An ode to the passage of the year.

As I sit writing this, I can hear the wind howling outside my window. A check of the thermometer lets me know that it’s only 30 degrees out. And if I really peer into the darkness, I can see that there is snow being whipped around like confetti. It is the second day of spring, though, and not more than four days ago, I was strolling through the woods in my shorts and sandals.

The seasons never seem to change as smoothly as you think they should. They all seem to want to hold on for as long as they can, and at least get in one final shot before fading away for the nine-month absence awaiting them.

It is those strange days when the weather doesn’t quite seem to know what to do that leave me dazed; sun and rain, hot and cold. That’s how nature works, I suppose, and it’s been working that way for far longer than I have been there to see it.

I can never quite make up my mind about which season is my favorite. They all have their ups and downs. Summer, of course, can always be great. Though I am out of school now, and no longer get the luxury of a three-month vacation, summer forces you to find time to enjoy yourself.

Everything is lush and green, and the air is filled with the constant hum of every bird and insect trying to get in the last word. You get the best storms in summertime: towering cliffs of gray clouds rolling in from across the horizon, putting on a light show that dazzles in full stereo, though you’re better off being on the outside looking in.

And the days of summer last longer than any others. Like my girlfriend says, you just can’t beat a day that doesn’t end until 9:30 in the evening. Nightfall is when things get even better. In the lazy days of late July, you can lie beneath the blanket of night and watch the stars move across the sky.

You don’t even need a blanket; just set yourself down in the cool grass. If you’re lucky, you’ll see your fair share of shooting stars. If you’re even luckier, you’ll find yourself surrounded by fireflies.

To be fair, summer does have its downs. Those dog days of August can really sap the energy out of you. Nothing can put a damper on a day’s fun like a thick layer of sweat beading across your skin, mingling with the waves of humidity cascading over you. And if you don’t pay the sun the heed it deserves, it’ll leave its mark on you in bright red. “Lobster” is not a name you want to be called.

Worse yet, when the afternoons of summer rain don’t come, the verdant collage of green can soon become a depressing waste of crackling brown. That nighttime reverie with the stars isn’t so relaxing when you’re lying on thousands of stiff, stabbing needles.

Summer ends, as is nature’s plan, and gives way to autumn. Or fall. The only season with two names, though I’m sad to say I don’t know the reason behind that. Autumn is the cool-down after the game: time to reap the harvest that summer’s warmth provided.

In the first month of autumn, you might not notice a change. The days are still long and nights still warm. As October creeps onto the scene, however, leaves begin their yearly metamorphosis into fireworks, and the wind starts to come from the north with a distinct chill.

If you’re in the right place at the right time of season, autumn can easily take your breath away with its vast palette of reds and yellows. When the light of sunset comes filtering down across the hillsides of gently swaying leaves, there is not a person on Earth who could deny it as beautiful.

This too is a passing moment. Soon the leaves take to flight, and gravity takes care of the rest. True, for those first few weeks when the ground is covered in the crinkly, crackly blanket of fall, it too is quite a sight. But then things grow colder and moister, and everything begins to take on a sort of uniform brownish tint.

The piles of leaves grow moldy, and tree branches stretch across the skyline like gray cobwebs waiting to snatch whatever happens their way. The nights grow colder, and soon the days do as well. The bane of all sun-lovers also rears its head at this time of year: Daylight Saving Time. Fall back to waning daytime.

After Thanksgiving has come and gone, the seasons teeter on the precarious border between the end of fall and the beginning of winter. This is usually a cold, damp, dreary time of year. Grayness pervades everywhere save for a few tufts of green and yellow here and there, and the chill rains of the season serve only to make the moist ground ready for the freeze that will soon come.

Winter is a season that has two choices before it: to be beautiful, or to be dank. The cold is not the real problem with winter. It’s what the cold brings with it.

A perfect winter will have one key ingredient: snow. Without snow, winter cannot help but depress. Frigid winds and short days are more bearable when there is a shimmering carpet of ghostwhite across the fields and treetops, and your evenings are spent huddled under blankets sipping on something hot.

Hearing the wind beat against the windows when you wake up in the morning isn’t so bad if the gray world has been transformed while you slept. Watching birds leave their tiny footprints across the soft bed of snow outside your window can be a cause for cheer.

But waking up after the howling night to find the world just as dark and dreary as it was the day before can be a great weight on you. Sheets of ice and dank puddles of snowflakes that never made it are never pleasing to look at.

February comes to a close, and following it is March, another tricky month. You never know quite how it’s going to go. When it begins, it can be almost a repeat of the late months of autumn. Everything is still gray, but the thawing ground now leaves the world a soggy mess. The grass is pale and colorless, and any leaves that the melting snows uncover are unrecognizable miles of mold.

Like the saying goes, though, March usually makes a turnaround toward the end. Suddenly the sun shines a little brighter, and the days grow a little longer. The rains come. Though they add to the mire, they leave in their wake shoots of green beginning to poke out of the mud and buds popping up on the trees.

Within a few weeks, the color green begins to assert itself across the fields once again. But this isn’t the rich emerald green of summer; this is the light, yellow-green of a world in bloom. Every tree and every bush begins to put forth their confetti display of blossoms, and the birds that took their six-month absence return.

The nights grow warmer. The days grow longer. Going outside is no longer a chore; it’s a pleasure. Slipping out of work a little earlier than normal becomes an even better idea than usual.

Sometimes winter likes to make a few last-ditch efforts to hold on. A sudden chill sweeping in from the north can ruin any spring day, and watching the first blossoms of the season freeze in their tracks can reverse any smile. But spring always wins in the end, and the plants of the world push forward undaunted.

The high days of spring, in April and May, are when it’s time to start enjoying yourself again. It’s the time of year to get outside and throw a Frisbee, or just take a walk to wherever you happen to end up. Spring is when I charge myself up to face the rest of the year. And spring leads ever so smoothly to summer, and the cycle begins again.

Of course, I write about the seasons as I know them. The people out in California might talk of summer lasting all year, but I don’t think I’d really want that. Head a ways north, and you’ll have year-round winter; not such a great prospect, either.

The seasons change, and, for me, that’s the way it should be. You can’t appreciate one without the others. You take them for their ups, and you take them for their downs. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The wind is still howling outside, and it sounds like some sleet is coming down now as well. In the morning, I’m sure the ground will be a green and brown mush. But by the afternoon, who knows? The sun might be out again, and maybe I might even be able to go out without a coat. That’s how things like this go.

Article © 2002 by Joel Haddock