It’s been hot here in Colorado lately. Not unusual for the season, I’ll agree. Not like the 120 °F that they’ve reached in spots to the west of us (even in temperate Southern California, wow!) but for us, reaching 100 degrees is pretty unusual. That’s what we had a day or two ago in Denver and then today… well, more on that later.
I remember summers in Virginia, where I grew up. What I remember is sweat. When it starts it never seems comfortable to me, though it’s doing the work of cooling me off, setting me up for the next cool breeze. Maybe I should be more appreciative, but it just makes me feel slow, and dank, and awkward. Once when I was a kid, I remember…
I was never so gangly and sweatful and dumb
As on that day when a new cousin came to see us.
A second cousin Mama said, family up from Tennessee.
I was seven and she was too but she was older, by far.
“What do you do around here?”
“I dunno. Play I guess.” Stupid answer, so stupid! Why did I say that?
She sat with the grownups and they all talked.
Her hair was golden, shiny, curled. After a while, bored, I went out to play.
Outside, Tommy came over and we chased each other,
tag-I-gotcha no-ya-didn’t until breathinghard sweatstreaming we paused,
swiping at the little grimy sweat beads that catch up dirt in the creases of your neck
and you can roll them out with your fingertips.
Afternoon sun glaring, heart pounding hot, leaning over hands braced on knees, sweat.
They all came out to her daddy’s car, cool as lemonade. “Bye now, y’all come see us.”
Such a bright smile, like my mother’s.
We never did go down to Tennessee.
Then comes the fall. One November, when Stormy and I were working in Bulgaria, I noted about the change in seasons that the month “started off with windy bright days that sent confused little eddies of dry brown leaves skittering noisily around the sidewalks in a panic.” 1
Fall. The Wind.
“Why so fast, Wind, what’s the need
For such ruthless, restless speed?”
Trees are frightened, some may fail,
Overcome by autumn’s gale.
Straining, bracing, they resist
Yielding to your brutal fist.
They whose leaves were high and fair
Stand naked now, denuded, bare.
Running, fleeing, leaves fly free
Through the streets ahead of me.
Hiding, huddled, by the stair,
Some dry leaves cower, shiv’ring, scared.
A moment’s rest, a heavy sigh
And then a prowling gust comes by.
“Aha! I found you! Now you’re done!”
Frantic, frenzied, out they run.
This day will bring no rest for trees
Or leaves, or me, out in the breeze.
And then today (remember it was extra hot a few days ago!) this is what we woke up to.
It reminded me of a story, a little fable I’ve told before2…
Winter. The Snowflake.
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,”
The tiny black coalmouse said.
Taken aback, the dove thought it over,
And puzzled, she tilted her head.
“Why it’s nothing more than nothing,” she cooed,
“As light as an angel’s kiss.”
“Well then, I have a marvelous story to tell,”
Said the coalmouse. “One still night like this,
“I sat by the branch of a fir tree,
As many a time I had done.
Then softly and dreamlike in silence
A small snowflake fell. I said, ‘One.’
“Then idly I counted a million
And two million more, making three.
Then hundreds of thousands to seven
Each one on the branch of my tree.
“I almost lost track in a flurry
But I had a big job to do.
Three million sev’n hundred and forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-two.
“Each one safely settled and rested
Until with a SNAP! loudly heard
The three million sev’n hundred forty-
One thousand, nine hundred and fifty-third
“Broke the branch and so they all tumbled,
With one added flake down they slid.
Its weight was just nothing and nothing you said,
But see what that one snowflake did.”
The dove pondered this for a moment;
A quiet insight had its birth.
“Perhaps there is just one voice lacking
To finally bring peace to the earth.”
— Poem based on the story Also Sprach der Marabu, by Kurt Kauter (1913-2002)
Stormy and I lived for years and years in places where it seemed there were no seasons, or at least they were subtle, or muted. When we moved to Bulgaria it made us remember our childhoods, and the regularity of seasonal change, the lessons that come from knowing that things will not always be as they are. The lessons of preparing for the next season, like the lesson the ant tried to teach the grasshopper. “Winter survival” was what they called the preparation for the reality of the barren bitter cold. Enduring the winter was made bearable by the promise of spring, and the festivals anticipating the season were as much a part of the yearly cycle as planting and harvesting in their times. The anticipation of the season of wondrous new growth reached a peak on March 1, with the Baba Marta holiday 3 and the return of migrating storks to their nests. The season of renewal…
Spring. The Sprout.
Pushing, straining hard
Through dark damp unyielding earth.
Sunlight! I love you.