Holi 21st to 22nd

Red color drenched Gopis (cowherds) of Nandgaon at Holi

Narender9 [CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia. In addition to India and Nepal, the festival is celebrated by Indian subcontinent diaspora in countries such as Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Mauritius, and Fiji.] In recent years the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.

Holi is the Festival of Love and also known as the Festival of Colors.  The origins of Holi lie in ancient Hindu traditions where Holi was celebrated to mark the arrival of spring. Holi is also related to the legend of Holiya, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu, who tried to burn Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada.  Prahlada had maintained faith in god (Vishnu), while Hiranyakashipu contended that he was god.  Wearing a cloak that guarded her from fire, Holika lured Prahlada into a fire but the cloak that was guarding Holiya flew off her and protected Prahlada instead. Since then, on the eve of Holi, a bonfire named Holiya is lit to signify the triumph of good over evil and celebrate it.  Holi also celebrates knowledge over ignorance, and love over hate.

Tubs of blue turquoise, yellow and pink color powders for Holi festival

e) © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC BY-SA 3.0

Central to most Holi festivals are bright colors that are often thrown, sprayed or painted on. For this reason Holi is often refer to as the Festival of Colors.Traditionally colors were achieved through dyes that were made from turmeric, sandalwood, flower an leaf extracts, and beetroots.  Sadly, in recent times synthetic color dyes are often used during Holi festivals. These dyes often use unhealthy ingredients or cause allergic reactions. People often recommend rubbing coconut oil into and onto your skin to prevent commercial dyes from absorbing.

A natural dye-based Holi in Pune, an alternative to synthetic colours

If you attend a Holi celebration in India and Nepal, you may encounter bhang, a tea made from cannabis leaves. It is frequently served at some Holi celebrations there. Bhang also contains milk, butter and spicies (cinnamon or nutmeg)

Holi is the day to express love with colors. It is a time to show affection. All the colors that are on you are of love. – Anonymous

You don’t have to follow the Hindu religion to enjoy Holi. Festivals are held across cities in the United States, especially where there is a large Hindu or Yoga community and all sorts of people attend.   Festivals often includes yoga demonstrations, Bollywood music, color dye toss, and always all sorts of Indian food.

No festival in your area? Try watching the Bollywood movie Mohabbatein (2000).  It includes scenes where a song called Soni Soni is played during a holi festival celebration in India. Indian movies are often like Western musicals so it will probably appeal to that audience. If those sorts of movies don’t appeal to you, you can cheet up the house by decorating with colorful ribbons and adornments to recognize the holi festival.  Marigold flowers are traditionally hung over balconies, railings and staircases.  Sofa cushions are often covered with bold, bright colors.  Walls are traditionally covered with colorful fabric patchwork. You can try eating at an Indian restaurant on this day to enjoy some Holi specialty sweet dishes such as shakarpara (sweet crispy bread), gujjias (sweet fried dumplings), kheer (rice pudding) and malpua (pancakes). Holi is about goodness, love and color, so indulge and enjoy.

 

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Aries Mar 20th 9:58 PM

Close up side view of white ramAries is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It is located in the northern celestial hemisphere between Pisces to the west and Taurus to the east. The name Aries is Latin for ram, and its symbol is Aries.svg (Unicode ♈), representing a ram’s horns. It is one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is a mid-sized constellation, ranking 39th overall size, with an area of 441 square degrees (1.1% of the celestial sphere).

Although Aries came to represent specifically the ram whose fleece became the Golden Fleece of Ancient Greek mythology, it has represented a ram since late Babylonian times. Before that, the stars of Aries formed a farmhand. Different cultures have incorporated the stars of Aries into different constellations including twin inspectors in China and a porpoise in the Marshall Islands.

The First Point of Aries, the location of the vernal equinox, is named for the constellation. This is because the Sun crossed the celestial equator from south to north in Aries more than two millennia ago. Hipparchus defined it in 130 BC. as a point south of Gamma Arietis. Because of the precession of the equinoxes, the First Point of Aries has since moved into Pisces and will move into Aquarius by around 2600 AD. The Sun now appears in Aries from late April through mid May, though the constellation is still associated with the beginning of spring.

In ancient Egyptian astronomy, Aries was associated with the god Amon-Ra, who was depicted as a man with a ram’s head and represented fertility and creativity. Because it was the location of the vernal equinox, it was called the “Indicator of the Reborn Sun”.[7] During the times of the year when Aries was prominent, priests would process statues of Amon-Ra to temples, a practice that was modified by Persian astronomers centuries later. Aries acquired the title of “Lord of the Head” in Egypt, referring to its symbolic and mythological importance.

Aries and Musca Borealis as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825

Aries was not fully accepted as a constellation until classical times.[9] In Hellenistic astrology, the constellation of Aries is associated with the golden ram of Greek mythology that rescued Phrixus and Helle on orders from Hermes, taking Phrixus to the land of Colchis. Phrixos and Helle were the son and daughter of King Athamas and his first wife Nephele. The king’s second wife, Ino, was jealous and wished to kill his children. To accomplish this, she induced a famine in Boeotia, then falsified a message from the Oracle of Delphi that said Phrixos must be sacrificed to end the famine. Athamas was about to sacrifice his son atop Mount Laphystium when Aries, sent by Nephele, arrived. Helle fell off of Aries’s back in flight and drowned in the Dardanelles, also called the Hellespont in her honor. After arriving, Phrixus sacrificed the ram to Zeus and gave the Fleece to Aeëtes of Colchis, who rewarded him with an engagement to his daughter Chalciope. Aeëtes hung its skin in a sacred place where it became known as the Golden Fleece and was guarded by a dragon. In a later myth, this Golden Fleece was stolen by Jason and the Argonauts.

Historically, Aries has been depicted as a crouched, wingless ram with its head turned towards Taurus. Ptolemy asserted in his Almagest that Hipparchus depicted Alpha Arietis as the ram’s muzzle, though Ptolemy did not include it in his constellation figure. Instead, it was listed as an “unformed star”, and denoted as “the star over the head”. John Flamsteed, in his Atlas Coelestis, followed Ptolemy’s description by mapping it above the figure’s head.Flamsteed followed the general convention of maps by depicting Aries lying down.

Aries depicted in an early medieval manuscript, c.1000

Aries as Archetype

 

As the spiritual new year begins at the spring equinox, Aries is typically associated with new beginnings. This seems appropriate with the cycle of the seasons beginning with a fresh sprouting of new vegetation each spring. The Aries archetype can be used as a powerful means of breaking from the past and initiating new activities in our spiritual quest.

Astrologically, Aries has been associated with the head and its humors.  It was considered to govern Western Europe and Syria, and to indicatea strong temper in a person. Mythologically, the Greek god Ares is equivalent to the Roman god Mars. “Ares is the personification of bold force and strength, and not so much the god of war.” “Ares did whatever possible to incite war and turmoil, and was probably the most single-minded of all the deities.” Interestingly, Mars in Roman tradition does not have the fickleness that Ares possessed. Additionally, Mars was originally considered the god of fertility and vegetation. Aries is the cardinal fire sign, bursting out at the spring equinox, when nature boldly renews itself, like the mythical bird Phoenix, rising out of its own ashes. Each of these descriptions go right to major archetypical influences from Aries. That death-defying strength is the sign of the Warrior, the archetype of Aries, who jumps to a challenge and fears no adversary. It’s the character of seeing life as a challenge and gladly taking it on. Without it, bold endeavor would never occur. So Aries is also the archetype of the explorer and adventurer, be he Indiana Jones or Captain Kirk. 

 

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Vernal Equinox chūn fēn 春分 Mar 20th

Buuding leaves on branch

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox. It was forecast to be a very warm sunny day here and without much wind, which has been unusual lately. Everyone seemed very happy to celebrate the first day of spring, including yours truly. In the traditional Chinese calendar the vernal equinox is one of the 24 solar terms terms.   According to this calendar, spring began back on February 4th, but even in most of China, no one thinks February is much like spring. Although there were spotty days of warmth, here no one was fooled and the other shoe dropped with a snow storm and cold temperatures.

The three pentads for the solar term Chunfen are the first 玄鳥至, ‘The dark birds arrive’. The dark birds referred to are swallows making their northward spring migration. This is not just true in China. The swallows of Mission San Juan Capistrano in California are quite famous and they are protected in the whole city. European swallows return from spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia and the Indian sub-continent. British swallows spend their winter in South Africa, returning along the west coast of Africa. European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley. All this to avoid crossing the Sahara. Chinese swallows have a much easier migratory path.

The second pentad: 雷乃發聲, ‘Thunder sounds’ refers to the onset of spring thunderstorms. We will get spring rains here but thunderstorms are less likely. The third  pentad, 始電, ‘Lightning begins’, also refers to the weather of this period. In Japan a version of this calendar is also used and I like the Japanese version of the pentads in this case. The second is 桜始開  Sakura hajimete hiraku which translates as ‘Cherry blossoms open for the first time’. This description is less repetitive and also fits what is happening where I live. Then the last pentad is 雷乃発 声 Kaminari sunawachi koeo hassu, ‘Distant thunder start to sound’, which fits the kind of rainstorms the Japanese also get at this time.

Book of Time book coverI am very interested in following the natural world according to this calendar and connecting to nature through it but I was frustrated by a lack of information. Thankfully I discovered a book was coming out on just this topic thanks to my habit of reading foreign newspapers. I found it available on the Amazon site, and I ordered it. I might have searched for ages for a vendor, but I have to admit, Amazon is darn good at getting things to market across all kinds of barriers. It is published in China and yes, it is all in Chinese, but I am thrilled. The Book of Time, the 24 Solar Terms is by Yu Shicun. I have had translating this book on the back burner for a while and I think this summer there will finally be time to work on it.Give the subject matter I am going to be using the dictionary a lot but what a beautiful incentive to improve my Chinese!

montage of illustrations from The Book of Time by artist Lao Shu

The Telegraph 27 Feb 2017 Artist La

The equinoxes are marked by an equal length of day and night. Thanks to the change to Daylight Savings Time here in the US most people are too disoriented to notice. People I know, both in person and on line, report their cats are disoriented too. Strangely, no one I know has complained their dogs are bothered by this. Of course, cats are very insistent on routine. I think dogs are in general more spontaneous.

large square balancing boulder I always like to use the equinoxes as a reminder to check the balance in my life. Am I working too much or not enough? Am I slacking on things I don’t really want to do? Am I neglecting some area of my life or some relationships which need attention? It can be hard to keep life in balance these days. There are a lot of externally imposed demands, like the deadline for filing taxes next month. Most people would put that off forever if they could. In my case I find working from home sometimes leads to being less efficient. Not because I am playing video games or with the cats but because household tasks haunt my every step and can’t be gotten away from. Also, I don’t get the feedback from working with other people. We all hate useless meetings that drag on to no end but well managed meetings and brain-storming sessions can be both inspirational and productive. I think now the weather will allow me to get out, a couple of mornings a week I’ll take my laptop down to the local coffee shop and work there, just for a change of pace.

Lo Shu Credit China Watch

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St. Patrick’s Day

Stained glass window of St Patrick from St Benin's Church, IrelandSaint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick , is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.

Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, cèilidhs, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (for provincial government employees), and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat.

It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of the Irish diaspora, particularly those that developed in North America. In recent years, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations for having become too commercialized and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.

Who was Patrick? Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland.It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he “found God”. The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.

According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelizing in the northern half of Ireland and converted “thousands”. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland (Ireland never had any snakes). Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.

The Chicago river dyed bright green

ScottMLiebenson [CC BY-SA 3.0 ] via Wikimedia

On St Patrick’s Day, it is customary to wear shamrocks, green clothing or green accessories. St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that may have aided St Patrick in his evangelization efforts.

Our celebration this year was a quiet one. I made some soda bread and shepherd’s pie. It being a Sunday and my needing to start early on a long list of errands Monday I didn’t go out. Much as St Patrick would have done I spent the day looking after my flock, even though they were cats and neither sheep or human. Everyone got a good looking over, probiotics in their food and preventive treatment for all the bugs that like to plague cats. The kittens need to go back to PetSmart if they are ever going to get adopted and they need to stay healthy.  It was warm enough to open some windows part of the day and we all enjoyed the sun and fresh air. I hope your day was as nice as ours, no matter whether you celebrated St. Patrick’s day or not.

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The Ides of March

the ruins of the Roman Forum

Rennett Stowe from USA [CC BY 2.0 ] via Wkimedia

The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances. The Romans did not number days of a month from the first to the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month). The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October. The Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar. On the earliest calendar, the Ides of March would have been the first full moon of the new year.

In Roman times the Ides of March was mostly notable as a deadline for settling debts. In more modern times it used to be the date tax returns and their accompanying taxes were due in the United States. Originally it had been March 1st but was changed in 1918 by Congress. I’ve always suspected a congressman with a deep sense of irony put that change forward. It was not until 1955 it was changed again, pushing the date back to April as middle class taxpayers began to get more refunds. The simple truth was, the government wanted to hang on to the money longer.

The Tusculum portrait, possibly the only surviving sculpture of Caesar made during his lifetime

Ángel M. Felicísimo from Mérida, España [Public domain]

To most people who have heard of it, the Ides of March is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate. As many as 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius, were involved. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, “The Ides of March are come”, implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” This meeting is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” The Roman biographer Suetonius identifies the “seer” as a haruspex named Spurinna.

Caesar’s death was a closing event in the crisis of the Roman Republic, and triggered the civil war that would result in the rise to sole power of his adopted heir Octavian (later known as Augustus).[23] Writing under Augustus, Ovid portrays the murder as a sacrilege, since Caesar was also the Pontifex Maximus of Rome and a priest of Vesta. On the fourth anniversary of Caesar’s death in 40 BC, after achieving a victory at the siege of Perugia, Octavian executed 300 senators and knights who had fought against him under Lucius Antonius, the brother of Mark Antony. The executions were one of a series of actions taken by Octavian to avenge Caesar’s death. Suetonius and the historian Cassius Dio characterized the slaughter as a religious sacrifice, noting that it occurred on the Ides of March at the new altar to the deified Julius. Just another reason to think of the Ides of March as an ill-omened day.

 

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Caturday Thoughts – Spring Ahead? Only Humans Loose Sleep Over This

Antique wall clock in Victorian case set to two o'clockSpring ahead, fall behind. Daylight Saving Time is about to disorient me and the cats again. Don’t forget to reset your clock. If you attend Sunday services of any kind you could wind up sneaking in late. The cats, not using clocks, will wake me for breakfast at the same time as the day before, and I will be feeling behind the power curve all day. I won’t really loose an hour, but I’ll feel like it.

On the bright side, quite literally, I will have longer hours of daylight and hopefully will be able to accomplish the long list of to dos I’ve set myself. After all, it will only take a few days for the cats and I to adjust. I  really tired of waking in the dark and doing my best zombie imitation as I feed the cats, who of course are crepuscular and become active in the early hours regardless of sunrise.

Many people think there is no real need for this semi-annual adjustment to the clocks. I myself would prefer the DST clock go all year. In the U.S., clocks change at 2:00 a.m. local time. In spring, clocks spring forward from 1:59 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.; in fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. In the EU, clocks change at 1:00 a.m. Universal Time. In spring, clocks spring forward from 12:59 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.; in fall, clocks fall back from 1:59 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.

In the U.S., 2:00 a.m. was originally chosen as the changeover time because most people were at home and this was the time when the fewest trains were running. It was late enough to minimize the affect on bars and restaurants, too. An earlier time might have switched the day to yesterday in the fall, which would be confusing. Still, it’s early enough that the entire continental U.S. switches by daybreak, and the changeover occurs before most early shift workers and churchgoers are affected.

This thoughtfulness was more than offset during the 1950s and 1960s by widespread confusion  created  when each U.S. locality could start and end Daylight Saving Time when it wanted. One year, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone. For exactly five weeks each year, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were not on the same time as Washington D.C., Cleveland, or Baltimore–but Chicago was.On one Ohio to West Virginia bus route, passengers had to change their watches seven times in 35 miles! The situation led to millions of dollars in costs to several industries, especially transportation and communications. Extra railroad timetables alone cost the today’s equivalent of over $12 million per year.

Speaking of railroads, to keep to their published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So, in October when the clocks fall back one hour, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers riding on this evening are often wakened by the halt and surprised to find their train at a dead stop. At the spring Daylight Saving Time change, trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2:00 a.m., but they must keep going and do their best to make up the time.

Still I have to say, no matter how it inconveniences me temporarily, the change actually cheers me up overall. It marks the first concrete sign spring is really on it’s way and I am in need of that after a long, cold, dark winter. I just make it a point to follow the cats’ lead. I may loose an hour but I’ll try not to loose any sleep.

Sunset over darkened hill

 

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Insects Awaken 驚蟄 Jīngzhé Mar 6th


file000896422461
In the traditional Chinese calendar, a solar year is the time from the winter solstice to the next winter solstice. Jīngzhé is the 3rd of the solar term and comes in the climate term of Mǎo (卯) or Mid Spring.  It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 345° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 360°. In the Gregorian calendar this year it begins on March 8 and ends March 20.

In Jīngzhé the three pentads are are first,  Táo shǐ huá (桃始華), ‘The peaches begin to blossom’, second Cāng gēng míng (倉庚鳴), ‘Orioles sing clearly’ and thirdly Yīng huà wéi jiū (鷹化為鳩), ‘Eagles are transformed into doves’. Although beautiful, these phrases do not accurately describe the weather and climate phenomenon in most of China at all. They certainly don’t describe what we have here. We are a long way from peaches blossoming or the return of any orioles.

file0001157801537I am really looking forward to signs of spring, though, even insects awakening. I’ve never had an aversion to bugs the way many people do. I find beetles like the fellow at left very interesting, although the Japanese beetles that like to turn the leaves of my roses into lace are not high on the popularity list. Still, I never use pesticides. Never. Period. If some insect is reckless or unknowing enough to enter my house, it is doomed unless I scoop it up and rescue it by dropping it outside. This is the abode of predators as fierce as any faced by Schwartzenegger, but thankfully much better looking. The cats don’t get much chance to stalk prey, so the observance of even the most microscopic insect life is an occasion to pounce.

file0001683749217In the yard the no pesticide rule ensures that I let nature handle things. I never have mosquitoes to speak of, only mosquito eating birds.  I always seem to attract one of my very favorite insects though and they are famous predators too. My day is made when I see one of these praying mantises. They are so dignified and fun to watch, and so diligent at their work, they beat a can of chemical spray in every way. I realize some find them a little scary but I honestly find them attractive. They seem to like leaving their egg cases in the rue plants and I have had the good fortune when the actual Jīngzhé comes, regardless of the calendar, to watch hundreds of tiny mantises swarm out like a green cloud of life and spread through my garden.

dragonfly

I also love dragonflies, my beautiful mosquito control. Each one eats hundreds of mosquitoes a day and I always seem to have several around, even without a pond or pool. They come in so many colors and wing patterns, it’s no wonder jewelers try to copy them. They don’t bite or sting and yet people seem to be afraid of them.  Then again, I also get a lot of bees and wasps and I don’t mind those either. Bees are struggling, the poisons people use is killing them. All I can say is, those same people had better not come complaining to me when crops fail for lack of pollinators. As for that, the wasps I get are also pollinators. I see them in the goldenrod and thistles and sometimes in the wild honeysuckle. There are several kinds, most common are tiny blue black ones that look quite delicate. These are nothing like the garbage can swarming yellow jackets. I don’t have a garbage can so I never see those. Perhaps they reflect mother nature’s sense of justice. The refuse we clutter the planet with is choking the life out of it.

I prefer things that encourage life, even insect life. I never want to live to hear a spring that has no Jīngzhé in a  world exiled from the nature. The sounds of crickets chirping, bees humming and cicadas trilling are the sounds of life renewed in spring. I prefer to use the old calendar that has marked the year for centuries and remains relevant in it’s poetic beauty and avoid marking the changing seasons with sale days and merchandise on store shelves months before it’s matching holiday. I look forward to Jīngzhé  when insects awaken.

file000353609993

 

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