|Riverside Park, January 2011|
I have never been someone who slides into a funk because of the weather but as I get older the idea of wintering in a warm climate has become more appealing. When the weather turns colder, a small, heretofore unheard voice in my head begins suggesting that it would be nice not to have to endure the vicissitudes of another West Michigan winter—the seemingly endless stretches of sunless days, the bone-chilling cold, the times when I have to use a broom to brush off the lake effect snow that buried my Chevy Blazer while I was at work; the icy streets, the slush, the breath-sapping, eye-hurting, nostril-freezing north wind that accompanies the occasional artic cold front. Maybe it’s an instinctual thing. Perhaps that annual, resurfacing voice is Nature telling me that sun and warmth is physically better for a sixty-year-old body and psychologically better for an aging mind. Perhaps it’s the same voice that tells the monarch butterflies, the geese and the hummingbirds that it’s time to get out of Dodge. Perhaps animals are, in some ways, more advanced because they are smart enough to listen.
The other night I was sitting on the deck while the mid-September sun slowly slipped behind our backyard’s western stand of trees. There was a chill in the air—not the transitory chill brought on by a passing front but rather a more permanent, portending chill arising from the sun’s steady progression towards the southern horizon. The light from that southward marching sun filtered through the leaves on the drooping branches of the walnut tree; it reflected off the dying hostas and seemed to magnify the fading greenness of the tomato plants and basil. I thought of how in three months the sun would be a low, unseen speck behind a shroud of clouds, how the ground would be covered with a heavy blanket of snow, and how the branches of the walnut tree would be a tangle of black against a slate-grey sky.
But perhaps we benefit from being immersed in and exposed to the seasons. Perhaps it is change itself that makes us more attuned to the rhythms of life. The animals have no choice but to follow their instincts, but unlike an animal I can throw on warm clothes that will protect me from the elements. A cold wind against my face gives me a better appreciation of the sun’s warmth. Exposure to whites, blacks and greys heightens an admiration for blues and greens. Ultimately it may be better to embrace change rather than succumb to a nagging desire to escape from it.
Winter can present some wonderful opportunities if one learns how to accept it—the thrill of watching snowflakes the size of silver dollars drifting slowly down from the heavens, the stark beauty of a bare branch against a vacant sky, a comforting bottle or two of red wine with a meal on a blustery Sunday afternoon, a hearty stout on a cold night, a bone-warming Belgian…