Friday, June 6, 2014

Seasonal Drama

by Jean Roberta

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey.”

Alas! Our Mother has died of grief, and we shall die too. The Lord of the Dead stole her daughter, and now the Mother is too distracted to feed her human children. Death has conquered the land of the living.

Why do we have to go to work when the temperature is 40 degrees below zero? Why did anyone ever think the Canadian prairies were fit for human habitation?

In Northern climates, we celebrate some holiday near the time of the Winter Solstice to comfort ourselves. The hours of daylight are short, it’s cold, the land that once grew crops is covered with snow, so we party hearty to compensate. We’re probably insane.

The missing university student has been found. He had some drinks with friends in the campus pub, then decided to walk home. He passed out on his way, the snow covered him, and when the search party found him, it was too late. He will sleep off his hangover forever, and his family will never be the same. All the other students (and many faculty members) are relieved that it didn’t happen to them. And we’re all keeping their fingers crossed that it never does.

Finally! Almost all the snow has melted, and there are buds on the trees! It’s a miracle. On the ironically-named non-holiday called Good Friday (a day to spend away from work or school, not celebrating), Christians have traditionally contemplated suffering, death, the winter that comes to every life. Then on the following Sunday, they go joyfully to a church decorated with lilies, and come home to eat candy and boiled eggs with their children. Presumably, Christ has been rescued from his suffering, and has been granted eternal bliss: springtime forever. Believing in this requires a lot of faith.

Like survivors of trauma whose memories are unreliable – or who bury the event somewhere below the level of consciousness – we tend to forget, over and over again. When the green leaves of summer change colour, we admire the canopies of red or golden leaves overhead, and try not to think about what they signify: the death of plant life as the weather grows colder. We watch the Canada geese organizing themselves for their long journey, then rising into the sky in chevron after chevron, heading south. So many Canadians imitate the geese by catching planes to warmer places that they have a label: Snowbirds.

If we have to wait out the winter, we use every available means to stay warm and distract ourselves. We avoid considering the fact that humans aren’t very tough compared to other mammals (including bunnies and gophers), and low temperatures can kill our vital organs after our extremities (fingers and toes) have been destroyed. Some of us have a minor condition that mimics the death of the extremities. It’s called Reynaud’s Syndrome, and it usually seems to affect little old women (short, relatively thin, over 50) who have lived in the North for so long that our blood takes it time returning to numbed fingers and toes. So while we huddle in blankets indoors, we can watch our waxy-looking fingers or toes slowly recover feeling and life.

Many of us have had close calls, but we survived. We’re all right, Jack.

Spring brings amnesia. The Mother is alive again! Her daughter has returned to her! We can imagine Demeter and her girl Persephone frolicking in the green wheat, blessing the newly-planted gardens and waking up the perennials that lay dormant all winter. The sun is bright, and the air is growing steadily warmer. Our Mother loves us again.

Summer is too much of a good thing. The sun blazes, flowers bloom, people who are stuck indoors turn on the air conditioning, and those who can get away rush to the nearest large body of water. If there’s no ocean nearby, a lake or even a river will do. For a few months, it’s hard to believe that all the green lawns, fields of grain, and dusty vacant lots were ever covered by snow. Threatening weather now takes the form of thunderstorms that can produce hailstones the size of golfballs. An hour of these things pelting a wheat field can flatten a large crop, which is the main reason why farmers buy crop insurance. For anyone who isn’t a farmer, thunder, lightning and hail are dramatic events that punctuate a summer of outdoor fun. The sting of icy little hailstones can even feel refreshing after the heat of the day.

Too soon, the air turns cooler, the leaves start changing colour, then they fall to the ground and form crunchy carpets. The cycle continues, and we discover, once again, that the conditions we’ve grown used to never stay the same.

It’s probably just as well that when the livin' is easy, most of us seem unable to remember the times when we thought we might not make it.



  1. I love the poetry of this post. Also, I'm always fascinated by thinking about how, when it's summer I can't imagine going outside bundled up and vice versa. You're so right at how hard it is to remember, both literally and metaphorically.

  2. Thank you for reading this, Annabeth. So many people make comments about the shallowness of those who can't seem to empathize with the miserable or traumatized, including their own former (or possible future) selves. I think there are good reasons why most people seem unable to fully imagine an uncomfortable experience they are not having at the moment. As various mothers have said to me, no woman would have a second child (let alone more after that) if she really remembered what it felt like to give birth the first time.

  3. This is gorgeous, Jean, as well as brimming with truth. I believe, though, that the amnesia you cite is a blessing. The world is constant flux, constant change. Holding on to sorrow, fear or pain isn't really possible, any more than holding on to some moment of joy and trying to fix it in amber.

    In the midst of life we are in death. And in death are the seeds of life.

  4. Is it any wonder religions were invented? Folks have to keep something concrete to hold on to, and if irrational belief systems bring relief from reality, does that help us get by? Perhaps only when the answers blind faith offers are proved wrong will we have to rely on common sense. The animist belief systems you refer to come at truth from a different direction, which can be more like this earth actually operates.

  5. Beautifully stated, Jean. I think that those of us who spent our childhood in areas with distinct seasons internalize the variations to some extent and feel uncomfortable in other climates, although we can adjust. I'm not from as far north as you are now, but from New England, and when I lived for three years in Oakland, CA I desperately missed the changes. Rainy season and rainless season--when the clouds rolled in in October that first year, I started to sing Christmas carols. I was new mother than, and disoriented in various ways, so my reaction was probably a bit extreme. Now, back in New England, I'm sometimes nostalgic for the Bay Area (as it was in the 60s.)

  6. This past winter was unusually harsh in the Midwest. Recently I downloaded Janis Joplin singing Gershwin's "Summertime". It's the best version I've ever heard, and it's for celebrating when the temps are finally mild enough to keep the windows open all day AND all night! We never turn on the AC, so we feel every degree of warmth all summer. We like it that way! Time to go camping and commune with "our mother".


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