How to Make the Most of the Ombre Season


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Dahlias, the flower of the ombre season.

Dahlias, the flower of the ombre season.

The kids are off to school, here’s what to do during the ombre season.

For a long time, I had no idea there could be no more than four seasons. Then I found out that in places like southern India, which seemed to have only one season—scorching, a six-season calendar is the norm. Even at home in the United States, in addition to the seasons everyone knows, the North American Cree still use a 6-season system that includes “break-up” and “freeze-up,” both seasons that reflect literal interpretations of nature.

In China, where I’ll be living, many people observe five seasons. There’s spring, summer, fall, and winter, but there’s also a late-summer or “long summer”, which happens to be now. I call it ombre season. It’s the time of year when subtle shades of yellow and red appear on trees before the fall drama. Most people place late-summer roughly between mid-August and the autumn solstice—but the text of the Huangdi Neijing (黄帝内经), which considers this period critical in Chinese Traditional Medicine, is vague. One thing is certain: This is a period of the in-between.

Lately, people have reached out to me in various states of crazed and frustrated. The holidays are over, but schools haven't quite begun. They are either frantic or harried, unhinged by the sudden change in schedule. Even people without children are not immune to the universal slow down that inevitably occurs in August. Those of us without them just have fewer distractions to mitigate it.

On the heels of summer comes fall. Most people are only a couple of generations removed from families who worked farms. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine the enormity of a fall harvest, the preparation of land and household for wintering, and the shortening of the days aided only by candlelight. The last light of summer offered a reprieve for the darkness ahead. In the context of today, where LED lights can stay on for 11 years before they burn out, relying on a natural countdown that slows us down before the frenzy of fall, is essential.

So here are my tips for embracing the ombre season:

Make a list of all that's good.

We often make endless lists detailing what we have to do, so why not make one that highlights the good. Mid-way through the year is a great time to reflect and take stock of the joy.

Walk like Thich Nhat Hahn.

If you’re not familiar with Thich That Hanh, he is a Buddhist monk who popularized the practice of a slow, meditative walk. You can learn his method here. To see the ombre colors between summer and fall, you have to slow down. There's no need to go for a hike. A walk down the block works, too. The act of slowing down allows us to see the intricate layers of life, and by design, our relationships and how we live. Then, maybe, you’ll notice ombre everywhere.

Do a cleanse.

Just as people ritually clean after winter, now is a good time to sort through, recycle, or give away anything that is no longer serving you. If it doesn’t bring you joy, it’s time to go. And the best part? You’ll have cut your spring cleaning in half!

Stay hydrated.

Just because the weather is cooling off a bit, doesn’t mean you need to drink less water. Sweat evaporates quickly in cool, dry air. Drinking plenty of water ensures your organs are not overheating and functioning optimally.

Get extra sleep — a short nap counts, too!

If, like me, you can’t take naps, get to bed earlier. The sleep control center of your brain is more sensitive to the hot and humid that typifies the ombre season, so getting extra sleep will help you stay more focused during the day.— M W

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