One thing I didn’t think too much about in Texas was “seasons”. Rather, I thought about them all the time…just in terms of being upset that we didn’t have any. Or, rather, we did have seasons, two of them: nine months of heat and three months of rain. Trees didn’t turn nice colors. If they still had leaves on after the heat and drought of the summer, they’d just wither up, turn brown, and blow off somewhere around New Year’s Day. “Seasonal color” referred to the way the air turned yellow after a cold snap caused the juniper scrub to pollinate, or later in the spring, when the yellow pollen of the live oaks would lie in piles on the cars and roadways.
When I was a little kid in Appalachia, we did have seasons, four of them, and they were the seasons that you see in the basic learn-to-read picture books that they give to kids. A girl gets used to that, and I never quite got used to not having that as I grew up in Texas. I’m not a fan of nine months of heat, so I left my home in search of more desirable weather. Straight to Wisconsin I went, fleeing the heat and taking my chances with the cold. It turns out that it really is a lot easier to deal with cold than with hot…if you have a paycheck that will allow you to purchase technical clothing and pay the heating bill, that is.
Now I find myself in New England, which seems to be where all the illustrators of those learn-to-read picture books live and work. The seasons in New England are the stuff of legend – the winters are white, the springs are colorful, the summers are mild, and the autumns…well, I’ll leave that to the landscape painters and the tourism boards to explain.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the seasons here have a rhythm that goes beyond the obvious. There are nearly palpable shifts in the energy of the landscape that herald the change of the seasons. We just had one this week, and while it is a daunting task to describe them, I will do my best.
The spring here explodes with a lurid exuberance. One moment it is brown, grey, and muddy – just as it has been for as long as anyone can remember (6 weeks, but it feels like a lifetime) – and the next moment, the landscape is dotted with tiny bright little flowers. In a breath, a blink of an eye, or maybe ten days, the entire surface of every growing thing on the earth is carpeted with a riot of flowers. It is as if the earth rolls over in her sleep, then falls out of bed and rockets to her feet shouting. Or maybe singing. I am always faintly surprised that it doesn’t happen with a flourish of trumpets.
The transition to summer is not as dramatic and is less heralded by an explosion of flora than by the sudden proliferation of car-top racks sporting bicycles, canoes, and kayaks on the local roadways. The procession of these vehicles follows certain time-tables that are well-known by locals: it is, for example, a very poor idea to plan to head out of Boston (in any direction) after 11am on a Thursday during this season…and an equally poor idea to plan to enter Boston (from any direction) on a Sunday afternoon. The baggage trains are not strictly limited to this type of clockwork regularity, but one can be guaranteed an extended and leisurely visit to any major thoroughfare during those times.
The pack-train nature of these voyagers is such that – as we joined them, on a recent trip to Maine, vehicle piled high with linens, food, and bikes – I found myself unable to derail a constant refrain of “Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote…Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…” Only, instead of wearing tabards with some holy sign, every vehicle is bedecked with decals from private schools, bumper stickers for local ski areas, and ovals stickers with cryptic abbreviations.
The transition to fall is, perhaps, my favorite. It is heralded by a short period of fulsome bounty that is almost embarrassing in its excess. The entire natural world is at its pinnacle of growth: plants are as tall as they will ever be, fruit covers every surface, the trees are impenetrably leafed out. Young animals are departing from nests and watchful parents. The air is heavy and the sun is hot. Nature has hit a crescendo, and every instrument in the orchestra is holding its most impressive note, fortissimo.
And then there is a pause, the musicians take a breath, and the season turns. The song still plays – the leaves are still green, the animals still active, the sun still warm, the produce still ripening – but at the same time, there is a subtle awareness that we are now on the downward side, that the play is nearly over, that this time is winding to an end. This transition is powerful enough that it attracts the notice even of those who are not looking for it. I don’t know what it is, this difference between one day and the next, but the feel of the air, the heat of the sun, the color of the sky, the shades of green, all of these are subtly altered. And it’s sudden, too. This year, it happened yesterday, on Friday.
So now we are leaving behind the robust summer – and I cannot be sorry for that, because although the heat was late in arriving, when it did, it arrived with vengeance and I am not sorry to think that the time to say “goodbye” to it is drawing near. Yet, this transition is always, for me, tinged with a strange melancholy. I don’t understand this, because I am always happy to greet the fall and the winter, but this time has an undeniable poignance.