Permutating Mid-Winter: Just Because We Can’t See It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Happening
01.30.2020, 6:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

permutation (n.)
“change, shift”, “to change, go, move,” from PIE root *per- (1) “forward,” hence “through…”

It’s a rare occurrence in daily life to have a context where we are invited to focus awareness on one sensory experience, and especially upon one that is so radically re-shaping life on Earth today. This Wednesday, on what meteorologists have designated as “mid-winter” in New York City (the day of the year that the average temperatures are lowest), we, along with five guests, set out to share tea in Prospect Park.  We gathered for Tea #4 of our Tea in the Dark project —a micro-production dedicated to cultivating an embodied awareness of planetary seasonal temperature lag.


The coldest day of the year, aka Mid-Winter or the thermal minimum, captured our imaginations after we learned about the seasonal lag and its material realities: the longest and shortest days of the year are not the coldest or the hottest. These days come weeks, sometimes months after year’s winter and summer solstices. We were fascinated to learn that the duration of the lags vary, sometimes quite significantly, for each geographic location on Earth—unlike the moments of solstice or equinox, which are the same around the globe.

New York City’s coldest on average day occurs 39 days after winter solstice on January 29th. On that day, the average low is 28°F and the high is 39°F. The city’s hottest day on average falls on July 20th (high of 85°F, low of 71°F). New York City has a a three and a half month long cold season. In contrast, San Francisco, has a four month “cool season” with the coldest day being January 3rd (a relatively balmy average low of 45°F and high of 56°F). The City by the Bay’s hottest day of the year occurs nearly two months later than NYC’s, on September 19th (high of 72°F and low of 58°F).  You can check your city’s hottest and coldest dates on Weather Spark.

You can read more about the science of the seasonal lag here, and about the math of the lag here, but the basic idea is that the earth’s various surface areas warm up and cool down at different speeds, depending on local conditions such as the amount of solar radiation reaching a particular area (aka, insolation). Given the angle and amount of time that the sun’s heat hits a particular location, the heat it generates in the soil and water builds up and dissipates through time and space at different rates and intensities.


For us, the meteorological dynamics that drive the year’s hottest and coldest days echo one of the most challenging characteristics of the Anthropocene. Namely, that it is patchy—as in, unevenly distributed. The predictions of the coldest and warmest days are based on historical averages, or climate normals, and are quickly being rendered less than accurate by climate change. The forces effecting all geographic locations on Earth (and their habitats) are increasingly variable. Just two weeks earlier than our micro-production, on January 12th, 2020, temperatures in Central Park reached a record high of 68°F.

With no certainty as to what the actual seasonal conditions for our tea would be, we invited guests to join us for our mid-winter iteration of Tea in the Dark . Our goal for this event was simple: to offer guests a context to pause together in an outdoor environment, with tea, and experience a human-scaled engagement with seasonal and temperature lag. To actually feel this change, literally in our hands, for ourselves, without distraction.

We staged the tea at a picnic table at the edge of Prospect Park, under a brilliant blue sky, relatively low winds and a temperature of 41 degrees. The flower arrangement for the occasion, crocus bulbs, evoked the energy gathering, unseen to human eyes, but at work all around us and building toward spring with each day, post-mid-winter.


After introductory words, we rang a brass bowl. The experience of listening to the ringing was an invitation to note the physical and temporal lags that permutated across time and the metal of the bow, between the striking of the bell and the dissipation of vibrations and sound waves. We invited guest to then focus their attention on the cold of the Tilt of the Earth teacup that they held in their hands. Hot water was poured into each cup, pre-warming it for tea. As heat permutated through the porcelain, guests were invited to sense the transfer of heat—and its lag—for themselves, while using their imaginations to extend the scale of this awareness to that of the planetary.



We deliberately chose to brew a rare Fall Shincha for the occasion. Shincha translates as “new tea” and is a spring tea typically only offered in May. Kettl Brooklyn’s Fall Shincha undergoes a six month refrigerated aging known as jukusei. So, as we sat together in Prospect Park, at the deepest mid-point of winter, we offered a taste of spring through this tea’s alchemy of brilliant generative sun and the dark, ripening time of cold storage. Yuzu and sansho pepper mochi, made locally by mochi rin, accompanied the tea.


watercolor cards gifted to guests, edition of 6, smudge studio 002020


The poetic invitation of Tea #4 of Tea in the Dark was to sense material and temporal transfers among bodies. The effects of material exchanges occurring across micro-to planetary scales take place continuously, whether humans are physically able to see them or not, and whether humans designed these exchanges or not. The consequences of these mutual transformations may not manifest for hours, weeks, or millennia. Our abilities to grasp this reality and its complexities, and attune our senses, bodies, and actions to it, enriches our life. It also may help us in navigating the uncertainty of the Anthropocene.



Additional details about Permutating Mid-Winter: Just Because We Can’t See it Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Happening are posted on the digital chakaiki under Tea #4.

As we continue to stage tea for Koans for the Anthropocene: Tea in the Dark, we invite collaborations and opportunities to share tea.

* all images this page FOP/smudge studio 002020

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