“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.”
― Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth
Having experienced several climes, I have deep-seated feelings about the weather. I grew up in Ireland where the climate was referred to as “moderate:” the summers were not too hot and the winters were not too cold. The closest one came to central heating in winter was a hot water bottle at the bottom of the bed. Even today, when I return for a visit in the late summer months of August or September, I hug my hot water bottle as I climb the stairs to my bedroom. As it often turns out that I really didn’t need it, it is insurance against a possible waking up in the middle of the night and being reassured as my feet wrap themselves around the warm bottle. And I wonder if that hot water bottle is to keep me warm or a psychological placebo, so to speak, satisfying some lingering subconscious yearning for the comforts of my childhood.
In the winters of my Irish childhood, the hot water bottle was a must to ward off the chilly edges of the blankets if my sister was elsewhere and I could not cuddle up against her back, or if I was not in my grandmother’s home where the all-encompassing comfort of her big feather bed had to be as close as one could get to heaven. How my siblings and I cherished the warm depths of that bed when one of us was lucky enough to be invited by grandmother to share her bed on a particularly cold night: “Jump in here if you like.” I never said “No.”
The summers back then were not ever too warm although I remember my sister and I having colorful sun umbrellas to protect our faces from what we thought was a too hot sun. We loved kicking off our shoes early in the month of May when summer started and delighting in running barefoot through the grass. “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness,” writes John Steinbeck in Travels with Charlie. Yes, we did not think our winters to be moderate! Summer was outdoor playtime, no school, fun visits with cousins, flirts with boys, and ice cream! But as Shakespeare reminds us in one of his sonnets, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”1 Way too soon, the long nagging nights of homework and unnatural, early morn hours were upon us for another forever nine months.
When I landed in the United States on a late January day, I learned quickly that the Irish climate was very different compared to what I was experiencing in New York City. I would hurry quickly inside out of the 10 or 20 degrees below zero weather. And it was so warm inside, I would begin to feel smothered and would rush outside for some relief and then back in again only to feel the need to go outside for another few minutes. I traveled on to Iowa and there too found myself only very slowly adjusting to the extreme temperatures of freezing cold and stifling heat. My immune system took a beating from those extremes. The summer heat left me exhausted. I understood quickly the meaning of a “moderate climate.” After a couple of years, I was laid low with a severe case of the “red” measles, a disease I had in my childhood and which one was not supposed to contract a second time.
I learned through that mountains of snow and ice have their own glories. “The most amazing thing about the winter is that even a frozen world may be perceived as heaven!” says Mehmet Murat Ildan. The joyful cries of children as they toboggan on a hill of packed snow, the ruddy faces of skiers after adventurous turns down a mountain, the breathtaking skill of young women and men as they embrace hard ice with their dizzying twirls and jumps, all give testimony to the potential for the exuberance of spirit winter can provide. One midwinter afternoon in western Massachusetts, this native daughter of a moderate clime spent hours skiing and mostly falling on the ice-packed local golf course. I felt fully alive and “high” in the clean, cold fresh air, an aliveness that so refreshed my every cell that I fairly floated off the course and back to my apartment. That winter afternoon gifted me not only with memorable moments of total wellbeing but also upon reflection with an appreciation of and an understanding of the life and inner growth opportunities the arduous season of winter offers. In the purity of the wide, wild expanse of ice and the scintillating dance of the sun upon it, everything worthwhile seemed not only possible but also attainable. “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”2 (Albert Camus)
I called the American spring and fall seasons “moderate” and loved them. And so did everyone else! “I have an affection for those transitional seasons, the way they take the edge off the intense cold of winter, or heat of summer,” writes Whitney Otto in How to Make an American Quilt. Both spring and fall delight and terrorize us: spring with its birth pangs and fall with its death rattles. The loudest thunderstorms, laser-like lightning strikes, gale force winds, and their offshoots: tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and not infrequently now – droughts punctuate both seasons alongside the tranquilizing scent of miles of wildflowers, the breathtaking beauty of gold red mountains and impatient rivers throbbing with new life and struggling with ebbing life. What Toni Morrison says, in Beloved, of the Ohio seasons is especially true of spring and fall in all of this vast country: “In Ohio seasons are theatrical. Each one enters like a prima donna, convinced its performance is the reason the world has people in it.”
And what about the summer season in America! It is a season of 90 to100 degree temperatures, high humidity, scant clothing, constant imbibing of liquids, indulgent laziness, and ramped up the air conditioning. For those close to lakes, streams, the ocean, it is also the season of water sports and/or for those lucky ones living close to mountains a time for scaling high to breathe in and enjoy fresh, cold air.
From my own experience, I feel that one must decide to enjoy the summer season. The temptation to laze it away, in the shade of course, is too strong. It is definitely a watermelon season. The urge, pleasure, and irresistible temptation, to sink one’s face in a watermelon and lap up that refreshing juice is a measure of the body’s need for liquid. It is a community gathering season, a season of picnics, of relaxing with family, friends, and neighbors. Every so often, the endless weeks of heat are punctuated by wild and heavy thunderstorms and one feels a conscious aliveness again. One feels permission to indulge oneself in a way not offered by the other seasons. Kenny Chesney’s “It’s a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine … it’s summertime”3 sums up the summer’s gift of wild abandon and freedom.
Having lived in such different climes for many years, I marvel at the rhythmic powers of nature and the revelations it never tires of offering through its seasons. As the years go by, and as the wheel of each year turns, its ineffable wisdom reveals itself more compellingly, it seems. William Wordsworth speaks our journey: “For I have learned/To look on nature, not as in the hour/of thoughtless youth. But hearing oftentimes/The still sad music of humanity,/….And I have felt/A presence that disturbs me with the joy/of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime/Or something far more deeply interfused/ Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,/And the round ocean and the living air,/And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:/A motion and a spirit, that impels/All thinking things, all objects of all thought,/And rolls through all things.”4
- http://shakespeare.mit.edu/Poetry/sonnets.html Sonnet 18, line 4.
- Albert Camus. “Return to Tipassa.” Lyrical and Critical Essays. Vintage Press. 1970
- https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/24018964/Kenny+Chesney/Summertime. Stanza 4, lines 3,
- https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45527/lines-composed-a-few-miles-above-tintern- Abbey. Lines 88-102.