At this time of year in Seattle, the sun sets around 4:30 pm. I never thought I’d experience that. In Florida, there’s only two hours difference in the day length from summer to winter. So this radical change feels really, really weird to me.
I never realized how much sunlight affects me on so many levels. I seem to go into a low energy mode the minute darkness sets in. I’m less productive, less upbeat. The sky seems closer to the ground somehow. The air feels more dense and harder to pass through. Everything takes more strength.
I also feel as though I’m running late all the time. Usually I have my daily blog written each day before dark. Now… not so much. Even though I haven’t changed my routine, this feeling makes me anxious.
If I could figure out how the bills would get paid, I swear I’d hibernate like a bear from November through February. Burrow into a mound of blankets and just sleep. If it weren’t for my SAD light, I’d probably cease to function entirely.
But then I’d miss cuddling in front of the fire, and decorating the Christmas tree, and wearing fuzzy boots and diving into a nice hot bowl of Pho. So I guess I’ll just have to make the effort. Life does go on, and the sun is shining somewhere, after all.
I love the transition between summer and autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. A respite from the heat, but not yet miserably cold. A sense of enjoying the sun as the days perceptibly shorten. A slight frisson because there’s an ancestral fear of not surviving the winter. An appreciation of abundance while it lasts. A feeling of being on the brink of an adventure.
This started me thinking of other seasonal transitions.
Autumn to winter is a time to hunker down, muddle through, and try to stay warm. It’s also when you take a deep breath before diving headlong into the exhausting holiday season. It’s a time of conserving your resources. The horizons seem to shrink. My instinct is always to stay closer to home.
Winter to spring! Excitement! Birth! Beginnings! Flowers! Pent up energy just bursting to come out! The end to hibernation! The overuse of exclamation points!!!!!
Spring to summer, for me, is a little fraught. I love the lengthening days. I adore the vacations. It’s nice to have less bulky laundry to do. It feels good to be outside, enjoying all that nature has to offer. But it’s also freakin’ hot. And you have to mow. I don’t do hot and I’m a resentful mower.
Regardless, I am so grateful to be living in a climate of seasons again. You don’t really get spring or autumn in Florida, and I felt their absence keenly. I enjoy marking the passage of time. I love the variety, the anticipation, the change.
When I was 19 years old, my eldest sister was in the Air Force, stationed in Holland. Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, she invited me to go there for the summer. What, are you kidding? Of course I said yes, with visions of jet setting around Europe dancing in my head.
Upon arrival, she mentioned that, oh, by the way, she had gotten me a job on the Air Force base. I was to mop floors and stock soda machines all summer long. I could hardly complain, could I? She had brought me to Europe, after all.
So, after pretty much zero training, I was sent off to fend for myself. And the verbal directions I was given as to the locations of the various vending machines was sketchy at best. To say I got lost is putting it mildly. That base was huge. A job that should only have taken a couple hours took me all night.
The next night, I was to mop the floors, using one of those metal industrial rolling buckets and a heavy stringy mop. I was a skinny little thing back then. At one point, I knocked the full bucket over in a hallway and flooded the place. I spent the whole night desperately trying to sop up the gigantic puddle. When my boss came in the morning he was furious.
I’ll never forget this. He called my sister and told her that I was “not cut out for grit labor”, and that was the end of that summer job. In retrospect I should have been a lot more insulted. At age 19, he was writing me off for life. And it turns out that the bulk of my career has been all about grit labor, so poo poo on you, bossman.
There were no other civilian jobs that I qualified for on base, and I had no work visa to work in country, so guess what? I traveled around Europe for the rest of the summer. It was great.
Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.
When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.
So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.
I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.
The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.
It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.
When I lived in Florida, I didn’t pay much attention to summer solstice. It was just another long, hot day in what seemed like an unending series of long, hot days. But in the Pacific Northwest, when it rains more often than not, and when the winters are dark and cold and raw, you learn to appreciate the seasons. So when summer finally arrives, you can’t really blame Seattleites for getting a little crazy, can you?
This past Saturday I attended the Solstice Parade, which is part of the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is rapidly becoming on of my very favorite PNW traditions. The very best part, in my opinion, is the mass of naked, body painted bicyclists that start the parade. I wrote about this amazing tradition last year, but this year it seemed like even more people participated. I’d guess that 700 naked people rolled past me.
To say that a parade like this would never, ever happen in conservative Florida is putting it mildly. And that, to me, makes it an even more joyous celebration. Summer! Freedom! Art! Self-Expression! Joy! And the absolute best way to start the season!
I am right where I need to be. Maybe one of these years I will be a participant instead of a spectator! Here are some of the best pictures I could find from my collection, which don’t (hopefully) have any shocking bits on display. Enjoy!
When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)
Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.
It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.
Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.
Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.
The farmers’ market in the small town where I just bought my house actually coincides with my regular day off. Yay! So my newest tradition is to go there every week while they’re open, June through September. It’s a delightful way to spend a summer afternoon. It beats the hell out of shopping at Walmart.
I like supporting local farmers, and not having to worry that my fruit and veggies were treated with harsh chemicals so that they’d survive a long truck drive to market. Often the things I buy are still warm from the sun and dirty from the soil. I love that.
And I tend to eat more fruit and veggies if I’ve made the effort to go to a farmer’s market. This is, of course, a win for me. And everything is fresh and usually delicious.
I also love that they take WIC (Women, Infants and Children) vouchers, and if you have an EBT (Food Stamp) card, you get 50% off. And then there’s the SFMNP (Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program). This provides low income senior citizens with vouchers that can be used for produce, honey, and fresh-cut herbs. Since I’m sure I’ll qualify for that some day, I hope that program still exists in about 20 years.
Even if you don’t qualify for any of those programs, the items available at farmers markets are usually very reasonably priced, because you’ve cut out the middle man. And you know you’re supporting the local economy. You also get to people watch, which is an added bonus.
I often buy cherries and then sit on a park bench to eat them and watch kids toss the ball around, women pushing babies in strollers, and cult members passing out leaflets. Politicians sometimes show up to glad handle their constituents, and often there are experts discussing recipes or giving good gardening advice. And I usually get to hear at least 3 languages on any given day. That’s music to my ears.
It’s a great way to meet local artisans, too. Butchers. Bakers. Candle makers. Purveyors of honey. Artists. Florists. I’m dazzled by the color and creativity.
I wonder why pet shelters don’t bring animals there for adoption? “Look honey, I bought peaches and a puppy!” I think it would be a perfect pairing.
Most of all, I like the sense of community that I feel at farmers’ markets. In a world that’s increasingly divided, it’s nice to be able to come together over something we can all agree on: good food. I’ve yet to see a fight break out at a farmers’ market. It’s kind of like an unspoken neutral zone.
Even though Autumn is my favorite season, I’ll be kind of sad when October rolls around and the farmers’ markets close for the year. Take advantage of them while you still can, folks, and maybe I’ll see you next summer!