Monday, August 25, 2014

Changing Seasons

“Au milieu de l'hiver, j'ai découvert en moi un invincible été.” ("In the depths of winter, I discovered that within me there was an invincible summer.")
- Camus

When I was sixteen, my father retired from his last job because of a heart attack (he was sixty-one) and my folks were finally at liberty to move anywhere and live wherever they wanted. We had been living in South Carolina for several years and my mother, who always hated the South, wanted to move somewhere with a pleasanter climate and a pleasanter people.

Around that time, I found a book at the library made up entirely of photographs of Vermont. Among the resplendent pictures of rustic houses, church spires, and old covered bridges were four full-page photographs of a country lane bordered by low stone walls and hardwood trees. Each photo had been taken from the same position but in four seasons. The differences between them were dramatic: from the tentative green of budding flowers and trees in April to the heavy effulgence of leaves and grass in July to the golds, ambers and reds of October to a frozen and snowbound January. I found it so enthrallingly beautiful that I made up my mind then and there to live in Vermont.

My mother, who had spent her happiest years with my father in West Germany after the war, wanted Switzerland. And we were on the verge of making travel plans when she realized that the real estate prices published in a brochure she got in the mail were in Swiss - not in French - francs. Since my mother had her heart set on an alpine setting, we eventually decided on Colorado. We moved to Denver, lock, stock and barrel in September 1975.

Since then I have lived in different states, including Nevada, Iowa, and Alaska. In Alaska there are only two seasons, winter and a protracted thaw that encompasses spring, summer, and autumn squeezed into the six months when it isn't freezing and abysmally dark. Nevada, in the high alkali desert east of Reno, had a splendid climate, but its stark, rain-starved landscapes grew depressing after a year or two. I sometimes miss it, mostly the highways that lead one into pristine but lonely vistas, but I seriously doubt that I shall ever go back there. I found that Des Moines, Iowa lived up to its image as an American Nowhere, home to all those who were left behind when everyone else took off after high school to Chicago or Omaha.

Now I'm living, against my better judgement, in the Tropics - the Philippines to be needlessly exact. Like Alaska, it, too, has but two season, but they are wet and dry in a perpetual simmering heat. Some people actually regard it as an "ideal" climate. It's certainly cheap to live here. But very quickly one realizes it's because the only people who live here are the natives, who never had much of a choice. Seedy, overweight, mostly old foreign men are the only non-natives who live here, for mostly unmentionable reasons.

But after forty years I haven't forgotten that beautiful book of photographs of Vermont, nor have I given up the dream of some day living there. I've mentioned before how an expat American I met shortly after I arrived here on my island in the sun told me that I would never miss the cold winter weather in the States. He couldn't possibly have been more wrong. I have missed the seasonal changes in the weather every hot, sweat-soaked day that I've been here. Standing the quote from Camus on its head, In the depths of summer, I've realized that within me there lay an invincible winter.

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