Down in the bayou, spring comes around mid-March, but no one takes it seriously. Within a couple of weeks, the temperatures are so hot that everyone has forgotten spring. It is like a ghost, barely there when it is there, and barely remembered when it goes. The season that came before spring is hard, by the way, to call winter. It just isn’t cold enough by northern standards. Some of the trees down here do drop their leaves in the colder months. Maybe they do it just for fun. The people and fauna and flora of the Louisiana bayou all have a tendency to quirkiness. The fact that some of the trees pretend to a more northern nature is looked upon with indulgence.

Everything is mixed-up in the bayou. Half the vegetation acts perennial, half acts deciduous or in some variation between the two. That’s the Creole way, the Cajun… More…

It is a time of dreariness and decay. I’m speaking of winter, of course. I always think, when thinking of winter, of the opening lines of Richard III. Richard, the king-to-be, is musing upon the ascension to the throne of his brother, Edward IV. He says, in lines that are burned into the deep pathways of our neural networks, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York.”

 

These opening lines of the play are actually quite hopeful. The first word, “now,” looks forward to the “made” in the next line. Shakespeare, in that clever way of his, makes the language fresh by making you pay attention. The “now” is a placeholder for the thought to come. It sets the scenario, grabs us with its immediacy, and lingers there for a… More…

Driving alone on a highway through the desert of the Southwest, I passed a sign announcing the “Last Services for 100 Miles.” I asked myself, “How did they get a minyan way out here?” And then I came to a gas station. In the desert, “Last Gas” signs were powerful magnets, pulling my car off the road.  A “Last Chance” sign on a roadside farm market has the same effect.

 

“Last Peaches of the Season”? I’m pulling over. “First Asparagus”? I’m there, too.

It’s no wonder that I consider first fruits of the season to be significant. I grew up saying — and continue to say — the Shecheheyahu on the occasion of eating a seasonal fruit or vegetable for the first time in a year. The Shecheheyahu gives thanks to G-d “who has granted us life, sustained… More…

 

 

The cool wind coming in from the north, the piles of dead leaves crunching under foot, the sun that hangs lower in the sky with each passing day. It is easy to forget that all these changes used to point to something. The approach of autumn was the transformation in a mode of life, moving us from the work of the last days of the harvest to the hunkering down in preparation for winter.

It is amazing, even now, how quickly the shift in seasons stimulates a transformation of mood. The mind is pulled along by forces lurking in the weather—in the sun and the moon, in the otherwise-unnoticed messages from the grass and the trees. We are changing, they say, and so shall you. You simply can’t feel the same on an autumn day as… More…

 

As a native Californian deprived of real winters, I most definitely romanticize the season. I expect to sing “Silver Bells” while dancing down the street of town, past shops decorated with Christmas lights and snow. Truly.

Alternately, I imagine ice skating on our local pond and wandering the nearby woods through quiet, soft snow. In my head, its like the rural winter scene captured by biologist Bernd Heinrich in Winter World. Bernd tells of wandering in the snowy woods of Maine, and finding hints of life and beauty everywhere: the call of the great horned owl and the coo of doves, the tracks from moose and big cats and wolves, a scampering chipmunk and a hidden den of porcupines, and snow-frosted trees. Of course, since I live in New Jersey, I don’t really expect the moose.

Winter World… More…

One of my seasonal rites is shopping for a new handbag.1 It’s a mystery to me why I have to do this. You’d think a bag would outlast a season.2 But these things get a lot of wear and tear. Pen marks appear on the surface; unidentifiable lint accumulates at the bottom; once-sturdy straps fray and then suddenly snap, scattering loose change, Kleenex, tampons, and costly pills for allergy and anxiety in all directions.

Even the best handbags don’t wear well. I inherited two Coach bags from my mother. Coach bags are supposed to be indestructible, and, it’s true, they don’t fall apart — they just look increasingly awful. One of the bags my mother left me was originally off-white but, with time, turned a sickly beige. One day, I realized it had taken on the coloration and texture of human skin. The other bag was black and… More…