Season(ing)s

My season sensor sputters as February and March in Phoenix send me signals of all four seasons: shall I savour the variety or let it drive me crazy?


My season sensor spins, trying to settle on a selection.

Some trees sport the distinctive green of new leaves.  Spring, the sensor concludes happily.

Newly mown grass and purple alyssum scent the air.  Summer, it says reasonably.

Dead leaves drift in the gutters and crunch underfoot.  Fall, it opines judiciously.

Some trees are stark, bare silhouettes against the sky.  Winter, it decides reluctantly.

Boy birds chase girl birds.  Spring?  Less conclusion now than conjecture.  And around it goes.

Yup, it’s busted.   

I never knew I had a season sensor until I was in my early twenties.  Before a six-month assignment to Ottawa in 1975, I’d lived my whole life in Alberta.  I didn’t think much about the seasons: they just happened, year after year, exactly as they always had, exactly as they should.

On that temporary sojourn in our nation’s capital, all was well through late spring and summer.  Then September rolled around and with it came a vague unease.  October brought distinct angst, as a late onset to autumn saw us celebrating Thanksgiving with green leaves on the trees.  Green leaves in October were nice in theory, I guess, but when the angle of the light did not match the landscape that light was illuminating, it was just wrong wrong wrong.  What a relief to get home to Alberta, where the season’s performance matched my subconscious expectations.

Now, almost 40 years later, my season sensor is sputtering again.  Here in Phoenix for February and March, I find that this is no season with which I am familiar.  Bougainvillea and snapdragons in full bloom don’t seem to go with trees still stripped bare for the winter.

But they clearly do go together in this part of the world, which is only 18 degrees latitude removed from the part I grew up in.  That’s a difference representing just one-tenth of the world’s north/south range.  Imagine the shock to my system were I to venture to a place where the number of daylight hours does not vary with the season, or to a place with just two seasons (rainy and dry), or, perhaps, to a place without meaningful seasons at all. 

In the 1920s, my mother’s family spent some years in southern California.  My grandfather’s health problems demanded a more hospitable environment than southern Alberta.  Decades later, my grandmother still talked about driving up into the California mountains when the calendar said it was autumn.  They went looking for something—anything—that would look like a change of seasons.  I get it.  They went looking for leaves that weren’t green in October, dagnab it. 

So it isn’t just me—always a relief—but it is me.  What shall I do with this drive to align experience and expectations?  By always living where I can experience the seasons in the way I always have, I could refrain from agitating my subconscious.  But after the winter most of Canada has just suffered through, and in many places is still suffering under, I don’t think so.

“Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.”
William Cowper

Maybe this seasonal variety can add some flavour if I acknowledge that slight disquiet of confounded expectations, but then use it to enhance my appreciation of what I do experience. 

Does the calendar say it’s winter, do the locals speak of it being spring, and does the thermometer hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit at four o’clock in the afternoon?  Yes, yes, and yes.  Well then, bring it on.  It may not be right exactly, but it’s a wrong wrong wrong I think I can learn to live with, maybe even to savour.

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12 Comments

  1. Jim Robertson

    I always said I needed to see and feel four clearly different seasons.
    That is until this year…Looks like spring temperatures might arrive later this week and start taking away the snow piles/banks. Never have I seen so much snow and cold temps at this point in an Ottawa March.
    Maybe Mother Nature didn’t get her Milk Calendar this year????
    In the meantime enjoy it in Arizona, don’t come home too soon. (Go to the Galapagos first ☺ )

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – Yes, I also used to talk about the importance of having 4 distinct seasons – but would be happy to trade away some winter for more spring or fall. Or both. The shoulder seasons are my favourites – I think it’s the quality of the light, but it might be the transitions. As for Ottawa weather variability, just a few years ago we left Phoenix on 01 April, and it was warmer in Ottawa than here! Keep up the good work in getting rid of the snow -we’re counting on you.

  2. Ralph

    Dry season in tropical forests that have distinct wet and dry seasons is disquieting in similar fashion to the higher latitude expectation. Some trees lose their leaves, and produce a ground blanket of dead leaves, and some trees retain their leaves. Some trees flower in the dry season which looks completely wrong.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Ralph – I wonder how disquieting it is for natives of those countries to come to Canada or the northern US? What gets under their skin? I worked with a woman from Goa, India, and the whole business of the difference between daylight and night hours drove her crazy.

  3. Walking along the beach boardwalk in California one “winter” day, I passed people in shorts sitting out enjoying the sun, the heat, the breeze from the sea…
    I said to one of them, “Nice day.”
    He said, “They’re ALL just one long day.”
    Not exactly a tribute.
    Growing up in Southern California I didn’t know what weather was, but going back after 40++ years in Canada, what passes for seasons (not much) there is downright disturbing… often uncomfortable…. (I know, boo-hoo.) After the first blush of exotic warmth when I arrive (from Canada) at the airport sidewalk, and relax my shoulders, boredom sets in. I could not work there.
    Nothing to “kick against”.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – What do the t-shirts say? “Just another shitty day in Paradise.” Those at least are meant to sound smart-alecky, unlike your bench-sitter. We sure don’t tend to appreciate what we always have . . . and I hadn’t considered the boredom factor. Interesting. Maybe they do something else for Cowper’s variety, not missing it in the weather sameness because they’re so used to that?

      1. No, they do miss the seasons. At least my native-CA sister does. She will drive down a certain street in the Fall to see if the 3 or 4 trees that “turn” have done so. If so, they are a pallid version, at best. I’ve seen them.

        But, she spent 10 years in Vancouver — hardly a seasonal giant — and had her sensitivity to seasons re-tuned. Up till then, I don’t think she noticed.
        She now lives in Palm Springs with temps up to 140F in summer. They live like moles. Once, in winter, on the phone, she said, “Oh, I’m chilly — just a minute while I go put on my lace jacket.”

        1. Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – It makes you wonder what things we don’t even notice because we’ve never experienced any range in them, doesn’t it? As for the lace jacket, I could stand a place where that was all the outerwear needed for winter, but couldn’t handle the summer that comes with it. It’s in the low 80s F here for a daily high and I have to time my walks for the early morning or I practically crawl home.

  4. Other factors can become unnerving in a changed environment. I felt overwhelmed by the loss of sky when I first moved from rural Niagara Falls to high-rise Toronto. In Florida, I loathed the razor-sharp palmetto that potentially screened snakes and alligators; I searched mentally the whole time I lived there to find a prominence from which to survey my game-board surroundings. Flat chance. In the Arkansas Ozarks, I was disoriented in the woods until people named some of the flora for me; even familiar species have thicker leaves and other adaptations to the warmer climate. Once I could tell myself, “I turned left at the sweet gum tree just past the mayapples,” I could navigate. A worried restlessness prevailed until I traced it to the lack of bodies of fresh water; my subconscious was trying to located one of the essentials of life, like the superabundance of water in Ontario’s lakes and rivers, beyond the muddy ditches of the “delta” (although people angled for catfish in them) and the trickles after rain seeping into the mountains. Our drinking water came from a spring in a cave; to swim, we drove 30 miles to a man-made “lake ” with an asphalt “beach.” The kids next door hunted venomous snakes with their little bows and arrows, while I quaked indoors lest I or our babies would encounter one. After a rainy spring, the mushroom collection in the lawn included a Destroying Angel, all the motivation I needed to look homeward.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Laurna – Yes, deadly mushrooms and venomous snakes might peg my fun meter, too! As for your needing to know the names of the trees/plants so you can navigate – almost so you could “see” them in any meaningful way – reminds me of a C.S. Lewis science fiction novel, The Lost Planet, in which one of the astronauts landing on a new planet wasn’t able to distinguish where one plant ended and another started. The landscape was a blur of colours and shapes. That sounds sort of similar to your Ozarks experience.

  5. Speaking of flora — my old Hungarian friend went to a sub-tropical island for a holiday and came back to tell me all the plants around their “hut” house were sporting penis-shaped flowers. She covered them up with large paper cups.

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