Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Seasons

Fall is now one of my favorite seasons. There is something magical about the cool dry weather, the gentle slanting sunshine, the deep blue sky, and the brilliant colors adorning the trees that invites contemplation in a way that the piercing overhead sun, stifling humidity, and solid green of summer simply cannot. It is true that summertime is generally considered the ultimate season for relaxation; it is certainly the time when travel and outdoor activities are at their peak, while many people are enjoying a well-deserved break from work and school activities. However, if I am not mistaken, oftentimes summer can degenerate from a healthy period of recreation and refreshment into a mirror of the rest of the frenetic working year; people try to cram all the sports, vacations, family picnics, scenic drives, gardening, summer programs, and garage sales they can in between weddings and holidays during the three months of warm weather, only to find themselves exhausted as they return to their regular work schedule. This reminds me with a chuckle of a quotation from columnist Russell Baker in Back to Basics: "Leisure pastime in this country has become so complicated that it is now hard work....We are not far from the time when a man after a hard weekend of leisure will go thankfully off to his job to unwind."

I personally find the autumn environment more conducive to relaxation than that of summer. As I gaze at the natural beauty of a perfect autumn day, I observe that nature is slowing down, and this invites me to slow down as well. As fall moves on and the sun gradually traces a lower arc across the sky, the golden orb seems to be descending graciously toward the earth and bathing the forests in some of its light. The striking sight of a tree blanketed in yellow leaves especially evokes this impression. Then as October melts into November, the leaves silently drop off the tree branches as though they are surrendering with resignation to the approach of winter. This encourages me to prepare for the freezing weather that will soon be upon us.

While growing up in the temperate, semi-arid climate of coastal California, I did not really know what seasons were. We never had snow where I lived, and a hard frost was rare. The local farmers benefited from a twelve-month growing season for many of their crops. Also there were few deciduous trees that could turn color in fall. When I first moved to Ohio at the age of sixteen, I was initially shocked by the Midwest weather, which seemed extreme: humid with highs in the 90s in summer, mountains of snow and slippery ice with temperatures reaching thirteen below zero in winter. I could mention also the dozens of yearly thunderstorms with their deadly lightning and resulting thunder banging the windows of the house, or the tornado watches that frequently accompanied these storms. Over time, however, I gradually became adjusted to the meteorological conditions of the Buckeye State, and I learned to appreciate the more sedate weather that spring and fall offered. After about five years of living in Ohio, I felt that the rhythm of the seasons had finally sunk into my bones. It has been an interesting experience to see what “real” weather is like outside of California.

Lately I've been enjoying the sight of fall leaves adorning the ground around the house and getting my outdoor Christmas lightstrings ready for the joyful season ahead. There is something about brown fallen leaves and Christmas lights that makes the two go well together. This mimics the blending of fall and winter weather patterns that typically marks the month of November.

I enjoy putting up Christmas lights on the house just as my father used to do every year as I was growing up. My enthusiasm for this annual hobby has not waned with my entry into adulthood. Like a Christmas tree and other decorations inside the home, outdoor lights add cheer to the celebration of Christ’s birth, and they can lift the spirits of other people passing by in the evening too. Moreover, while the heavy, energy-consuming C9 lights of my childhood had to be stapled to the eaves of the roof, you can do just about anything with the miniature lights, and the energy costs are much lower. (And now the latest and greatest are LED lights, which use even less energy.)

Another trait that fall and winter share is dark, starry night skies. This is partly due to clearer, colder air and partly to the fact that the brightest stars in the heavens are found in the winter sky. Just as I admire the awesome sight of a dark winter sky filled with countless glistening stars, I take delight in the picturesque scene of little red, orange, green, pink, blue and purple lights contrasting with the black darkness of a winter evening. They remind me of Christ, the true Light of our lives, Who came down from Heaven into this world to lead us out of spiritual darkness.

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