Tag Archives: seasons

the rhythm of where I came from, the rhythm of where I am

It is amazing how my ideas of the seasons, the natural cycles accompanied by Earth’s journey around the sun are so shaped by growing up in the Midwestern US.  Even after dwelling in the desert for 8 years, I frown at the shoots of wildflowers reaching green tendrils up to the sky in January and exclaim No! Its too soon! Of course, what is wild and natural can be neither early nor late, but there is a part of me that still exists in Minnesota, that still appraises within the constructs of that world: long winters with temperatures that plunge well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit  Short, glimmery summers that pass with a breath of humidity, the buzz of mosquitoes  and then suddenly are gone. The sacred two week race between the 15th of May and memorial day to plant seeds if there is to be any hope of tomatoes in August.

The day I saw the beginning of wildflowers there was a high of -5°F in Minneapolis, and I think it was that part of me, still shivering in the North, that couldn’t accept my new home, the new rhythms of life. Barry Lopez writes on how disconcerting life in the Arctic is for those of us dominated by the simple truths of temperate living: the sun rising in the East, setting in the West, day after day. It is true in Tucson, albeit to a lesser degree. I get frustrated with Midwestern transplants that complain about the lack of seasons in the desert.  There are seasons, magical ones, but they aren’t our seasons. I understand this is really what they miss: the comforting truths of fall leaves crunching underfoot in early October.  The heavy snows of March. The breeze off the lake cutting through the humidity of July. And we can adjust to new places, humans are adaptable afterall. I tend to lettuce and chard during these months while Minnesota is under a blanket of cold and snow and ice, I open the door and let warm January breezes pass through the house. But there is still the part of us gazing at the world through the eyes of our childhood, from the perspective of where we came.

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Tucson in November

November in the desert is a study of opposites.  The skies have gone quiet, awaiting the arrival of winter migrants. The sun still shines warmly yet the wind blows cold, laced with the sweet smell of decay.  Night come early and lingers well into the next day, and even though I am a morning person, I find myself slumbering longer and longer under heavy blankets.

The chickens are up with the sun when she shows her face, and demanding squawks eventually pull me out of bed and into the garden. The cold is quickly dissipating under the sun’s loving stare; even though I can see my breath in puffs, my rumpled hair is warmed by sunshine as I feed the birds and release them from the coop into the yard.The air is perfumed with the aroma of the growing and the dying.   I appraise the winter lettuce,whose green fingers tentatively reach upwards from the deep black earth.  The fig and peach trees shed their leaves like a papery dress, yet the carrots extend tender young greens upward and wave a feathery “hi!”

Even in Tucson, winter gardens can be a bit of a gamble.  With hardly a warning the long night could decide to push the temperature below freezing and irreparably damage the brave young plants that dare to grow in the coldest, darkest months.  The eggplant has already taken a hit, and its only mid-November.  But we are fearless beings, the veggies and I, and seek the light wherever we can find it.

The warm sun, the cool breeze, the sweetness of the earth, the cackle of the chickens are intoxicating, but the afternoon pulls me indoors.  Today has seen temperatures well into the 70’s, but deeper instincts of the dying light and coming cold cause me to seek shelter.  Home yields its own delights; before long the kitchen smells a curious combination of burned sage, the yogi tea bubbling on the stove, the yeasty sweetness of bread in the oven.

It is fall.  We grow upward, we turn inward  We shiver through the night and bask in yellow sunshine during the day.

Our Fall Garden, 2011

May you find your own sweet balance between the light and the dark.

a sign of the times

Only now, well into November, are we starting to feel the chill of Fall in the desert. Long nights descend, and although full of sunshine and 80 degrees, the days are short, and temperatures quickly plummet under the heavy blanket of darkness. At high noon in the warm sunshine, it can be easy to forget when and where we are in our path around the sun. Not fooled by the heat, the fig tree hears the silent call in waning daylight.  Her brown leaves flutter to the ground and remind me, the native Midwesterner, that yes, Autumn is here.

I had different signals in my childhood, and one of them was freezing my ass off at the bus stop every morning after about the third week in September.  But if that wasn’t enough of a hint,all I had to do was look at my grandmother’s door.

She was not a devout person in a religious sense, but she believed in corn. Every year she hung dried ears of corn to mark the season, the colorful kind commonly referred to as Indian Corn before such titles were considered potentially offensive. She hung it on the door to her double wide when I was a young girl, her apartment when I was a bit older, and in the hallway in her assisted living facility when I was older yet. Year after year, despite her changing circumstances, the corn reappeared.

Last year at this time, my mother had been discharged to hospice.  She was dying, and it was the last autumn she would ever know.  Her legs were swollen with fluid and she walked with a wide, awkward gait.  But she pulled out a managed to pull out a trio of colorful ears from a storage box and waddle out the front door.

“What are you doing?” I cried.

“Hanging some corn” she replied.

This year my mother is dead, and my grandmother is plunging deep into her dementia in a group home in Sun City.  She doesn’t have a door to hang her corn on; she doesn’t remember this old habit that was part of her annual routine for decades. Fall is here, and for the first time in my life I want some corn for my front door.  A thread to tie through the generations, despite being severed by illness and death; an organic symbol of where I came from.