Michigan's four seasons can be dramatic, especially as climate change progresses, but I've learned that I just can't quit them. Their rhythm is embedded in my soul. Without them, I feel adrift.
My husband and I agreed: It was ourselves that needed to expand and grow and change in order to put down deep roots in the first place we had ever learned to take for granted. We married young for our generation, at 23 and 24, and already we felt like old souls. After our childhoods and early adulthoods spent chasing novel experiences and opportunities to wander, we agreed that there's no place like home. With that iconic 20-something blend of irony and authenticity, we invested everything we had into buying and developing a little homestead where we could finish growing up and start a family of our own.
We learned to value traditions and respect the land. We cultivated vegetables and fruits and replaced our landscaping and more of our lawns each year with native flora. We learned to appreciate the seasons more deeply as we learned to support the growth cycles of vegetables, flowers, and fruits and to attract beautiful animal neighbors such as monarch butterflies. We joyfully mixed human food crops and pollinator gardens in happy, maximalist symbiosis.
And rainbows. And fireflies. And swimming at the beach.
But she also loves the winter, with all of its sledding and cozy fires in the wood stove and glittery ice and bubbles that freeze into crinkly, iridescent globes on the coldest mornings.
For those whose favorite season is summer, spring, or winter, there are places where you can go and find a more or less perpetual climate of heat, temperance, or freeze. But for those of us who love the autumn--and there is nothing quite like fall in the Great Lakes region--it can only be found at just the right time, in a place that cycles through all four seasons of the year.
It is hard for me to go without the autumn. I always liked it, but I didn't know how much I needed it until I had the opportunity to skip it.
When I was in college, I had a long-term boyfriend who also grew up in Michigan and then went to California for grad school. The weather there was gorgeous; I loved visiting him and soaking up all the intense sunshine that doesn't often penetrate Michigan's protective, low ceiling of hazy clouds. But when fall came around, things got weird. My boyfriend started to have a serious mental health breakdown, and the absence of a recognizable fall season drove him crazy. Time didn't feel right. There was a creepy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind feeling of memories and depth of experience being repressed or erased somehow. I mailed him photocopies of autumn leaves that he cut out and hung around the window of his lab cubicle, and it helped--maybe. Almost.
Then I studied abroad in Rome for about half a year, and while September and October brought mercifully less hot temperatures than summer, nothing looked or felt quite like fall in the city. There were few deciduous trees that changed color, none of which were in my neighborhood and none of which did anything more than fade to blah and drop a few quickly scattered leaves into the "lesser summer" air. My roommate's family mailed her a photograph of the spectacular fall colors at their home in the Upper Peninsula, and I swear we felt like we could breathe fully only when we gazed at that image.
After I married my husband, we spent late October and early November in central Mexico through the Day of the Dead celebrations, and although there were definitively autumn-themed festivities going on, it still felt like summer. There were no fall colors; I kept seeing flame-colored bougainvillea flowers spilling over walls out of the corner of my eye and turning to look at them, repeatedly startled that they weren't autumn leaves.
It is unsettling, to say the least, to miss a single Michigan fall. Although the changing seasons and their extreme temperature shifts and weather patterns can present challenges, I don't think I could ever feel whole without them. Like family, they sometimes annoy me, and I sometimes wish I could get away from them, and yet, I miss them as soon as they're gone. The four seasons infuse my life with constant changes of scenery that give me a sense of traveling through time even while I'm staying in place. As soon as I start to get tired of a season, it begins changing into the one I've begun to miss the most. Each season brings its own unique challenges, but each one brings special joys, along with the subtle reassurance of rhythmic change itself.
So have a happy summer solstice! Take a walk in a shady, green forest. Hit the beach. Have a late night bonfire and catch some fireflies. The challenges of each season aren’t so bad when you remember they’ll soon make way for a different kind of weather. And the joys of each season are sweeter when they are transient and layered with memories made at this very particular time in years past.
Michigan’s four seasons move me so much that I’ve decided to stay.