Seems to me there are a lot of ways to think about seasons.
There is the lunar method, what with the equinoxes and solstices. This method is written in the stars, goes back millenia and won’t change.
There is the more social method (Fall is the start of school until after Thanksgiving, Winter is Thanksgiving until Lent, Spring is Lent until Memorial Day, and Summer is Memorial Day until the start of school)… this method seems more organic, more flexible, more regional. Around here,fall is crunchy leaves, college football, a change in the light, cold mornings and hot afternoons. Winter is fog and rain and cold and quiet and Christmas lights. Spring is sunny and windy and teasing and Easter bunnies and tulips. Summer is foggy mornings and hot afternoons, sun tan lotion and kids everywhere, long lazy weekends and the smell of barbecue. This method is written in my memory, goes back to my childhood, and has been changing all too quickly.
What I didn’t realize is that for me, as a gardener, there is another seasonal imprint on my soul.
Summer is the time to stay in front of the crops – they come in slowly during the early summer, and then in August and September, they are so prolific that sometimes food will rot on the vine. Toward the end of summer I am exhausted with canning, freezing, offering food to others, eating, eating, eating, pruning, pruning, pruning. Emotionally, it’s a time of expansion, or generosity, caretaking.
Fall is a time of quieting, of putting away. Fall is the time to return the garden to a state of rest. By the end of fall, I am ready to leave the garden for awhile. All the beds are covered with leaves to protect them from weeds, vines are tied up, irrigation is put away, stakes are pulled out of the ground, cleaned and sorted. Emotionally, it’s a time of reflection and pride.
Winter is a time to watch the crazy weather wreak havoc, to repair what needs fixing, to think about the nourishing of the soil, plan the next garden, read the seed catalogs, order seeds, and think about all the things to do when the weather gets better (but not now because it’s too muddy). It’s the time to anticipate spring. It’s quiet and peaceful.
Spring is the busiest of all – it’s the time of planting, irrigation laying and mothering of seedlings. It’s joyful and anxious and bustling and exhausting.
The part that I didn’t realize is that I need each season to be ready for the next. This year, we have had almost no winter. December was dry. January was dry (except for two days of rain), and the skies are sunny. While this would seem like a good thing, here in California, we get all of our rain between December and April. If it doesn’t rain, the reservoirs dont’ fill, the mountains don’t capture snow, and we face drought. That’s the obvious part and it affects everyone in the state. But for me, personally, in my little 1,000 square foot garden, I need the winter more than I thought.
So here’s the thing: It’s February. By now, I should have seedlings underway, new seed packets should have arrived, and I should be like a puppy at the window, whining to get outside and get muddy and dirty and sweaty and giddy. Neh. Not so much. In fact, I am sitting here looking out my window, just wishing for rain. Because we haven’t had a winter, per se, I haven’t had the opportunity to do all the things I do in the winter: watch the crazy weather, think about the rains feeding the soil, wanting to read my seed catalogs, or (most importantly) anticipate spring. Instead, I am in a state of suspended fall. Only I did all the fall things already – everything is put away, tied up, covered with leaves. So for months now, I have been suspended between fall and spring, but without winter.
I didn’t know how much I needed it until it rained a few weeks ago. For those three days, I sat at the window looking out, and suddenly the seed catalogs looked interesting, the playhouse needed to be organized, planning needed to be done.
I need more winter in order to anticipate the spring. Who knew?
My fear is that we won’t really have a winter, and then I’ll be caught short when spring actually happens — no seedlings, no seeds, beds not ready. It could happen.
Or, maybe climate change is just shifting the seasons, so now instead of winter being December – February it will be February – May… I guess that would be okay. Weird, but okay. We can only hope.