight period is longer, the days are more humid, the sky is less cloudy and the winds are seldom present. Yet, the rainfalls can be phenomenal, averaging a total of 92mm of rain per month. It becomes pretty obvious why so many people want to spend much of their time outside. This behaviour is perfectly adequate, but we still have to remember to protect our skin against excessive sunlight exposure.

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Most of us can agree that summer never lasts long enough. As soon as the daylight period begins to shrink, From the arrival of October, the leaves in the trees start changing colours. This is a beautiful event that gives rise to a wonderful scenery. Yet, there is one thing we often omit to consider when ogling that dazzling chemistry of colour. The change of leaf colour is the manifestation of trees entering slowly but surely their dormant phase. Soon enough leaves will fall on the ground and the trees will be bare and will start looking somewhat dead. They won’t be dead though, as you will observe when spring shows up again. As we move through the fall months (September, October and November), the temperature will start dropping and the days will become ever shorter. The winds are picking up again and the clouds are becoming more present. Still, if you dress up accordingly, you can enjoy tremendously satisfying walks in the woods. On our doorstep appears December once again dragging back winter, and the cycle goes on.

This is all really interesting, but what if this whole idea of 4 seasons regulated by solstices and equinox wasn’t the most appropriate adopted system. This is a question that some scientists try to answer by studying common metabolisms happening in the human body through the year. A study that took place in California, U.S. obtained results suggesting that there may only be two seasons, not four as previously considered (well at least in their region). These revelations are intriguing indeed, but what do you think? Do you think that where you live there are more than four seasons, or less, or exactly four? What’s your stance? As for me, I consider that our approach is perfectly adequate for the province of Québec and any further studies surveying this issue would be interesting, but still far from relevant in regard to our way of life. 

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.

Bring Up Sun and Stars – What makes them special

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My very favourite summer activity is stargazing and I don’t know if you do share the same feeling about it as I do. If you do, you probably find that the stars are fascinating too. Here beware that I am not talking about the shooting stars we happen to see during a meteor shower. They’re still cool, but they are no stars at all, they are as you may now suspect meteors. Now coming back to the stars, I may assume that even our ancestors liked looking at the stars. Our ancestors would indeed stargaze and by doing so came to all kinds of conclusions about their nature. From being the spirit of their dead ancestors to being used as tools for prediction, stargazing holds somewhat of a spiritual nature. Always to be respected, those giants of the night sky are notably recognized to have guided humans in their escapades. 

Sometimes we often forget that our sun is also a star. However, if you’re thinking about stargazing, forget to consider the Sun as your next subject. As a matter of fact, the word “stargazing” is commonly referred to as the act of contemplating the stars in the night sky. At night, the Sun is, fortunately for you, nowhere to be seen. It’s hiding away on the opposite side of Earth, casting the shadow from which we can observe what we call the night sky. Only from its shadow can we observe the other stars. Looking directly at the Sun is strongly discouraged for reasons that can be explained by both its location and its characteristics.

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The Sun is very close to us, but this unique element wouldn’t do much to us if it weren’t a yellow dwarf, to begin with. These very features are what provide the Sun with the ability to project huge amounts of heat and sunlight at us. This is the reason why we can’t look directly at the Sun. The Sun is projecting an important amount of radiation in the form of sunlight. Staring at the Sun unprotected is a sure way for you to burn down your retina, which could cause you to become permanently blind. Despite this issue, the Sun in all of its grandeur is a good thing for us and other forms of life. Its proximity provides sufficient heat to allow us to survive, and thrive for that matter.

The heat, as well as the light, comes from radiation produced through nuclear reactions. Its light is so powerful that, when it shines directly at us, it can interfere with the light of all other stars that are much further. This is why you can hardly see any stars during daylight. Even though looking directly at the Sun is a risky endeavour, with adequate protection, we can safely gaze at it, especially when extraordinary phenomena happen like solar eclipses. Solar eclipses happen when the moon comes between Earth and the Sun. The Sun is then blocked by the moon which casts a shadow on Earth. The shadow can, at that moment, block either partially or completely the sunlight causing the annular form we see.

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Something very difficult to discern with the naked eye is how different each and every one of the stars is. They can be compared by size, by gas composition, by age and by many other criteria. Yellow dwarfs (e.g. the Sun) are, in terms of heat emitted, slightly warmer than red dwarfs. These two dwarf stars are the most prevalent stars of our galaxy. Eventually, as they burn through their fuel, they can either cool down to become red giants or transform into white dwarfs becoming suddenly much warmer. Other known star types are blue giants, supergiants, brown dwarfs, neutron stars and pulsars. As a general law, the bluer a star is, the warmer it is and reciprocally the redder, the cooler it is.

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Now if you start to worry, don’t, our sun is still young and has a lot of fuel left to burn before turning into a red giant. It’s estimated to be merely 4.5 billion years old, yes that’s still young, I promise you. The Sun is a very stable star that is expected to remain this way for the next 5 billion years. At that point, you and I will be long gone. We won’t have the chance, or should I say the misfortune, to see Earth’s annihilation when it’s going to morph into its next phase. We can hope that, by the time we come to this, we as humans will have succeeded in finding new areas to conquer in our galaxy or maybe even the universe.

Let’s now stop lingering on Earth’s gloomy prospect and let’s simply enjoy the Sun’s presence while it lasts. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to sunlight we can prosper. Not only we as humans but we as all living things. The most obvious example of its benefit on Earth is photosynthesis. Animals may use carbon as the primary source of energy, but plants have developed a strategy to extract their energy from sunlight. Through a cellular apparatus called chloroplast, they can absorb light and transform it into energy. On one of its inner membranes, the thylakoid membrane, are located the chlorophyll pigments which are the ones responsible for absorbing light frequency corresponding mostly to blue and red. Green light is reflected causing the typical green colour we see in plants. When in contact with the pigments, the light energy from the sunlight excites electrons from within and sparks a chain reaction that produces energy in the form of ATP and NADPH. The electrons then need to be replenished and this is done through electrolysis of water, meaning that hydrogen and oxygen are split apart. Hydrogen ions are then used as electrons. This last bit is the part responsible for the plant’s oxygen emission.

Although we also know that the plants are famous for absorbing lots of carbon dioxide (CO2). This occurs mostly at night, in the absence of light. Outside of the chloroplast, CO2, with the use of ATP and NADPH, is transformed into sugar chains. Afterward, the sugar chains are transported to the mitochondria, which is the powerhouse of any cells. The process at this point is very similar to what we can observe in our cells. The mitochondria change the sugar to meet the metabolic demand of its host, or it’s stored away. For plants, the storage of sugar is in the form of glucose or starch. In sum, plants through photosynthesis are essential to our survival by providing the required oxygen we so dearly need.

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Sunlight does not only benefit us through plants or the heat it produces, it does also through intricate maintenance of the balance in gas compositions. Sunlight is one of the principal sources of energy that triggers naturally occurring chemical reactions. All these chemical reactions happen at a specific rate that allowed formation then but now maintains our atmosphere. If there were too much solar energy, water would sublimate and the atom of its molecule would split apart forming hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen would eventually burn away and hydrogen would explode. With too little solar energy, there would not be enough water evaporation causing an eventual depletion of oxygen in the air.

Furthermore, the plants and the atmosphere are not the only ones to benefit directly, we do too. Though, we might only come to realize this when it makes itself scarce. Some northern regions may experience extremely long winters where they can go months without seeing the Sun. This can lead people to experience some discomfort. Yet, even places that don’t see such drastic changes in sunlight exposure during winter might feel this way. This mere reduction seems sufficient to induce troubles. The discomforts can sometimes be so severe that they cause the person to be completely unproductive. This reaction is commonly caused by a seasonal affective disorder, which is regularly referred to as winter blues. Turns out that the lack of sunlight exposure leads to dysregulation of our circadian rhythm and a lower release of serotonin and/or melatonin. These changes make us more likely to develop sleeping issues, eating issues, depression and fatigue. The solutions to avoid this are easy; either you spend more time outside boosting sunlight exposure or you buy a luminotherapy lamp. Usually, these changes only are sufficient to resolve the situation, and thus there is no need for medication.

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Personally speaking, the Sun is what I would consider the closest thing to a god. This belief is motivated by the fact that the Sun first created us; now it keeps us safe and provides for us, but later it could also very much destroy us all in the snap of a finger. It’s powerful and always there, even if we can’t always see it. But every star in the night sky is as great and powerful as our sun, even though they appear from our perspective to not be any larger than the tip of a needle. So the next time you get the pleasure to stargaze, remember to enjoy the show that they are offering you and admire their inherent beauty and forces.

I thank you infinitely for reading this post and if you would like to know more about the mysteries that surround us, please join my subscription list to keep up with my newest content. If you have any questions, please add them to the comment section and I’ll make sure to answer as soon as humanly possible.