Name Your Favorite Season

Central America experiences primavera, morphin, vernal, neolluvial, canícula, and otoño

Before coming to Central America, I assumed that there were four seasons here. After a few years, I had come to understand that, according to local opinion, there are but two. Furthermore, winter was summer, and vice-versa (more on this later). But the more I think of it, I count six.
With apologies to Dr. Seuss, it all reminds me of a passage in “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” about a parade of whimsical creatures that kindled wonderment in the eyes of each of my sons at they passed through early childhood. “Some have two feet, some have four, some have six feet, and some have more.”

Depending on whom you ask, Central America experiences two, four, six or more seasons. I will outline the case for the first three possibilities. The folks who think there are more than six are probably manic-depressives who forgot to take their pills, so I will ignore the “more” possibility.

Year in and year out, the Earth pivots on her axis, first 23.3 vertical degrees one way, then 23.3 degrees to the other. As most schoolchildren know, this is what causes seasons. For every lateral degree (each 360th of a complete circle), there is a calibrated vertical angle for the Earth. This has been the case for millennia. There is a smidgeon of decay in this orbit, as we would expect given the First Law of Thermodynamics, but it is so negligible that planetary physicists cannot explain its virtual perfection.

A certain sage and eunuch in Babylon, sixth century B.C.E., believed that Earth was divinely held in place; almost all modern Central Americans agree with him. “He changes the times and the seasons,” the sage wrote, “and He removes kings and raises up kings.” Personally, I think that changing the seasons is a bigger deal than changing kings, since the latter is something in which mere human hands often take part with tools ranging from hanging nooses to hanging chads.

According to the two-season theory, Central America has only winter and summer, with winter being the warmer of the two. That’s what I said—winter is warmer. By local definition, winter is the season of precipitation; since the rain falls mostly in warmer months, these months (roughly May to October) are el invierno (winter). The dryer months (November to April) are colder, but, being dry, they are el verano (summer). I explained this apparent oddity in my articles “Vivaldi Was Not Born in Belize” and “Canicula, Caniculi” (see to find past articles).

No need to say much about the four-season model, since la primavera (spring) is only a word brochure writers use to lure tourist to Guatemala with phrases like “Land of Eternal Spring.” And el otoño (fall/autumn) is an esoteric abstraction, especially since Guatemalan tourists often go to Orlando to see Mickey, but rarely to Vermont to see the leaves turn.

OK, so what about my six-season model? It is undeniable that the dry and wet seasons have a mini-season of three to six weeks straddling their midpoints. There is February, or el mes loco, in which any kind of weather is possible, although it is in the middle of the dry season. Then there is the canícula that starts in early or mid-July and usually takes in a week or so of August. This period brings positively Mediterranean weather to the rarefied heights of Central America.

So the six seasons are the two mini-seasons, and the before and after phases of the dry and wet seasons. Since winter and summer make little sense as universal terms, I would discard them. But I would use spring and autumn.

People often ask me about the best month to visit. I say that November is beautiful, but to avoid October. There are years when the torrential rains last literally to Halloween but vanish by Day of the Dead (Nov. 1)—almost like they were spooked away overnight. But the rest of the time, this changing of seasons is very close to, if not coincidental with, this changing of months. Good thing, too, since on Nov. 1 cemeteries are clogged with folks leaving marmalade and rum at the graves of loved ones.

The season that starts here, and runs through January, I call primavera, because —the cold notwithstanding—it resembles spring. Wildflowers are profuse in November and some remain well into bone-dry January. But then the angiosperms get a slight boost in February, the mini-season I call Morphin, since the weather can easily and suddenly morph. Then comes the second dry season, which I call Vernal, after the associated equinox, and because it is the season of corn harvest.

The rains then return in force in what I call Neolluvial. Then comes Canícula, and after that the second rainy season, Otoño, which begins with the sowing of the corn. Rounded very crudely to the nearest whole month, these seasons are: November, December and January-Primavera; February, Morphin; March and April, Vernal; May and June, Neolluvial; July, Canícula; August, September and October, Otoño I do not expect these labels to enter any lexicon; that presumes much. But the case for naming the four longer seasons rests on the utility of naming anything that exists, even abstractly, like the value for x in algebra. Or things that exist more substantively; in 325 C.E., the Council of Nicea inferred the existence of the Trinity, so they coined this term (not present in the Scriptures) in order to understand each other. Likewise, terms for the six seasons would aid agronomists, travelers and even wedding planners.

If my Stepmom, Doris Burke-Coop, visits me in June and it rains, I’ll remark, “Well, what can I say? We’re in Neolluvial.” Maybe she will take me for a brain and write home about it.

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