Seasons have changed again

There is a thing people say that never fails to infuriate me: ‘Oh, California, they don’t have seasons there.’

It seems to have become a running joke with people around me, who greatly enjoy trying to wind me up and trigger the seasons rant, and I must admit that it’s become old, tiresome, and irritating, a grating attempt at making something funny when the joke died long ago. The insistence that California doesn’t have seasons isn’t just pervasive, isn’t just the result of a lack of knowledge about the state, isn’t just a reflection of a Hollywood dreamland where it’s 62 (17) and sunny all the time. It’s a greater disparagement, a snarky comment about California as a whole, as though seasons are somehow a testimony to earthbound superiority, as though there’s only one right way to do them and the Golden State fails at seasons. By extension, the state’s residents are somehow lacking.

Here is a thing I say when people say that to me: California has seasons.

Maybe our seasons don’t look like your seasons. That doesn’t mean we’re not affected by axial tilt and the shift of the Earth as we lean towards the sun and away from it, as the oceans pull back and forth, as the Pacific acts like a thermoregulator and thrn turns up to throw everything we thought we knew in our faces. Maybe our weather doesn’t get to 20 below (-28) and maybe we don’t have blizzards that last for days, icicles defiant on the eaves of our houses. That doesn’t mean we don’t have seasons.

Here we are in fall, one of my favourite seasons. The brutal heat alternating with fog of summer is starting to dissipate, with the weather cooling and sharpening. Sometimes we get a warm streak, with October in particular favoring a last gasp of heat, like when you shut the oven door and a little puff of hot air escapes at the last minute. The evenings are cooling down, you add another quilt to the bed. It feels like you can breathe again, and the promise of rain is on the horizon if it’s not…quite…here…yet, though it will show up soon, turning November sodden and grey, a month that always makes me think of ‘Tomorrow, Wendy.’

Fall is the season when things begin to store up energy for the winter, slowly withdrawing below the earth as it turns rich and dark in preparation for months of darkness, wet, cold. The last of the green disappears and the brown withers away, roots and tubers swelling underground in preparation. The summer gives way to this, this moment of anticipation; they speak of spring as a fertile season but really, to me, it’s fall that’s fertile, as the seed of survival is planted, as plants lay by what they need to survive until the next year. This isn’t a testimony to a season of death and dying, but to a season of aggressive and assertive life, even it all happens below the feet of the observer, inside, in hidden, dark, quiet places.

But sure, tell me this isn’t a change of seasons, by all means. Tell me that this, the shifting, isn’t evidence that something is taking place. Tell me it’s a fluke and nothing more than that — what, because our leaves don’t change? Because it’s not snow that kicks up in November? Because our frosts aren’t hard enough and our rivers remain clear? These are evidence that we don’t have seasons, because that’s what your seasons look like and yours are the only ones good enough to bear the name? And then you’ll tell me that when fall turns to winter, there’s no perceptible moment, no ticking of the clock that gives away our long, dark nights, maybe not as long as some, longer than others, all seasons dancing and whirling around each other.

But no, I suppose not, because clearly you’re the authority on seasons and we don’t count, so we should all move along, put our hands in our pockets, shuffle about; if we want to see seasons, we’ll need to travel and see your leaves change (did you know that our leaves change in fall? That our plant life changes and the landscape shifts? You didn’t bother to ask, did you?) in order to experience authentic fall. To really know summer, we’ll have to see your incessant heat and humidity, because we’re just a pale, pathetic imitation of life. We aren’t springy enough, either, not by half.

What is with this competition and insistence on a myth that doesn’t bear up at all under examination? Do we not have better things to do with our time than pointlessly dismissing an entire irrefutable climactic phenomenon? I don’t challenge the notion that seasons look different in different locales, but apparently others don’t share this — instead it’s like some big game to insist that only places following a rigid schedule count as those with ‘seasons.’ Evidently the rest of us are floating on some sort of abstract plane separate from the rest of the world, perhaps adrift from all that matters, here with our fake seasons and vain pretensions.

Well, today is the first day of fall, and it’s my fall, and maybe it doesn’t look like your fall, but it still happens to be fall, calendrically, environmentally, contextually, and you don’t have to like it, but there it is.