, , , ,

My daughter hates living in the St. Louis area. It’s about the weather. Last week and up to two days ago, we had temperatures in the low seventies, even light jackets were barely required for comfort; today we will be lucky to see 32 degrees, there is a sharp wind and a threat of snow. It has been seesawing like this all winter long.

What my daughter says, echoing what you hear a lot of people say, is that she’d rather it just stay cold: at least that way you get used to it, you accept that you put on coat, hat and gloves before venturing out. It is winter, after all. Of course I believe most people are happy for the few days of warmth in the midst of the season. You get to turn off the heat for a day, wash the car, do a few outdoor chores without freezing your buns off. It’s just a drag when the cold returns so soon, and so completely.

My daughter’s problem is that she works outside, tending to the horses at a boarding stable. It’s always been a strange phenomenon to me, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours around stables and it seems that no matter how cold it is outside, it’s five degrees colder in the stable. It is her choice to be doing this work, and her choice to be doing it full time rather than attending college. She decided at the beginning of the fall semester that college was not part of the plan for her future, which includes riding in competitions on the A circuit (whatever that is), and owning her own top-ranked stable. How she will afford the investment in a top-ranked stable is a question she has perhaps not fully dealt with.

My wife was–and is still–distraught at our daughter’s plans, at her refusal to enter college. She was a straight A, honor roll, accelerated class student who finished high school in three years. A bright academic future clearly awaited her. But a man I know, an academic adviser of considerable experience, once told me that there is nothing more difficult than keeping a really bright student in school. I see this now, and I am willing to work within the parameters of reality, no matter how much it interferes with our plans.

There are many lessons to be learned that do not originate in the classroom. Working in a horse stable, shoveling manure and hauling hay bales and coaxing aged farm equipment to fire up on frigid mornings, will surely teach one in short order whether or not this is the best kind of life; or whether something more in keeping with your academic potential might clear a better path to the future. I understand the role of the seasons in this lesson.

Back in the glorious autumn, with moderate to cool temperatures and the beauty of fall trees all about, my daughter came home each evening full of spirit, jabbering endlessly about which horse owner did this, and which rider did that, and all the things she was learning from various seasoned horse people. Now, as winter grinds into its weary depths, she only complains. She is being taken advantage of by the stable managers, who are supposed to pitch in with the work, but increasingly let her do more and more of it. The horse owners are stupid and negligent. Nobody knows what they’re doing.

A long time ago, I tended a large vegetable garden with a good friend of mine and his father. One July afternoon, with temperatures hovering in the nineties and humidity near 100%, my friend’s father paused over a row he was weeding, and remarked that ‘the hoe doesn’t fit your hand in July like it does in April.’ Indeed. An activity that seems so gladsome and salubrious in the spring is only tiring in late summer. And an activity that seems to be teaching you all about equestrianism and stable management in autumn turns out to be only a rip-off in the cold, cold weeks of winter.

My daughter has begun to talk about signing up for classes, perhaps as early as this summer, just to get some general education requirements out of the way while she decides what she really wants to do. It may be horticulture. It may be architecture. I don’t care. I just want her to be happy. But I also know that this plan needs to be well along before the weather begins to break.  I have been around stables in the spring, when the hay is all fragrant, and the sunlight filters through the stalls, and the horses stamp and chuff, eager to be at pasture. It’s the sort of place and time that makes anyone think about quitting a desk job and going to work on the farm.

In anthropology and history, there is a debate about environmental determinism. This is the idea that humans living in more adverse environments, such as Ice Age Europe, advanced more quickly because climatic pressures necessitated the creation of technologies and methods for survival, like building warm shelters, sewing clothes, and drying and smoking meat to store against winter’s scarcity. This idea was long considered Eurocentric, if not downright racist, supporting an old fashioned view of history as largely the accomplishment of Western Civilization. But it has begun to reemerge, as researchers revisit the common sense of its basic tenets, and as it comes to be applied to areas aside from Ice Age Europe, such as China and the Andes Mountains.

I think you can call it what you like, I believe that climate and the seasons have always taught humans many lessons. Whether it’s culture writ large, or the things that one young woman needs to understand about life in general, they are still teaching us every day.