Grain in Ear: Shrike shrieks

December 16th, 2011
by Jo Law

This pentad ends on the last day of term for primary and secondary school students in New South Wales. It is getting close to Christmas and everyone is talking about the weather. The Bureau of Meteorology predicts a 60 – 80% chance of wetter summer months over eastern New South Wales (that is an above median rainfall). This is the result of the La Niña weather pattern strengthening in the Pacific and a warmer Indian Ocean. A common complaint against this presistent wet weather is the difficulty in getting the laundry done. Having lived in Perth where (in summer at least) the clothes practically dry in your hands as you put them on the line, the necessity of semi-permanently installing damp laundry over cloth horses makes me feel like I live in Mawsynram.

Another effect of this wettness is the fecundity of fungus growth, and in particular, the ubiquitous mould. Leather jackets, boots, and other goods stored in wardobes need frequent airing to deter the microscopic fungi from recycling the biopolymers back to simpler forms of nutrients. The annual spring clean provides the opportunity for the activities of airing, cleaning, re-arranging, and re-organsing.

Older and archaic calendars usually begin the new year in spring. Accordningly, major cleaning tasks coincide with the end of winter. The Chinese lunisolar or agricultural calendar (農曆), for example, assigns the 28th day of the last month of the year (2 days before new year) to the task of cleaning, or ‘wash away the dirt’ (年廿八,洗邋遢). Presumably after having huddled up indoors to shelter from the long and cold mid-latitude northern hemisphere winter, cleaning is the first order of business when waking up from hybernation. It is a motivating activity that provides a cathartic effect and even a health benefit. In re-scheduling the new year to mid-winter in the northern hemisphere, the Geogorian calendar looses this connection between new year, new growth, and new possibilities, cutting the ties between the metaphorical and the physical. Perhaps, we are luckier in the southern hemisphere where the new year begins in summer. At the very least, we have the warm weather to ‘spring clean’, to dust, to air, to clean, and to repair the old, and to make room to welcome in the new.

Of course, cleaning needs not be seasonal but it does help to have an incentive, a motivating force, or some sort of deadline. Last time we had a major clean up was before Hollis was born, when the nesting instinct was at fever pitch, when no amount of cleaning seemed to be enough. The time before that was when we moved house. The main hurdle of a ‘spring clean’ is not starting the task but completing it. This year a ‘re-org’ prompted the ‘spring clean’ in late Spring but has since dragged on. Let’s hope the deadline of visitors arriving brings this major clean to an end.

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