Filler Seasons

On a perfect spring day, with just enough chill in the air, my son and I went on a walk. He chattered about his imaginary world and waited every time he noticed that I lagged. There were so many blossoms and tulips and wildflowers and dragonflies that I was distracted trying to take pictures of it all.

We were almost in town when I stopped – yet again – for a shot of an apple blossom. He sighed a long-suffering sigh (ten-year-olds are not usually known for their patience with dawdling mothers, although he’s usually a pretty good sport) and said, “You know, mommy… I don’t think spring and autumn are real seasons. They’re just filler seasons.”

“What do you mean filler seasons? They’re my favorites!”

“Well… there are really only two seasons. Spring and autumn can’t really decide which to be, so they’re just fillers. In between the real ones, you know?”

Outrageous…. His comments frequently leave me reeling for a time. We continued our walk while he expounded – as he is wont to do – and I tried to catch up. Apparently the “powers that be” first established that the space of a year should be divided into quarters. Therefore, four seasons were needed. Summer and winter know exactly who they are. They are self-assured. Autumn and spring, according to my son, want it all. They’re confused. Contradictory. Inconsistent.

I was drawn to his descriptions. He was less concerned with the transition between the phases or the classic marks of their presence in vegetation and weather. His words shaped an image of the seasons as characters and I found myself pondering on why it was – beyond my appreciation for milder weather – that I was drawn to what he called “fillers”.

Aside from their undeniable use as small talk fodder, seasons have long been implicated in everything from mood to culture. Long, dark winters are known to increase depressive symptoms, homogenous climates are said to breed complacency, and inhabitants of harsher environments seem to develop a hardiness that persists through generations. Human development and aging is compared to the change in seasons, from rebirths in spring to dormant and subdued life of winter. Warmer climates are associated to more effusive cultures, while colder climates lend themselves to individualism.

I spent a portion of my childhood in the Midwest where the seasons are unapologetic. I’m not sure I realized how ingrained seasonality was until I moved to a climate where vegetation changes very little and the only significant difference between summer and winter is that one is rainy and the other requires a jacket to ward of an evening chill. The seasons were so similar that spring and autumn were hardly spoken of, except as heralds of daylight savings time.

In places where green is always green, time has a different meaning and things are easily postponed to a future that never materializes. Perennial vegetation lends itself to a perception that nothing changes. The danger lies in equating “how it always is” to “how it should be”. I think what I love most in marked season changes is the evidence of cyclicity. I also love that unnamed feeling of anticipating the approach of a favorite season when nature starts sending out hints of change. Summer vacations can never make up for the scorching sun. The endless toll of layering and unlayering and the short days of winter don’t appeal to me. Spring and autumn please me best; they’re more comfortable in their moderation although they can be finicky. Both spring and autumn’s beauty lie in their process. They aren’t static.

Spring is blooming, colorful, and full of hope and renewal. However, it announces that summer is on its way. My dread of hot weather is enough to make spring bittersweet. Autumn is my favorite. I’ve been known to embarrass my child and drive him slightly crazy by endlessly repeating, murmuring, and even singing impromptu tunes with the single-lined lyrics of “I love autumn!” It is undeniable that cooler temperatures are part of the attraction, but I love everything about autumn. I love the colors, the red, gold, orange, and yellow hues. I love the magical sunsets. I love how the colors change and transition. I love how the fallen leaves drift down noiselessly and how they crunch under my feet when I walk over them. I even love that urge to buy new notebooks, echoes of schoolyears long gone. There is beauty in the transience and the process of decay.

Until my son humanized the seasons – as if they were ginormous beings we communicated with through our reaction to their massive force – I’d never pictured them as having personalities. Almost sentient beings. When I spoke of preference in seasonal changes, my arguments focused on the importance of perceptible transitions, a need for variety and cyclicity, and how I abhor heat. I had never compared my seasonal palate to how I related to people or characters.

“You know,” I finally told my son, “I think I just figured out why I like spring and autumn best. When you describe the seasons, they sound like people. I like confused, in between, not quite sure, and multi-faceted people.”

I’m fascinated by people. I am intrigued by what defines us as individuals and why we do what we do and think what we think. I have special appreciation for people who are still in progress, slightly unpredictable, and not quite sure of things. Like the “filler seasons”, they are a blend of the best (and sometimes worst), of who they are and aspire to be. They’re vulnerable and still learning to be themselves. My kindred spirits are the ones who are willing to traverse the entire spectrum of human emotion – sometimes within the hour. These are the people who revel when they’re happy and aren’t afraid to shed tears when they hurt.

“I just learned something new about you, mommy! You like fillers!”

“I’m not sure I’d call them fillers, kid. Perhaps it is because I like the journey of things, not just the destination. I like confused and quirky and not quite what you’d expect,” I smiled at him. He smiled back. He knows his mom is a little bit like spring and autumn. The whole range of temperatures and colors and emotions and intensities… and far more colorful – and comfortable – than winter or summer.

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