It’s easy to believe living in a place that is summer-like all year round is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, the heat and sunshine are glorious, everything is always in bloom, and the crickets chirp every night for the entire year. But being positioned right on the equator also makes those nights come as early as an autumn evening does in Canada. And it’s not like we’re barbequing or bathing under waterfalls and breaking for happy hour every day. It’s not like we’re on vacation.
Living on a tropical island certainly has its perks. But it’s not a perpetual summer. I can’t think of a single place in the world that actually is. The occurrence of seasons isn’t just about the rotation of the earth around the sun, any more than the happening of days and nights is about the rotation of the earth on its axis. No, I didn’t fail science, and I probably should’ve taken more philosophy courses in university just to have learned how to communicate my thoughts in a more intelligible manner (there are too many words to choose from!).
What I mean about the happening of the seasons is the same as what the happening of every other phenomenon in the world (universe) is about: our individual and collective experience. As people-centric as that is, we really only know the world by what we collect through our senses and then what we do with that information. It doesn’t happen for us, but we’re affected by it. We can acknowledge and even understand events outside our own sensory experience, but we have no point of reference that makes them relatable. (Side note: this is why true empathy doesn’t require the exact same experience, only the same feeling about the experience).
My experience with the seasons according to my most basic brain is that I shut down in winter and I come alive in the summer and that has everything to do with temperature and hours of sunlight. Most of us are familiar with the term SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, which I’ve experienced most of my life to some degree. The word disorder is only in reference to the social order, and maybe that’s why I never felt like I “fit in” to winter when everyone else seemed to sail through. They say it’s about deficient vitamin D and insufficient light for the eyes and such, but I think it extends beyond biology and nutrients and lands in a fuzzy place I can only think to call metaphysics, but I might be wrong.
I always related that sloggy mood to feeling miserable in winter because I was cold all the time, and being cold takes a lot of energy, and using up a lot of energy makes you tired, and being tired makes you cranky when you’re supposed to function on the same clock that exists in summerland. Right? 8 pm in winter is 8 pm in summer but the experience of them is oh so different. I’m approaching shut-down time at 8 pm on a deep dark January night.
Summer, on the other hand, is the come-to-life time of the year. Like a new morning. Where sparkling fresh days are alight with promise and big bushy peonies. The world is green and blue again, dandelion parachutes float to new homes, the pavement is warm, and feet frolick in freedom again. Bikes and bells and birds burst in blissful abundance, and people smile more (or maybe we can just see each other better for the lack of snowy toques and smudged-out faces). Summer is the ideal time of year, relatively speaking, that is. I know a lot of people that love winter and I can appreciate what they love about it. The world quiets, it goes to sleep in a sense, a necessary period for new life. And oh, those gorgeous promising shoulder seasons: the dank smell of leaf rot and soggy earth (we’re a long way from metaphysics now).
These annual cycles of hot and cold, sun and snow, light and dark go much deeper than that, and over eons, we’ve developed around it. We’ve built agriculture, industry, and social systems around it. As cultures, we’ve developed our livelihood around the seasons in one way or another, even post-industrialism. It has been a means to extract the best parts of what we’ve been given to optimize our collective human experience.
But I can’t say that we’ve adapted to the seasons unless we can consider that we adapt to adaptation itself. Each change of season has an impact on us, some more than others. Just as we’ve adjusted to the winter’s blustery cold, spring arrives. And when that first chilly autumn day befalls us, it feels sharp. It’s why a 10-degree day in winter sheds our coats, but wraps us in a scarf in the fall.
We adjust season to season but I’m not sure we adapt on a broader scale. If that was the case, then I should feel summer-high all year round living in the tropics, right? The sun and warmth should always make me feel brighter and more alive. But it doesn’t.
Come the autumn as I know it, occurring late September to late December in the northwestern hemisphere where I grew up, that familiar decline begins and I get tired earlier. I become an unmotivated blob on my yoga mat. I want to eat more, especially thick squashy soups dusted with cinnamon. I occasionally feel inclined to wrap myself up in a cozy sweater in 25-degree heat. I welcome the 6 pm sunset and start prepping for bed somewhere around 8 o’clock. It certainly creates a different image than stretched-out sunsets on sandy beaches at the end of long, fancy-free days, doesn’t it?
And that’s when I miss home just the teeniest little bit (the place, not the people––that’s always there) if only to explain my tendencies and natural instincts, that are the effects of seasonally-cultured conditioning (I might have made that term up), or maybe something much greater, if only to justify why I’m not happy all the time living on a tropical island. You can chase summer around the world, but you can’t chase happiness– (and get lasting results).
That bit of SAD I feel during a Canadian winter, still happens in Bali and Thailand. It’s my necessary inward time to lay stuff to rest, to root through and resolve some inner conflicts, to plant some new seeds of understanding, and the way my body manages this is by pulling down the shade slightly. It’s not SAD at all.
No matter where we are we always come back to our roots, with our roots being less about where we are and more about what we’ve experienced habitually, over a lifetime. So habitual that it becomes programmed within the very tissues of our bodies, integrated into our nervous system, mapped out in the brain and absorbed by the psyche. It means we never really leave what’s truly ingrained in us, we might just forget it for a little while.
I love this idea. I don’t think it suggests that we have to resign ourselves to anything. It just means that something much bigger than us is happening, sometimes in the most minute and personal ways. To me, it means that we stay connected to the wider wonder of nature, rather than using nature as a means to our selfishly defined ends. In a sense, we give ourselves to the mystery of it, with acceptance and wonder. We accept that ‘I’ only partially belongs to us.
I can live in a perpetual summer-like climate but the Mother will always remind me of where I come from: Tap, tap, tap, remember winter? The cold, the ice, the slow bleed of summer’s sap from your bones? It hasn’t gone away. Here it remains, will always remain, in the way you see, the way you move, the things you say. I follow you wherever you roam. When the sun shines, it doesn’t shine for you. It shines for a million other reasons you’ve never wondered about. The warmth you feel is a privilege and cold’s necessary offset. Eventually, you’ll feel the cold again, whether it’s on your skin, in your bones, or in the frigid hollow of loss. In the absence of heat. And it’s okay, it’s always been okay. It’s a small potent part of my miraculous cycle.
Photo: From Hearing Voices by Brian Andreas