On change and seasons

As we made our way through the winter holidays, lnhammer and I were struck yet again by how the United States thinks of itself, culturally, as being–well, the northeast. So much of our self-image is about falling leaves, and snow-covered branches, of winters spent hibernating and summers in which we move into the out-of-doors.

Even our language shows this–we talk about heading “out west” but “back east”–as if east is automatically the home place, the where-we-come-from place, even though the years in which Europeans first landed on our eastern shores are a couple hundred years past, and people born in the western as well as the eastern half of the country every day, and new immigrants cross borders from all directions.

And it occurred to me today that our defaulting-to-the-northeast–to the temperate–also affects how we define our seasons. A very common response to the Southwest is, “It’s beautiful, but I prefer having seasons.” Which makes no sense, really, because of course we have seasons–of course light and temperature and length of days and moisture in the air all shift as we move through the year.

What we don’t have is a season of snow and deep frost, or a season of leaves flaring bright colors and then falling from trees. Those are lovely seasons, and I missed them a little when I first moved out here too, but they’re not the only seasons available.

It’s winter here in Southern Arizona, and anyone who’s lived here more than a couple years knows it. There’s a deep chill in the morning, and the days are short, and the sun’s shadows are long, and we alternate between blue days of gentle warmth and gray days of cold soaking rain.

These things are not true the rest of the year–not in spring (bright wildflowers, warming air, no rain), not in summer (scouring hot days and dry clear skies), not during monsoon season (electric clouds on the horizon, humidity putting a sticky edge in the hot air), not during autumn (dry again, and brown, with hot days and cooling evenings).

Those are the seasons I’d miss now, should I ever move again. They’re the markers by which I measure change, as surely as an easterner measures it by falling leaves and drifting snow.

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