Monday, January 16, 2012

Seasons (of life and nature)

Every Christmas and Easter, I feel like the seasons are all wrong. They're right for Australia of course. And I have never had any other experience than Christmas happening in Summer and Easter happening in Autumn. But they're wrong in terms of the Christian year. When Christmas is celebrated in the middle of winter, the birth of Christ into a world of darkness resonates with the coldness and the darkness that people are experiencing. When Easter is celebrated in Spring, the new life that people see around them remind them of the new life that Christ's resurrection brings. I feel that in Australia we miss out on a lot of those connections to the seasons - and therefore to nature. The Christian days that we celebrate are divorced from the world around us.

Last Christmas, I gave my boys a raised vegetable garden. As we walked off to the nursery to buy plants, they were telling me about all the vegetables they wanted to grow. I had to explain to them that there are certain seasons for growing certain vegetables. Just because we can buy carrots all year round in the supermarket doesn't mean we can grow them in the backyard. To a certain extent, we do notice the season as we buy our fruit and veggies. Summer is the time for buying mangoes, for instance. However, the fact that we can buy certain foods all year round again disconnects us from nature and the world around us.

We do still have lots of reminders of what season it is. Even if I didn't know the date and had no idea what season I was in, I would still know it was summer because the air-conditioner is out rather than the heater, I have been watching cricket, the mangoes are cheap in the supermarket and I am buying back-to-school items for my boys.

However, despite these things that tell me it is summer, our world seems to becoming more and more disconnected from the seasons. For anyone who works in an air-conditioned office and drives there in an air-conditioned car, the temperature of their surroundings for most of the time will stay almost the same the whole year around. If we want to (and I'm sure many people do) we can eat the same food the whole year around.

The impact of the weather can hardly affect some people. If it's raining, they dry their clothes inside. If it's blistering heat, they sit in their air-conditioned houses. While the drought in Australia may have caused water restrictions, we still knew we could get water every time we turned on the tap. It's only if there's some extreme weather event that either impacts us directly or indirectly that we take any notice of the weather at all.

When Europeans first came to Australia, some of them looked at the Australian native trees that keep their greenery all year around and complained that there were no seasons. While the Australian landscape has since become loved by many (including myself) I wonder whether that differentiation between the seasons is important and whether we are diminishing it ourselves? Or is it the case that Australians actually have less need for difference between seasons anyway? Our topsy-turvy Christian celebrations and our evergreen trees mean we don't need the same amount of difference that perhaps people in other countries do.

As well as thinking about seasons of the year, I have also been thinking of seasons of our lives. I am not just buying back-to-school items at the moment. I am buying start of high school items. My eldest boy has finished his season of primary school and is beginning his season of high school. This brings with it both joy and sadness. Every mother knows that feeling of wanting to keep your children young forever. And yet, relating it to the seasons, I know that, while the blossoms on a cherry tree may be very pretty, they need to disappear before the cherries arrive. And a cherry tree's purpose after all is to provide fruit not pretty flowers.

In sharp contrast to this moving from spring to summer is the winter I see in my grandmother's eyes. She recently had a massive heart attack. She is getting better and has been moved from the high dependency unit. However, I know that she is old. Even if she does go home, she will not live forever. Visiting her in the hospital, I was reminded of the beauty of a deciduous tree in winter - the type of tree the first European Australians pined for, I suppose. Though all its leaves have gone, it has a splendour and an elegance not found when it is filled with blossoms or laden with fruit or losing its multi-coloured leaves.

Just as we recognise the beauty in these winter trees, we must recognise the beauty in people nearing the end of their life. It is a season, that is all. And as a season, it has its purpose and a place along with all the other seasons. We must not be so focused on summer that we forget to notice the beauty in winter as well.

If summer is the time of youth, vigour, fruitfulness and productiveness, then we as a society seem to want to prolong summer for as long as possible. The music videos, clothes and tween marketing encourage little children to grow up too fast. The beauty treatments, hair dyes and wrinkle creams try to convince people in their autumn years to recover the summer of their youth.

Gardens could not survive if it was always summer. And why would we want them too. Yes, summer is a fantastic time of year. But so is Spring and Autumn and Winter. I want them all. I don't want to trade in three seasons just to have one. There is so much I would miss. Whenever people ask me what my favourite season is, I say the beginning of every season. I don't have a favourite. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, they all have their good points. But that beginning of every new season, when you know things are about to change and you'll experience things that haven't been experienced for a year, that is simply wonderful. Summer all year-round, I can't think of anything worse.

I wonder whether it is our growing disconnect from the seasons that makes us hold up the summer of our lives as some kind of ideal. Have we become so disconnected from them that we fail to appreciate the importance of seasons in our own lives? Can we no longer recognise the beauty and the splendour of every season that we live through?

My grandmother has always been a gardener. Maybe that's why she continued to have beauty and grace even after a massive heart attack, lying in bed with many machines attached to her. Maybe that is why, despite being unable to talk, her eyes shone brightly as my son sat next to her and spoke. She understands the importance of seasons. She knows that she is in one and my son is in another. And both of those seasons are important. They both have value and beauty. 


  1. Ah, just had a long comment eaten. :-(

    Let me try again (in brief). I really appreciated this post, especially now having experienced a midwinter Christmas or three and Easters where the flowers are bursting through the ground that was cold and dead for months.

    "And a cherry tree's purpose after all is to provide fruit not pretty flowers." As you go on to point out with seasons of life, it is important to not identify the purpose of life in a single season. The beauty of the cherry blossoms and the nectar they provide insects and the leaf mulch that autumn brings to the soil and the extra sun that bare branches allow in winter - all are good aspects of the cherry tree. Even the wood that the tree gives in its death has a place, whether as a chest in a home or a home (and meal) for small woodland creatures. Not all purposes are contained within human horizons.

    Finally, this reflection makes me ponder the ways in which the disruption of seasons has not been confined to the seasons of life. The UK has had just had twelve months of very unseasonable experiences - from the hottest November of record to flowers arriving three months early or birds not flying south for the winter (or setting up nests in December) and various other anomalies that escape my recall at the moment. Perhaps these two disruptions are not entirely disconnected either. In losing sight of our creatureliness and seeking an eternal summer, we have created a culture of endless consumption that is now disrupting the annual seasons in alarming ways.

  2. Hi Byron,

    I'm sorry you had your long comment eaten. I've had that happen to me a few times and I know how annoying it is.

    Thank you for pointing out that a cherry tree's only purpose is not to provide fruit. We do tend to see nature from a human perspective - and I was guilty of it then. I think we all need to be constantly reminded that nature's purposes is not just to serve human needs.

    Thank you also for your thoughts about the disruption of the seasons. I feel like copying your last sentence here and adding to my collection of quotes! It's so true and expressed so well. I wonder also whether our disconnection from our seasons means that many of us fail to see those seasonal anomalies and realise just how disturbing it is.