I have not written anything here in a while. There is a certain irony in the reason. I began writing this blog in support of my work on a book, which I call The Varied God, and which I have been working on for more years than I care to count. Over the past several years, there have been periods of time when I have written more blog posts than pages of the book. Writing a blog is more fun and more gratifying. I can count the number of people who read my posts, and carry on conversations with people who respond to them. That doesn’t happen with chapters of an unpublished book.
In the past few months I have been working on the book more, and it has been going well. I am working on Chapter 5, and since there are seven proposed chapters, that feels like real progress, especially since much of the research, and some of the actual writing for Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 is done.
Chapter 5 is about the influence of the seasons on art—music, painting, literature. There is a lot of it, because the four-season motif has been very popular for most of history. There are some outright masterpieces, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Haydn’s Seasons oratorio, and some really schlocky pop stuff, like Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post illustrations.
A book I was reading about seasonal art used the phrase ‘flattening of the seasons,’ which I found interesting. It is the same phenomenon which I have observed but labeled the ‘remoteness of the seasons.’ What I mean, and what the other author meant, is that at one time most people lived an agrarian, largely rural existence. Their lives were necessarily ordered by the procession of the seasons. But as industrialization proceeded and more people migrated to cities and suburbs, we paid less attention to seasonal change. We didn’t have to. Throughout the 19th century, and even up until about the middle of the 20th century, we experienced a great nostalgia for nature and the seasons. Many people made careers of writing books, articles, even newspaper columns about the seasons—Edwin Way Teale, Hal Borland, Rachel Carson, Henry Beston, to name just a few.
But now, most people, and I fear it is predominantly younger people, don’t even have that nostalgia. The seasons are remote from their lives, so remote that they don’t even dress warmly in winter, they just dash from one heated indoor environment to the next. We eat pretty much the same foods all year, do the same things all year. That’s why I use the phrase ‘remoteness of the seasons,’ and while I don’t want to argue the appropriateness of the phrase ‘flattening of the seasons,’ I think it has come to mean something else.
Last week I put up a Christmas tree. It was very warm out, and did not feel ‘Christmas-y’ at all. Autumn was slow to come this year, the trees holding onto their leaves for so long. At the Botanical Garden the other day I noticed a ginkgo tree had dropped all its leaves, but they weren’t the usual golden brown. They were just a tired shade of green. Once the days got chilly enough to feel like autumn, we had another week of temperatures in the 70s. Many people have noted that we are losing our autumn and our spring. We just jump from winter to summer and back again. This is, I fear, an effect of the climate change that isn’t happening. This is, to me, what should be called the flattening of the seasons.
There need to be two terms with separate meanings. Remoteness of the seasons means the phenomenon of people experiencing the seasons less fully because modern amenities have made them irrelevant in day to day existence. Flattening of the seasons means the gradual loss of a full four-season climate règime.
Both scare me.