“Don’t you have any seasons down here?” The elderly man was standing outside the Luby’s cafeteria in the South Texas sun, in his hand a handkerchief, with which he mopped his brow. It was January–by strict definition, the middle of winter, yet the eighty-five degree temperature belied the title. The long line at the cafeteria was populated generally by older folks, like this gentleman, from parts much further north. They suffered in the heat, while the natives who stood impatiently in the line with the Snow-Birds, as we commonly called these northerners, noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
I heard a man nearby reply laconically to the old Winter Texan’s (what the Chamber of Commerce wanted us to call them) query. “Yep. Two. Hot and Hotter.” He wasn’t lying. The temperate climate of the Rio Grande Valley, where I spent my childhood (I almost inserted “wasted”, but in fact, it wasn’t), was such that the trees and foliage were covered in leaves and blooms year round. The folks from the colder climes came year after year to spend their winters in a place where the snow didn’t blanket the ground, nor ice cover the streets. We commonly joked about the rubber-necking habits of the old folks, as they drove the highways and roads, exclaiming in disbelief about the plethora of fruit-bearing trees and the flourishing tropical greenery. It was the middle of the winter! How was it possible that everything was still growing? They thought it was a paradise, of sorts. I haven’t always agreed.
I left my childhood home at the end of my teen years, looking for a place to start out on my own. One of the prerequisites I had for the place in which I would settle was the presence of four distinct seasons. I wanted to experience winter. (Ah, the foolishness of youth!) I also wanted to see the blossoming forth of the spring. The summer season, I understood all too well, but I knew I could endure it. I even looked forward to the autumn, as the trees began to go into hibernation, pausing for a few weeks before that to bring out their finest adornments for one last fling. What an explosion of beauty, short lived though it might be!
The foothills of the Ozarks proved to be the perfect locale for experiencing all of the seasons, most of them fairly mild…the winters with just the right amount of cold and snow, the springtime not too stormy, but beautiful with new life, nor the summers unbearably hot. And, the autumn? Ah! The autumn did not disappoint, with brilliant colors and spectacular vistas. I, like the aforementioned Snow-Birds, thought it paradise.
It’s funny how the years can change your perspective. For the last decade, I have begun to dread certain seasons. At first, I thought nothing of it. Spring, I still love without reserve. New life–the earth is unfettered and fertile. How can one not love spring? And summer, with the kudzu covered hillsides, and its long lazy days easing into beautiful star-lit nights? Aside from those few with extreme temperatures and lack of rain, as this last one proved to be, I love summer and am always sorry to see it wane. And now, as the years continue on, I have begun to question the reason for my change of heart, because I am loath to see the beginning of fall and am downright rebellious about entering the winter.
At first, I blamed the autumn for its part in portending the chill and bleakness of winter. Winter itself, I despise because it makes me cold–Period. I do not enjoy being cold. I contend that anyone who pretends to love winter actually loves the fact that they can be warm in winter, either in the nest they have built for themselves, or in the multiple layers with which they wrap themselves to ward off the cold while outside. They don’t love cold, but simply the sense of conquering it. Unfortunately, it conquers me. And, it rubs it in. I spend my winters huddled in front of the fireplace, awaiting the return of my beloved springtime and the warmth it brings back to my old bones.
But, is it just about physical changes that occur? Or, is there some deeper meaning to my antagonism toward the two waning seasons, autumn and winter? I’m beginning to think there might be. The Lovely Lady and I sat and teased each other this evening, before I prepared to write for awhile. She spoke of our middle age and the fact that it was already in the past. I joked that I hadn’t yet enjoyed my mid-life crisis and might demand one. Again, she reiterated the fact that my chance for that was gone, since I would not see middle age again. She is right. I know not a single person who has reached the ripe old age of one-hundred and ten, so I can no longer claim to be middle-aged and must move semi-gracefully into my senior years. I’m not anxiously awaiting the autumn of my life.
And, now it becomes more clear. I understand that, at least in part, my objection to the seasons which show decay and then death are a reaction to a reality that is to come. In the spring and summer of life, there is little thought to what the future will bring. We are vital and strong, with a sense of invincibility. We ignore the warnings of older folks, all well-intentioned, who caution that the invincibility will prove fleeting. Educations are acquired, partners are chosen and offspring arrive. We build our little empires, ruling them with no thought that the future might find them any less impregnable than they are while we are in our prime. But, little by little as the years pass, we begin to realize that, like all flesh, we are edging inexorably toward the coming latter seasons.
Do you detect a sense of sadness, a note of gloom in my writing tonight? You shouldn’t. As life passes, I have come to realize that, although our human nature says that the coming autumn and winter are times to be afraid of, they are actually seasons to exult in. What season is more spectacular than fall? Nature displays its glory, unashamed and proud. And we, appropriately, applaud. The autumn of life is somewhat like that, as we think about what has been accomplished and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Our families are our glory, as grandchildren and grand-nieces and grand-nephews proliferate. What an exhibition! Friends gather close and the joy of fellowship is multiplied. What a great season of life!
The winter is coming. I’m not ready to celebrate it yet. But still, in spite of the cold and the seemingly lifeless landscape, preparation is being made for new life to come. Need I say more? Those of you who have entered that season will understand. Sadness and joy are mixed with expectation. I think that I may just enjoy winter also. We’ll see.
“To everything, there is a season.” The Preacher, for all of his rambling, knew it. I’ll take them as they come. Who knows? I may even get some new winter clothes this year, so I can actually thrive in that chilly season too. The fireplace will still be there if I need it…
Fall is right around the corner. I think that I’m going to enjoy it when it arrives this time.
“So it is with you
And how You make me new
With every season’s change.
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me…
Summer, autumn, winter, spring.”
(from “Every Season” by Nichole Nordeman~American singer/songwriter)
“Springs passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
(Yoko Ono~Japanese musician)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.