I’ve seen my share of springs. They rise, crisp and wet, glistening with actual and metaphorical sunshine, gray and white giving way to ever-bolder green. They bubble and refresh, each element of the earth scraping away its detritus, awaking from slumber. Then, when our patience begins to wane, when mud begins to look less like new life and, well, more like wet dirt, the heat turns up. What was a salad begins to cook into the hearty nourishment of summer. The heat rises until it penetrates our flesh and warms our bones. Life, previously frantic and frivolous, settles into a busy but more purposeful buzz. We stretch our limbs, we test theirs strength, and we tender that which spring has given us to protect.
Summer too, though, begins to wear. The warmth we craved becomes the heat from which we shelter. Where once we rested in the sun, we now peer upwards with a hand above our eyes, wondering if that unforgiving orb will ever move on, will ever release us from our feverish toil.
Then autumn lands on our cheeks like a cool breeze. What appeared sunburnt a week before is suddenly painted in a new palette—not burnt, but burning, alive with fire in a thousand different shades of orange and red. We reap what we once sowed, and it is good, and rich, and we are thankful to have it. The air cools, but we do not mind. We keep fire, family, and friends close at hand. We drink something spicy and remark that the year and life have been kind.
When the air turns colder, we barely notice at first. We button a sweater. We add a log to the hearth. Winter, when it comes, arrives with dread, but also a little wonder. The snow falls like a miracle, solid, yet insubstantial. We wonder at it, and count our stores for the coming trial. When the snow is at its height, when perhaps we ought to be most fearful, we are instead conquerors. An inch of snow is a phantom, a reminder of the seasons of which it has no part. A foot of snow, on the other hand, is an invitation to bend it, like all other things in man’s purview, to our collective will. And so we do. We brush it aside, we make little piles into big piles, and, when all else fails, we simply glide on top of it. What we feared we embrace, breaking through the ice from above and below to see, yes, the sun is still there, brighter than ever, magnified and reflected in snowflakes, billions upon billions of snowflakes.
But there are only so many logs, only so much in the pantry to carry us through. Eventually we watch our candles burn lower and our sacks fold shorter and nervously scratch days from the calendar. It is a race now, to see what will be exhausted first, our ingenuity, or winters frozen engine.
If you’re reading this, you know how this saga ends—or rather, how it begins again. It is not simply a cycle, it is THE cycle, the model by which we can anticipate the behavior of societies since time immemorial. A spring which began with the industrial age brought new vitality even as it sullied our rivers. Its energy was enormous, creating the thousand things we hardly knew we wanted or needed. But we tired of its madness. The 20th century brought a long summer, more controlled, but still energetic. Too quickly, though, the grass began to brown as we turned the heat up higher still.
Now we arrive at autumn. We take a deep breath and determine to be better conservators of what we have been given and what we have made. We take stock, and, grateful for what we record, determine to do no more harm. If we are conscientious and careful, the winter, when it comes, will not be a trial to be endured, but a long welcomed rest. We need only be good stewards now, storing our seed, using what we have wisely. Then, the snow that always comes need not be a wall. It can be a blanket. What was an obstacle becomes an element of renewal. What a Refreshing Alternative.