I have always had a thing for seasons, and it would be dishonest to say that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have them, but it would only be slightly less untrue to say that it does. Portland, Oregon has seasons the way a Sound (as in Puget or Long Island) has waves: technically it does, but they are small and gentle ripples, and have nothing at all of the power and fury of the wild sea. The seasons of New England obliterate the landscape with a cyclical frequency and a constant intensity that I somehow find very romantic.
My ache for the extreme seasons I grew up with hasn’t faded, as I thought it might, with more time and conditioning in this more temperate climate; instead, the wanting accumulates. Even though I live on a big hill known for its power outages, impassability in heavy snows and general storm susceptibility, the most winter I’ve seen out my window–invariably on mornings when I have exams in like organic chemistry–only lasts long enough to take some cell phone pictures of the fleeting moment. Every successive winter that passes without significant snow, I feel a little betrayed by Mother Nature, or by myself for having chosen to live somewhere without real winters. I yearn for a good blizzard, the sky before a good snow, so dark it makes the lights inside houses and hallways look warmer, howling wind so gusty it makes the lights go out, months of snow angels and snowmen and forts and snowball fights and hot chocolate and sledding and real bundling up and layers and fires in the fireplace, a coldness and a darkness that seems to permeate everything, grab hold of the Earth and never let go until spring, when the ground would get soggy with all its melting snow. I miss that.
Summers, though opposite, have the same sort of effect and leave me nostalgic and missing home. There are some warm days here, sometimes even spells of hot days, but there are far too many summer days that require jackets at night or even during the day. Where is the humidity, full-bodied in its oppressive smothering? Where are the cumulonimbus clouds gathering and raging with thunder and lightning? Where are the cicadas and summer bugs, the crickets, the fireflies, the heat so hot you want to die, and that somehow paradoxically makes you feel more alive? I know this doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience to most people but there is such a vibrancy in the character of that type of weather. And maybe that’s it–I have trouble feeling fully alive in a less passionate climate.
And Autumn. Like with all the seasons, there’s a shadow of it here. It’s October now, and there are some trees with yellow leaves here and there, and there are some leaves on the ground. It’s not that autumn is lacking entirely, but that it’s missing its fire. Back home, our yard would get so covered in leaves that we’d rake them into huge piles and jump in them, bury our friends or beg them to bury us in the foliage. Colored leaves had an extra dimension, a depth, and could be measured in volume instead of just area. Halloween felt more real and the world was full of apple picking and pumpkin picking and apple cider. There was a crispness to the air that has, in my experience, gone unparalleled in its sweet sharpness. The world was saturated with such intense color you couldn’t help but believe in some sort of magic, even if it was just the ordinary magic of angles of incidence, and intensity as power absorbed per unit area, and latitude and the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
It would fade, of course. By mid-November, the trees, most of them deciduous, would be bare. The last dirty pile of late leaves would be left on the curb out front, waiting to be picked up. The brittle branches of the bare trees would sway and snap in the colder and harsher winds. I loved looking at the textured grey overcast late fall skies through the gaps between them and feel the chill of the coming winter.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why I miss this intensity so intensely but it is not a dull ache. It’s raw and jagged and keeps bubbling up. All the little achings from little individual days without snow or fireflies or thunderstorms sum up like infinitesimal momenta and if I added them up like area under a curve (with respect to velocity), there would be enough kinetic energy to push me effortlessly those three thousand or so miles just on the sheer force of extreme wanting and nostalgia.
This is an excerpt from a very, very new personal essay. As in, I just finished the first draft last week. And if you prefer audio, there’s that, too.
This essay takes a very sharp turn after this excerpt. You may want to check out the description under Personal Essay & Memoir because it goes to some very unexpected places. And don’t forget to find other Friday Writing Samples here, and to check out Published and Older Works.