By Luke Kantola
Each year, I slowly mourn summer as it creeps into fall, and fall into winter. The days grow shorter and the weather grows more hostile. The leaves fall and the birds fly South unwilling to participate in what is to come. When I was younger, say ten or twelve, I would bask in the ability to stay inside during this season. I would build forts with tiny slits so that I could view the T.V. or I would build massive structures with every Lego piece that I owned. If I grew bored I would press my face against the window and feel the coldness of the rain as it ran down the outside of the glass. At some point, in the time between then and now, something shifted. I no longer feel comfortable allowing my days to slip away in front of a screen or distracted by toys. Winter has gotten harder since life has grown more serious.
This past summer was one of the best I have ever experienced. I spent almost every night of it under the stars and I was constantly exploring. When winter finally arrived in Washington I remember feeling trapped in the limited hours of daylight. I blamed it on the latitude until I returned to California and found the sun was setting at almost the same time. After fully experiencing summer there was nothing to do but fully feel the effect of winter. At first it was difficult. I felt my days were just blackness punctuated with periods of overcast skies, but it gradually became the new normal. The stillness of winter penetrated so deeply that I eventually forgot the sense of loss that arrived when the leaves fell. As the days kept passing my memories of summer were more and more obscured by time.
It wasn’t until the first buds started showing on the elderberry and the first flowers hung down from the salmonberry that I remembered what we lose every fall. The birds are returning to the land here at Wilderness Awareness School and they are singing again. The leaves that initially helped me to identify so many of the species of plants and trees are also budding and returning to life. I see that spring is a time of remembering as life washes over this land like the return of a seasonal tide.
Winter is a hard time in the natural world. Food sources are sparse, and the sun doesn’t offer as much warmth. Birds sleep with barely enough heat to survive each night; spooking a bird from its roost during a cold night might be fatal for the animal. As my connection to the natural world has grown throughout this past year it is only natural to feel the effects of the seasons more strongly than before. Winter is more real to me than it has ever been, but it’s harshness allows the bird song and flowering of plants to emphasize that the earth continues to insist on life. I am seeing my world through a clearer lens; one that is more compassionate for the hardship that the winter brings to nature and one that is more appreciative of the relative ease that comes with the sunny seasons.