It’s a recurring theme in many situations. “What’s your favorite season?” It was used in ice-breaking, get-to-know-you exercises, when new students were thrown into class with each other. It occasionally appeared on first dates, as strangers awkwardly grasp at topics of conversation, in order to move the date forward and not lapse into that area of the date that people deem even worse than awkward conversation…silence.
Sometimes it’s not even a question. I’ve known a number of people to just expound on the topic, whenever the feeling hits them (much as I’m doing, it seems). Usually, it begins with disparaging remarks on the current season. At the height of summer, when the world outside seems to have been replaced by a heavy sponge, and you feel like you’re slowly being suffocated by your environment, customers would drape themselves over the cool marble counters at the coffee shop and opine about the heat and the humidity and how we had never ever had a summer this bad before, even though it was exactly like all the summers before and, most likely, was indicative of summers to come. I’d stand and nod, hotter behind the counter than they were on the other side, surrounded as I was by non-stop machinery with built-in heating components.
It always amused me that the same people who whined about the heat in summer were the very same people who would come scurrying into the shop in winter, complaining about the temperature outside, and inevitably bringing with them an arctic blast of wind and chill when they opened the door. Quite often, it wasn’t even cold enough outside for there to be legitimate complaints.
I will admit that there were days when even thinking about stepping outside was enough to freeze one’s feet into popsicles. I could tell when those days came around because, in addition to being in the line of fire every time the door opened (and not having the luxury of wearing a coat to fend off the chill), I could feel the cold radiating off their bodies as they stood at the register. Yes, I’m aware that cold doesn’t actually radiate, but I can think of no other word at the moment that better describes the way the frigid temperature from outside would cling to these people as they came in, only to slowly unfurl and creep through the air to envelop me as I stood, coatless, behind the counter. It was like a living beast, that coat of chill – one that took great joy in peeling itself from travelers and slinking over the counter to wrap itself around unsuspecting, t-shirt clad baristas.
The thing about that question – “what’s your favorite season?” – Some of us just don’t have a favorite. I like the fact that I have seasons, period. I find them extremely interesting. Stop and think about it for a moment…this world around us – the one not made of concrete and glass and metal – has its own way of knowing when to do everything. It knows when to shake off the blanket of winter, little sprigs of bright green peeking their heads out of the hard ground to herald the coming spring. The trees take their cues for when to start turning brilliant shades of red and orange and yellow in the fall without any prompting from you or me. And in between, the days get warmer or colder, depending on their own schedules and desires. To tell you the truth, I welcome the long hot spells of summer, as well as the chill of winter.
I love a number of different, specific things about each season, but in the end the thing I love most about them is the simple reminder of what they are.
Little, big…changes. They happen every day and we take them for granted, and it seems like most people are only aware of them happening when they’re huge and disruptive. But change
isn’t, in itself, good or bad. It just is. And things have been changing around here quite a bit for me.
I’ve started a couple of new adventures over the past few years. Some I’ve mentioned here, some I’ve kept more private. I finished grad school. I became a minister. I’ve had friends and family move in and out – both of my house and of my life. I came to terms with the loss of something I thought I wanted, and found where I was meant to be. I got a car. That car died. I got a new car. That car came with a couple of life lessons of its own. I dated people who wanted me to be someone else, said goodbye and now have a loving, adult relationship. I turned 30. I left a job working for a man I’d worked for for 11 years, starting when I was 18 years old, and started working for a non-profit organization in Maryland.
I suppose that’s what really prompted my ruminations on seasons and change.
I work on a farm now, in the middle of a national park. Granted, most of my days start and end in the administration building, but cows and pigs and sheep and turkeys and office cats all call my attention at some point or another, as do bugs and plants and fish falling from the sky and refrigerators full of earthworms and run-down, spooky museum barns and drunk fishermen on the pier down by the Visitors Center.
There are fresh eggs in the office kitchen. And not fresh as in I-just-bought-them-this morning. I mean fresh as in we have to clean the chicken poop off of them before we put them in fridge, after they’re brought in each morning. I had never had a fresh egg before. I didn’t know that the yolks of a hard-boiled egg are not supposed to be pale yellow, with a ring of greenish-gray around them. Did you? They’re not. They’re a cheerful orangey-yellow. I was taken aback the first time I had one. The shells on the eggs from the little Bantams we have are also thicker than eggs I’m used to from the store. They’re harder to break. Something to remember for the future, if you’re clumsy.
Each morning, I park my car in the staff lot and look out across a field ringed by trees. In just the three months I’ve been working here, I’ve seen it go from drought-touched and heat-baked brownish to the gold and orange and brilliant red of fall, to slightly faded and pale from a heavy frost. There are deer out in the field more times than not, and occasionally grown men flying rubber-band propelled balsa wood-and-tissue paper planes. My car, undoubtedly better suited to city driving, is constantly splattered with mud or covered in dust. Thankfully, the turkeys haven’t singled out my car in the lot yet. I’ve gotten word that they like to peck at their reflections in the dark cars.
The people here change with the seasons. Farm hands and interns and livestock apprentices and volunteers and CSA members and visitors. They come in and out of our office and our park and our lives. Some of them leave bigger marks – like the older man I visited the other day. He was sick and unable to make it to the CSA pickup (Community Supported Agriculture, in case you’re interested…not Confederate States of America), and the farm manager asked if I could drop it off for him on my way home. It was out of my way, but not completely, and I wound up staying longer than I expected, and didn’t mind one second of it.
I looked in the mirror the other day and asked myself, “When did I grow up?” I’m not one to study myself in the mirror for hours. I’ve gone days without looking in the mirror. I’m not generally too excited by what I find and don’t feel I need to be reminded what my face looks like, but something struck me in that moment. I looked in the mirror and didn’t see the same exact face I had before. There was something about the way I looked that day – with my “big girl haircut” that was somehow behaving itself and work clothes that were a little nicer, due to a special tour that was running through the site that day – that brought home the fact that I was no longer the fresh-faced, wide-eyed youth I had once been.
Things had changed.
I remember those days when I was still trying to figure out my place in this world, in the midst of the great morass that is high school. Hell, I was still trying to figure that out in college. Okay, I was still trying to figure that out more recently than college.
I suppose that aspect of life never really stops. We’re constantly re-evaluating our lives, aren’t we? Where we are, where we want to be, what makes us happy and why are we still doing the things that make us miserable. At least, I think we should be pondering those questions regularly, because the never-ending truth is that things change. We wake up in the morning and new people are president, and friends get married or find out they are pregnant or can’t get pregnant, and folks move in and out of cities, and relationships deepen and blossom or wither and fade, and the seasons change, and we grow older. The very essence of our lives is change.
There’s a quote I read about a year ago that’s stayed with me, flitting around the edges of the dusty filing cabinets in my mind:
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another – Anatole French
I understand that sense of melancholy, even as I disagree with “dying” to an entire life before beginning a new one. Perhaps “dying” to a part of your life. I don’t make as much as I did at my old job, or have as much free time to myself anymore, since I no longer get off work at 2pm and my weekends, of late, have been taken up with a lot of church duties or fixing up the house, but I haven’t abandoned friends and family and personal hobbies – much as some might think and much as it sometimes feels. The schedule has merely changed. New responsibilities have been added. Life has changed.
I feel that melancholy for the life and adventures I’ve had – leaving on a whim to go to conventions in other states, buying materials and fabric at the store to create giant heads out of foam and felt and wire, or even just going out to lunch a couple of times a week. I’ve had to trade a lot of that in for staying home to write a sermon or plan a service, help with family or old family friends who are ailing, and finally trying to create order out of chaos in the basement and put a house that is, at times quite literally, falling apart back together. Going out to lunch is a rare treat now – much like it was when I was growing up. Instead, money is spent on gas to get to and from work, bills, and – again – the house. I haven’t bought a new book in months. Hell, I haven’t even been to the library to check one out in months – which is saying something pretty big about my personal time and changes in responsibilities, considering how much I’ve always read. I don’t get to go out with folks all that often anymore – not because I don’t want to, but because most of the outings I’m invited to are more spontaneously planned and I’m already committed to something else…like missing a concert last weekend because I had a sermon to write, or missing the church Christmas party this coming Saturday because I have to work, or only going to Ohio for a few days near the end of the winter holidays, instead of a week and half with family, because I only have a few days I can take off of work.
I miss the luxury of getting off work at 2pm and having places like the park or the store or wherever all to myself because other folks are still at work…but I’ve traded it for other things. I don’t feel the need to come home after work and throttle people or take a four hour nap anymore. I get to actually see my folks, instead of drifting through for a sleepy dinner before heading back to bed. I can stay up and chat with cousins in other cities, without worrying about having to get up at 4am. I don’t get to enjoy spontaneous Ray’s Hellburger, but I can bring home fresh organic carrots or salad greens or a sweet potato as big as my arm, to help defray grocery costs. I have a longer commute, but I get to see the sunset over the farm and the lights of National Harbor reflected over the Potomac River on my way home.
Changes and seasons, in nature and in life. Sometimes they are regular, sometimes they happen when you least expect them. They don’t always synch up with the rhythms of the other lives around you, and there’s a part of us that mourns for what we’ve lost, be it time, innocence, money, or a thousand other things. Change is a tide we need to learn to roll with. It isn’t going to stop, and it’s up to us to decide whether we let it steer us to a new cove, or if we fight against it and let it slowly lap over the edge of our boat, sinking us little by little and stalling our forward momentum, all because we refuse to accept it.