Monday, November 21, 2011

Staring Out the Window

Acer japonicum 'O isami' - Full Moon Maple
People love the fall.  They love the crispness in the air, they love the colors, the food, the sights and smells of autumn.  Heck, I’ve even read that some gardeners enjoy raking leaves! 

I get it.  I like most of those things too (you can guess which one I don’t).  As most people do, I also appreciate the unique qualities of this season.  But as a gardener, fall is not my cup of tea.  It’s not my cup of tea because I’m a wimp and I don’t like being cold. 

I grew up on the eastern side of Washington state.  It gets cold there.  Not like it might in Alaska, or in North Dakota, or in Bill and Hillary Clinton’s bedroom, but I experienced my share of “snow days”, I knew people who got frostbite, I knew that when the snow plows came through we’d have to shovel out our driveway before we could go anywhere, and I knew that when the power was knocked out for long periods there was legitimate concern that the very young and very old would be in danger. 

So you would think that when I moved to California a decade ago I would have been one of those people that would have walked around and responded to people complaining about the weather with a snarky remark along the lines of “Hah, you think this is cold?  I remember when they closed my school because the wind chill made it a hundred below zero!”  Well, okay, I’m totally guilty of that.  But somewhere along the way I acclimated to this Mediterranean climate and I stopped being that guy.  My body no longer knows what cold is.  It’s going to be a sunny 60 degrees today and people are walking around with sweaters on inside the office and they are clutching their Starbucks cups as if the emanating heat is the only thing keeping their fingers from turning blue. 

When it is warm here (warm for us, mind you), I can hardly wait to get out in the yard on a Saturday morning.  Now I put it off.  I find reasons to delay going outside.  And when I do force myself outside, I rush through what I now consider to be chores when just a month before those chores felt more like cleansing religious experiences. 

But that does not mean that the gardener in me has gone into hibernation entirely.  My heart and mind are still wholly invested in my garden.  It’s just my California-weakened body that doesn’t want to comply. 

There’s a scene in Field of Dreams that I’ve been thinking about lately because it reminded me of myself.  In this scene, Ray Kinsella has already plowed under his corn and made a very nice but completely illogical baseball field.  The neighboring farmers think he’s crazy, of course, but he knows they just don’t get it yet.  He followed his gut and trusted that his vision will come to fruition.  In a brief moment in the film, the camera catches him staring out the window at his snowed-under field.  He must be thinking about spring, wondering if everything he worked on that summer and fall will make it through the winter.  He must be doubting himself (and his choice of sweaters).  His heart and soul are out in that field but his body is stuck inside, staring out the window just waiting and dreaming. 

I catch myself in this pose and I'm gladdened by it.  There may not be much I want to do right now but so much of Spring's joy comes from Autumn's longing.       


  1. So true. I think we do enjoy spring all the more because of autumn and winter. It sounds like maybe you need a greenhouse ;) I must admit, I'm enjoying having a warm place to garden this fall when the weather would otherwise dissuade me from going outside. By the way, I love Full-Moon Maples. The very first Japanese maple I ever planted was an Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium', the fern-leaf variety, and probably the most brightly colorful maple I ever grew. O. isami looks like it might be even brighter though!

  2. haha - I know exactly how you feel! It's warm here to most people, but if it gets below 70, I'm inside like there's a blizzard out there! Can't wear shorts out? It's too cold to work outside! My fall chores are not done, and still I think - is it going to get to 70 today? If not, I'll just have to put it off! Put it off! As if winter is never going to arrive! Actually, that's my plan - for winter to never arrive! Sound good? I wonder if Mother Nature will go along with it.

  3. Totally with you on this one. I grew up in WI where I think it actually did get to 100 below!! Ha! Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but 30 below was not uncommon -- and that's before wind chill. I'm sorry, but that is not fit for human habitation! Now in Texas, I bundle up when I have to work outside in 60 degree weather. Throw some snow in there, and after the novelty wears off (after, oh, about 30 minutes) I am miserable. I live the winter under my electric blanket, then next to my fireplace or a space heater, bundled up in a blanket.... and, yes, starting out the window now and then. Thankfully our winters are very short, and we have some 70 degree days sprinkled in now and then to ease the pain. I'm sitting here shivering in my almost 70 degree house right now as type this. Where is that electric blanket anyway? I think it's time to crank the heater!

  4. Too funny!
    I totally get where you are coming from. My family moved down to Georgia for a few years after living in more northern climates. I decided I wanted to live somewhere there was snow and so I went to a college back up north. After about three days of snow, I thought that was enough - I was ready for no more snow! My body totally wimped out on me and has never been the same!

  5. Chad, you're so right, I get my days when I don't want to go outside when it's a bazillion below zero with a nice, hefty wind blowing. Ah, refreshing.

    But I am a bigger wimp when it gets hot out, believe it or not. I can always put on more clothes to stay warm, but I sure can't take off anything to stay cool (there are laws which prohibit this sort of thing especially when it's an overweight old lady in question.) So don't feel bad, you have company.

    And what is up with that sweater? We farmers don't dress like that, everyone knows we wear bib overalls. ;')

  6. Who are those people who like raking leaves?

  7. CFV - I think I would love a greenhouse but I'm afraid I've already used up my space . . . unless I got a small one, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. As for Full Moon Maples, 'O isami' is the only one I have but out of all my maples it has definitely put on the best show this fall.

    Holley - Winter never arriving sounds good to me. Can you do something about that? Isn't there some kind of deal we can make with the powers that be? I think temperature must be all about perspective. 60 or 70 might not sound cold to most people, but when it's 35 to 40 degrees colder than you're used to, it sure feels cold.

    Toni - You're telling me! Those kinds of temperatures are just wrong. I always wondered why people would go to a place like Siberia and decide it would be a good place to put down some roots and raise a family. What's the appeal?

    Indie - thanks for admitting that your body wimped out too. It sounds like we're in good company though. Since you mentioned college, that reminded me that when I was in college we recruited a lot of Hawaiians to come to our school. When it snowed the first time they were so excited and they would run around in these huge parkas while wearing shorts and flip-flops. I never understood that. Most of them seemed to love the snow at first but then the appeal seemed to wear off pretty quickly. I bet that 10% of them transferred to schools back in Hawaii after their first semester . . . That may, or may not, have something to do with Hawaii being paradise though.

    Karen - I can understand the aversion to the heat too. To me, it's the same issue, just a different side of the coin. When it gets over 100 here most people retreat to their air-conditioned homes. I try to do my gardening in the mornings on those days when it's a comfortable 80-85 degrees out.

    Catharine - I swear, I didn't make it up. Some people really do like raking. Check out The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man's blog:

    And it's not just him, many of the commenters admitted that they like raking too! More power to them, I guess!

  8. Waving the white flag and admitting I like raking leaves. Of course, this chore is reserved for spring in my garden when the Live Oaks drop their leaves. Tons and tons of them. This time of year only a few crape myrtle leaves are falling and I just let them decompose where they fall. Fall is for dreaming, not raking around here :)

  9. Cat - I love that line "Fall is for dreaming, not raking." My crepe myrtle still has its leaves. They are usually the last to fall in my yard. When they're on the ground, I think I'll go aheand start calling it winter.

  10. I am laughing at your conversations. I saw that film too! I wonder what you will feel like if you are living in an area where green stays all year, all life. And summer is all throughout, and you have only 2 seasons, the dry and the wet! That means you don't get autumn, snow and sweaters! Can you relate to that?

  11. Andrea, I can't quite relate to that because it doesn't stay green all year here . . . but it actually sounds pretty nice to me.

  12. Very funny post. It reminded me of last winter's annual pilgimage to Fort Lauderdale. They were having a cold spell, which for me meant shorts and a sweatshirt. For a friend who lives there, it was a floor length down-filled coat, mittens, hat, and scarf. We are where we live.