I was rolling the trash can up our long gravel drive to the spot by the side of the winding two-lane road where the trash hauler will empty it. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, it was sunny and warm and it felt like spring had come.
I have moved a number of times in my life. I have lived in places which felt like home, and I have lived in places where I never found a sense of place or comfort. But what I believe is that you don’t feel like you are inhabiting a place until you pass from one season to the next there. Seasons can do that; as they change, we change, or we find our permanence now embedded in one place despite the change. That place, we hope, is home. But there is often something more important that we need, something that the seasons may be inadequate to deal with, and maybe this is what makes one place feel like home when others do not.
We moved here in November, and though it was unusually warm for that month, it was autumn; gray skies, bare trees, brown grass. The move was hard. We hired a moving company for one morning to handle large furniture items, but for the most part we packed our cars and made the twenty-five minute drive from Oakville to High Ridge many, many times over the next few weeks. We kidded ourselves that this saved money, despite the high cost of gasoline.
At the same time, at work, I was managing the move of the library from the temporary facility we set up a few years ago back to our renovated and expanded library building. It was a huge job, including the complete shutdown and cleaning of that temporary library. Both of these jobs happening in the same few weeks in November, after months and months spent anticipating and planning them, was as much my fault as anyone’s, I guess, though I still can’t see how it could have been avoided.
As soon as we opened the new library, I was beset by a series of complaints from an attorney who claimed to be a specialist in the ADA. She showered me on an almost daily basis with e-mails detailing the failures of our new building to meet specific rigorous requirements, and missed no opportunity to tell me in plain terms exactly how incompetent, or dim, or uncaring I was. Though I eventually contacted a local ADA consultant to advise me, and she found our building to be compliant with the law in most every aspect, I am still receiving these complaints, though at a diminished frequency.
In short, I have found that there are situations in which anyone can be worn down. No amount of energy, of optimism, of healthy eating and exercise and reciting self-help mantras can sustain your spirit through some trials. You can be broken, and the ways in which your spirit manifests itself can be silenced. For me, that is my ability–what I suppose is my ability–to express myself in writing. For anyone who has followed this blog for a while it is no secret that my posts have slowed down, and that what I have posted lately has been uninspired. I haven’t had an original thought, or at least been able to express one, in a long time.
Our seasons are typically, and perhaps too dogmatically defined. Spring is the season of rebirth, summer of growth, autumn of harvest and gathering in, winter of, if not death, then at least of rest. These are all functions of the natural year and of its technical descendant, the agricultural year. At one time most of humanity participated in farming, but in modern society few of us do: most of our activities can take place at almost any season, and we do little more than make costume changes from one season to the next. And yet we translate the changes in the natural cycle into human terms, as if we were all living in direct communion with nature. But what if our innermost need is not rebirth, growth, gathering in, or rest? What if what we really need is healing? Which season is for that?
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald noted that spring and autumn are ‘the two times of year when change seems possible.’ I have asked hundreds of people what is their favorite season, and it is usually spring or autumn–with the definite advantage going to autumn. If pressed for why they like autumn, most people cite something like the feeling of change, of starting over, of renewal. This is a little strange, since it’s spring when things in nature renew their cycles of growth. Spring is the time of rebirth, and it has come at last, but I feel like I am only being reborn in the same damaged vessel. Reborn is not necessarily repaired, and change, though possible, is not necessarily inevitable.
And so the anthropomorphism of the seasons breaks down: human life, in the end, is more complicated than the natural cycle. We may want our lives to follow this simple cycle of growth and harvest and rebirth, but we have added layers of complexity that the wisdom of nature does not encompass or comprehend. It offers us rebirth when we need healing; it offers us a shining season into which we carry our darkness. We know our lives are in balance when we can once again internalize the natural changes; but those changes can do little to provide that balance.
I deposited the trash can by the road, looked around at the shrubs and trees that line the roadside, all of them beginning to green and flower. I turned back and made my way down the gravel drive to my new home. One more week of leaving the trash behind me and moving hopefully towards something new. I appreciate that at least the weather is nicer, though I am ambivalent about what difference it makes.