Wednesday, January 2, 2013

skipping winter.

I am skipping winter for the third time in my life, and for the third time, it is unsettling. I don't get homesick anymore, not really – not the way I used to. But there is always a part of me that suffers pangs of yearning for the cycle of seasons. Home, more than anything else, is embodied by the feeling of the seasons as they pass.

As I move from place to place, I make trade-offs. No place has it all. I leave the northeastern corner of the U.S. to seek bigger spaces and new horizons, to expand my perspective on things. It's something that I need to do. I cannot stay there – it feels cramped now, too tame for the tastes I've apparently developed. But when I'm away – in particular when I'm far away – and I'm reading a book or watching a film, I am sometimes struck by images of the seasons as I know them. Of northern hardwood forests bare and empty in a monochrome landscape. A sap bucket hanging on a tree. Smoke from a chimney on an old house, evaporating into a frigid galaxy of stars.

It is not only seasons, but history. New England is strong on history, and growing up there it was imbued in my understanding of the place. If I were to take someone to my hometown now, they would would see only the Dunkin Donuts on the corner, gray snow piled against slushy sidewalks; towns bleeding into each other, a vast network of roads drawn willy nilly in the days before urban planners existed.

I see these things too, and yet I see beyond them, into the past. I see my ancestors, who worked outside in all seasons and came to depend on their cyclicality. I see farther north into Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, where the past is closer at hand and people still live intertwined with the land. My vision is blurred by moments from my own past: a candlelit night in a cabin drinking elderberry wine; a fiddle's notes slicing through a steamy room while dancers shake the 200-year-old floorboards; snowshoeing on winter afternoons filled with silver light and the long shadows of birch trees.

These things are not visible at first glance. They reveal themselves slowly, over a lifetime of exploring, of pulling back the curtain little by little. I brought someone here once, and grew frustrated that he did not love it as I hoped he would. Ultimately, his rejection pf this place became his rejection of me. But you cannot understand this place until you've experienced it in every season – and each week, each month is a season unto itself. They form a rhythm that is vital to my very being. I know there are other places with other seasons. I know that fall in southeast Alaska means not crisp blue days and bright leaves but rather a descending darkness and a steady cold, gray drizzle. This is not any less authentic than the fall I grew up with; nor is Hawaii's warm, rainy winter any less a true representation of winter than one with sleighbells and evergreen boughs hanging on doors. I know this, and yet I cannot believe it to be true: winter is snow, fall is harvest, spring is earth and summer is green. That's simply the way it is, in my mind: all these other places I go to can only approximate the brilliance of seasons in New England. There may be greater wildernesses, more beautiful landscapes, more laidback cultures. But seasons. They mean so much to me. 

 Winter in New Hampshire

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