There comes a point – some years more toward the beginning of the winter and the end of fall, others not until a particularly grey and cold February – when I forget that winter can’t last forever. I forget that the sun won’t always go down at 4:30, that I’ll soon sweat when I go out for a run, and I won’t ache for every sliver of sunlight I can steal. These aren’t conscious, logical thoughts, but I know they’re real because without fail, even with the reminders that precede it – flowers in bloom, sunnier days, sweatier jogs – I am almost shocked when we “spring forward” an hour.
For the record, I’m in the camp of keep-it-that-way. The benefits of “falling back,” whatever they may be, by no means outweigh the detriments, inclusive of increased crime, car accidents, and depression. But, as is so often the case, I digress.
I think the change in the seasons hits me so hard largely because the subtle seasonal changes with which I grew up in Southern California were so very different. The melancholy I associated with the end of summer was essentially to do with the end of vacation; I learned to be sad about the onset of winter because on the Doors album I listened to until I knew the whole of it word-for-word, and which was the piece of plastic that taught me how to use a record player, Jim Morrison expertly weaved rueful lyrics about the end of summer into a reverie about the end of what must have been the most poetic relationship of all time, in which it was always sunset, and everyone had long hair and bell bottoms:
Morning caught us calmly unaware Noon burnt gold into our hair At night we swam the laughing sea When summer’s gone Where will we be?
So, when summer came, it was the smell of freshly cut grass, the slightly warmer temperatures, the increased trips to the beach – not to mention the end of school – that indicated the season. And just to keep us on our toes, in Southern California we have “Gray May” and “June Gloom,” funny names for two of the greyest months we see. When summer gave way to autumn, the air took on the smell of wood fires – it became crisper, maybe cleaner. But that didn’t mean, necessarily, that it got a whole lot cooler! Some autumns were as warm or even warmer than the summers that preceded them. Even winter didn’t promise cold weather. One Christmas, as the temperatures soared into the high 70s (about 25°C), we spent the afternoon at the pool. The latest the sun ever went down was about 8:30, the earliest around 5:00.
Somehow this all just helped me remember, like little orphan Annie promised, the sun would come out tomorrow. Maybe I’m so prone to S.A.D. because, faced with months of cold weather, I start to subconsciously wonder if it’s going to be the other way around (which was, incidentally, often the case in London). Up here on December 21st, the sun bids us good day (often behind a hefty duvet of clouds) at around 3:30 pm.
The sun has long been incredibly important to me. In the depths of my saddest times, I found such profound refuge simply lying in its rays, feeling it permeate my pores, like a purification process – a cleansing.* As a child I even stared directly into it, in spite of having been told – by grown-ups, by songs – not to…how it humbled me, even before I understood it astronomically (or astrologically, for that matter)! Yellow-white-yellow…that little ball lights up the whole world! And then some!
The murky obscurity of winter often feels like it isn’t going anywhere, but then, isn’t that what makes summer and sunshine so magical to begin with? I used to think I couldn’t live with fewer than 10 months of sunshine. Now I’m finding a whole lot of joy in a place where the seasons are as proper as climate change will allow: rainy falls, snowy winters, April showers, May flowers – the whole nine yards. Like Jim, though – another SoCal native – I’m finding a lot of use for seasonal metaphor in my life’s ups and downs.
Tonight the sun didn’t set until 8:00, and I felt the familiar shock and awe – like I’d been gifted a few extra hours each day, ergo, bet your bottom dollar – everything’s gonna be just fine. Sometime sooner or later over the next couple of months, probably when the sun is making space for the moon to shine well past 9:00, I’m going to get used to this. Maybe I shouldn’t – if I keep in mind that nothing gold can stay, at least it won’t ache as much when it goes, right? I mean, at the end of the day, good ol’ Jim had a Wintertime Love ready and waiting for when Summer was well and truly Gone. I say: Meh. I say, it’s in those precious moments when we’re sailing, when everything’s alright, that everything really and truly becomes alright. I wouldn’t give that up for anything…not even to make the darkest days a bit brighter.
*I realize I may pay dearly for this as the years progress.