Friday, September 28, 2007

Re Learning the Seasons

Finding my way in this new life has involved learning a lot of new things. Most difficult and most important has been re-learning the things I knew so well that I didn't realize I had ever learned them at all, such as weather and the seasons. Storms here are nothing like a thunderstorm in Indiana, and the wind is altogether different. In Indiana, I could feel a storm coming. A bruised sky, a drop in pressure, an upside down dance of the leaves of the Silver Maple in the front yard of my childhood home were all part of a familiar landscape. The storm would roll over the prairies and howl and gnash lightning teeth and then pass on: dramatic, powerful, sometimes devastatingly violent, but short-lived and, most of all, familiar. Here the wind may saw away at nerve edges for days and then disappear with no drama.

My husband can read mare's tail and tadpoles and mackerel sky here, but in Indiana I could look up into a milky night sky in early December and say, "That is a snow sky," and not be at all surprised the following morning to see the light dusting of snow scuttering along the pavement and hiding against the sun in the last few long patches of still-green grass. Without thinking about it, I could look at the sky and know that it would be gone by 10am.

Although each season could have its anomalies, Indiana has a spring, summer, winter and fall. Spring is mud and cold and grey with splashes of snow or balmy summer hours all mixed in like a woman trying to decide which dress to wear. It can mean flash floods or tornadoes, or both. It means also the first signs of colour after drabness as daffodils and snowdrops and little blue squill pierce the dark brown earth and the grass starts to green up again. I can--or at least I could--sense all those signs of change. I used to know that by the time the rain started, it was already too late to avoid the flash floods as the waters rose in the underpasses and low bridges. I knew the rhythms of waiting out the floods, riding out the storms, and anticipating the last snow storm.

Summer in Indiana is hot, usually slow to arrive and late to leave. The unbearable heat of the Dog Days of August erodes the welcome with which the first few hot days were greeted. Summer is swimming pools and green grass and vacation time and outdoor concerts and fireworks and farmer's markets and red ripe juicy tomatoes that dribble their juice down your chin when you bite into them, and corn on the cob, fresh from the field into the pot of boiling water. Until I experienced the white nights of the north's long summer days, I thought Indiana summer days were long.

Late summer into Fall was my favorite season. It was a breath of fresh air after the frenzied heat of summer, yet the days were still warm and long. I loved watching the colours of the leaves. One small scarlet maple in my back yard rewarded me with the first banners announcing the change in seasons. It was the only season in which I enjoyed the inevitable delays in traffic on the long commute into the office because I could take a moment each day to note the shift from green with yellow and red touches to scarlet blazing with yellow undertones fading into ochre and then the first hints of brown until brown, skeletal leaves fought with the wind to linger on the emptying branches.

I loved gardening in the fall, teasing a second or third crop of spinach or cool tolerant crops out of the warm summer earth before the cold of winter froze the ground hard. Cold frames and improvised shelter could often sustain lettuce into January. More than once I cleared a thick layer of snow off the top of a cold frame to let the winter sun warm the leaves within. That little bit of captive, cozzened greenery was my talisman to ensure the return of the light. Two slow-growing dwarf spruce trees in double insulated pots sat like guardians either side of the door into my home in Indiana adorned with tiny lights wound around them top to bottom. The lights and the fragrance of their evergreen leaves helped sustain me through the Indiana winter.

Each of the seasons and I had grown accustomed to each other; we had an understanding. Leaving Indiana meant coming to an understanding in a place where the first cold sea winds of winter browned the leaves of a little spruce tree huddled safely, so I thought, in the shelter of a wall and a cottage wall. The tree and I struggled on into the first spring, but neither one of us thrived. A cold frame, relying on the heat from a winter sun, was useful only to protect the last summer squash from an early frost. I ate it reluctantly as if saying goodbye to it meant saying goodbye to summer and light and sun.

With time I am learning to read the signs of the seasons here. The seasons are not as distinct even for those who can read the sky and the sea as the seasons in Indiana. Learning that was my first lesson. Once again, I find myself enjoying the particular pleasures of fall--or Back End as it is called here. I will always miss leaves and trees and their colour shifting artistry. When I go south I drink in the spectacle, but the most beautiful colours of the hills occur in fall. I have taken photos and made sketches of a particularly beautiful stretch of road between here and Thurso where a cluster of rich green evergreen trees snuggles up against brown-purple heathered hills. The hues shift slightly whether the sun is in full flow in a blue sky or wearing a grey mantle, but the richness of the colours remains. I have not yet captured it and perhaps never will, but I know that it is part of this season. And yesterday as we drove along a back road I thought the red rowan berries winked at me as if to confirm that we have come to an understanding.


At 2:35 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

It's funny to think that there may be four distinct seasons in Indiana. It's not that way in Chicago.

There is Summer. There is Winter. Sometimes there's Fall.

But Spring? We may get a day. Maybe only an afternoon.

We don't go from Winter to Summer seamlessly. We oscillate back and forth: Hot today, cold and wet tomorrow. You can predict cold and wet days by looking at my sons' baseball schedules.

The leaves come out despite themselves. Sometimes too soon and then they are destroyed. Sometimes it seems June gets here before the leaves.

I'd like to live in a place that has a predictable Spring.

But you are certainly right about 'feeling' the approach of thunderstorms. That is very true here too.

Wonderful that you're learning to "read" the seasons in Scotland now. I suspect the seasons differ -- at least slightly -- in every place.

At 3:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just caught up on your last 4 months of writing - you likely know why. So, it is fitting that your last post is a reflection of what I have been thinking myself lately. I want to see fall back home; I want to watch a Purdue football game in 50 degree weather, not 90 degree weather. Here fall means that it is 80 at 4:30 in the morning when I get up to play with the dog rather than over 100, which is typical for August. I think October is the saddest month for me to be living somewhere else. But, my mom is coming to visit this week, so at least part of home is coming to me. She asked me about you recently and wanted me to send a hello from her. I have asked an Indianapolis friend to take a picture of the changing leaves and send it to me. I want to show Avery because she doesn't remember red, yellow and gold leaves; in fact, her entire concept of leaves is quite different than ours.
-miss you lots - Cindy

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa, there. I think we're romanticizing the Indiana seasons a bit. The proper four seasons are: "Almost Winter", "Winter", "Still Winter" and "Road Construction". Yes, I noticed this morning a couple of trees with some leaves in their crowns beginning to turn yellow and red. My guess is that peak leaf color will happen in 2 weeks, which is normal for central Indiana. -Mark N, Lebanon,IN

At 4:02 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

absolutely beautiful.

I am reminded of the many writers - southerners in particular - who wrote their most lovely portraits of home while living elsewhere.

(I've often declared that Michigan has but 3 seasons: summer, mud, winter, and again - mud.)

At 7:52 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Cur, Chicago, being a city, is a bit hotter and maybe that affects the seasons. Spring is pretty short in Indiana, too.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Cindy, October is the cruelest month sounds a great opening line echoing Chaucer's April line. Good to hear from you even tho you sound sad and homesick. What are Arizona leaves like?

At 7:56 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Mark, I am busted. Absence does make both memory and the heart grow fonder. Yup, perhaps I should say an 'idealized' seasonal description. Are they still or again working on I65?

At 7:57 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hayden, as often is the case, you give me something to think about. Do writers write better about the places they are not in because distance gives them time to reflect or ???
We'll see if my memories are at all accurate when I go back in a month or so.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indiana is hot right now: 18 days of above normal temperatures--85-90F during the day, and 65-70F at night. Near record warmth. But, you can still feel fall in the air: that bright blue sky, the lessening of the humidity, the shortening of the days....fall is coming. Leaves are j-u-s-t starting to give a hint of color change. I also noticed that the melon leaves and Zinnia leaves are all covered with the white, powdery-looking fungus (Pythium, in case you're interested)--another sign that fall is near.

And yes, roads are all torn up around Indy, esp. on the west side. The city is renovating all the westside ramps and widening I-465 to match the eastside. A true mess to be avoided whenever possible. Mark

At 8:43 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, yes that powdery fungus on zinnia leaves and what about those giant spider webs stretching across paths. I am glad to know what it is called tho I am not sure I will need that info any time soon. You never know.
I cannot imagine the kind of heat you are describing. I don't think it ever got to 80 this 'summer.' I am wondering how the interstates are going to look to me after these country roads.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, you won't miss those interstates. I find that once you've adapted to country living, you don't enjoy the city as much. Walking out your door to see the Milky Way, the North Star, the dim lights of the city in the distance, or the coyotes near the creek are things that you can't replace. Living a little closer to the land just touches a part of you that city conveniences can't replace. I may be forced to move into town sometime in the future, but as long as I'm able, I want to live in the countryside.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Cur, I dont think spring is as predictable anywhere as one (including this one) would like.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Dear Anonymous, I owrry that I may already have been ruined for cities. You are quite correct that there is nothing more wonderful than walking out under an open sky. I walked home after a committee meeting the other night and the walk along the farm road was startlingly beautiful. It was nearly pitch black and there was a ground mist so I could see the stars more clearly than I could see the light from the lighthouse at Strathy Point. And the smell of the air--even when they have been spreading slurry is a pleasure.


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