Ode to the seasons

I have often thought about what it would be like to live in a part of the world where there were no seasons and have determined that I would not like it. Not only do I enjoy, to differing degrees of course, the seasons themselves but is the anticipation of the change in the seasons which I believe I have come to appreciate most.

It disturbs me even now, all these years later, to remember that I was the one person in my college English class who never managed to get the point of anything that we read. Perhaps it was my nascent scientific mind or my budding reductionist view of the world, but it seems I was only capable of reading and understanding the words and the sentences. Ignorant me, I took them all at face value. Apparently my classmates had learned that reading and understanding the classics had something to do with looking past the words and between the lines to find intended meaning. Where was I when this was being taught in grade school? Because of this incapacity I was always the first to rush to the bookstore as soon as each new text was assigned, to purchase yet another volume to add to my collection of Cliff Notes. I can still remember the thin printed pages, the yellow and black paper covers, and the large lists of Other Available Titles on the back. Many thanks to the publishers of this invaluable aid without which I would never have graduate from college.

I still do not know why, but John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn stands out as the single work of the English literary canon which I read and understood, without assistance. And it wasn’t only the words and the sentences … I believe that I understood its meaning. I reveled in my accomplishment. Although Keats says much in this classic among Victorian classics, what resonated (and still does) so well was that change and especially our ability to both anticipate and then realize change is important. In his poem Keats describes scenes which adorn the walls of an urn; singers, lovers, and blossoming trees. But as they are frozen adornments the depicted can only anticipate singing, embracing, and bearing fruit. One wonders whether the urn represents a paradise, in which future pleasures may forever be anticipated, or a torment in which future pleasures may never be realized? I take away from Keats the idea that anticipation is just as valid an act as realization and that, in some cases, it may even be better.

So, what does all of this have to do with the changing seasons here at 41ΒΊ N latitude? The deepening yellows, oranges, and reds of the terminus of autumn serve to remind me how much I lament its passing. Once the change is complete and winter descends I will take solace in the fact that the earth will continue to both spin on its axis and orbit the sun. The Celestial Mechanic in me will give thanks for the 23.5ΒΊ of tilt that will, in good time, bring spring my way once again. Until then I will eagerly, and with much anticipation, await its arrival. I should note that a Google search yielded the image on the left and that the one on the right was taken just the other day. It shows a scenesing leaf from a Silver Maple seedling which grows by the side of the barn.

15 thoughts on “Ode to the seasons

  1. I agree with you and your fellow bloggers; first year English was rough. In fact, I pretty much missed the entire divine experience of the written word until coming at it from philosophy. My degree is in English, but for years I felt a bit of a fraud because my actual study of literature was very narrow – I went for theoretical approaches and loved the meandering of interdisciplinary thought (anything but poetry! history, philosophy, psychology, and so on). But then, science was my first love, so it perhaps makes sense that I worked in this way. Great post, as always.

  2. I never understood why you don’t like to read literature until now! Given what a good writer you are, it still seems surprising. I loved the prose and the personal nature of this post.

    • Thanks for the comment and observations. Given my area of professional expertise I have always felt just the littlest bit ‘funny’ writing in the genre that I seem to adopt when working on these posts. It gives me the creeps to know that the guys down at the feed store would cease to talk to me if they ‘only knew.’ I’m not sure what’s happened … but I’m glad you appreciate the literary manifestation of whatever neural changes have occurred. I enjoy writing very much and am really pleased when I’ve got an image that lends itself well to something that I feel qualified to discuss. When next I see you I’ll explain how this WordPress blog is my ‘saxaphone.’ D

      • Is that last part a Parks’n Rec reference? It’s great you have found another outlet … so important. Robb and I were just looking at plane fares. It’s not a definite yet, but still possible!

        • Parks ‘n Rec …. please elaborate? You know me … ‘Almost Amish, Mostly Mennonite.’ Have no idea what you mean? Check your personal email for my response to your last sentence. D

  3. Beautiful post!! Extrapolating from your previous posts I would have never guessed that you did not ‘get’ literature. I blame it on your English teachers or probably you were just too modest in uttering your own, probably ‘scientific’ interpretation, or too honest in not simply using jargon. When I hear people talk about music or wine, for example, in that refined language full of words I never use in that particular way – I really think it is just about speaking up confidently and probably dressing it up in jargon. You could have founded your own genre of interpretation of art – and call it the existentialist-naturalist-scientific-whatever view of literature. Not sure if I have shared it before but you probably enjoy this – an epic hoax by a scientist, fooling the sociologist community by jargon-laden nonsense: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair. (Literature experts πŸ˜‰ reading this, those whose names start with M., e.g., no offense … but you know, I can’t resist hyperbole.) As for the seasons and lack thereof: I think the climate of the Canary Islands get close to ‘no seasons’, at least the wild fluctuations of hot/cold are greatly damped – I have been there in mid-summer and mid-winter, and there was not much difference. Not a bad place, actually πŸ™‚

    • Loved the following … ‘When I hear people talk about music or wine, for example, in that refined language full of words I never use in that particular way – I really think it is just about speaking up confidently and probably dressing it up in jargon.’ I couldn’t agree with you more! I don’t like having to listen to folks like that; people who I say are ‘full of themselves.’ Actually I believe that a great number of professionals and academics have fallen into this trap and do exactly that. They feel that as long as they speak loudly enough … and sound confident and as if they’re absolutely right … everyone in the room believes them! Argh! Drives me totally and absolutely nuts. Let’s call this ‘The Emperor Effect’ for the Emperor’s New Clothes. You remember … no one was willing to tell the Emperor he was walking around without clothing for fear of appearing unfit or stupid. You pushed the proverbial ‘button’ here Elke. I’d better stop! D

      • Probably we should just act as the kid in the story about Emporer’s clothes more often. I can attest to that (I have been named a Subversive Element for a reason πŸ˜‰ )

  4. ‘Scenesing’ leaf! A new term for me. I love it. The entire post is beautiful & thought provoking. Your writing always challenges me in good wYs. I have been learning much from your scientific point of view.
    Good Saturday to you, D & J!

  5. Your experience in English class reminds me so much of my own in first year at University. Though always a cooperative and reasonably hard working student I was never able to sit in a chair in a classroom and listen to a lecture. I can listen–one f my favourite things to do is to listen to a lecture (podcast) while walking in the evenings. I just can’t do it while standing or sitting still. I have to be moving–walking, working, whatever. I noticed this in myself early on. My parents required me and my sister to attend church each Sunday and so, off I would go. Once there I would switch my mental faculties to automatic so I could be seen as responding. And I would daydream away–awesome. School was never a problem because none of my teachers ever taught that way, fortunately. At University, however, my first year English profs idea of running a class was to stand in front and talk talk talk talk about the novel, short story, play, poem or whatever it was we were reading. I would try–really try–to pay attention and take notes but it was no use. I couldn’t help it. Because I had to sit still my mind would just do its own thing. My grades, as you might expect, were so-so; enough but no more.
    Through it all, though, I have maintained a life-long love for reading, writing, singing, playing music, discussing, representing…whatever. I just did not get anything at all from my first year university English classes other than a sense of frustration; inadequacy. Obviously it had not stopped me–humbled me no doubt but that’s all. So, Dave, here at about 47 N latitude you have someone who has had a somewhat similar experience. It’s worth noting that the English classes I took beyond first year were very good. Not as good as my physics classes but still good πŸ™‚ I like the way you expressed your feel for the anticipation for the turn of the seasons. It’s been an hour or so since I read it so there’s been time to think about it. Yes, I can relate to that. Fall is well underway you can see it, smell it and feel it. A bit of ice and snow bounced off the living room window a few times today but nothing stayed. That will change, of course.

    • Isn’t it a fascinating exercise to think back to college? When I do I always come back to the conclusion that ‘If I only knew back then what I know now …’ And if I only had known how to study and how to dissect problems. What do they say … youth is wasted on the young? How true. But, you know … we shouldn’t ever stop being students … the life of the mind and all that. We’re just learning and studying now without the pressures of essays and grades! On another matter … shame on you for using the ‘I’ word and the ‘S’ word in your comment … those are bad, bad words in our house. D

  6. The valedictorian of the last high school I taught in, who went into science in college, once told me that when she’d taken AP Art History she found it hard to write essays evaluating art because everything was so subjective. Sounds like the kind of thing you experienced.

    As for places without seasons, I lived for two years in Honduras, and my wife is from the Philippines; neither of those places has the kind of seasonal variation I grew up with in New York. Central Texas is in between: we have a winter, but it’s pretty mild by northern standards.

    • Hey Steve thanks for the comment. Although I have not experienced summer out west, from what I have heard it doesn’t sound very pleasant. What comparatively little heat and humidity we have here in Pennsylvania is all I think I can handle. It’s especially the humidity I don’t like – I suppose you got lots of that in the Philippines? Our weather is now changing rapidly … we had temperatures in the 50s here today with a ripping wind which made it seems quite cold indeed. We for the cook stove in the kitchen fired up already and the wood heat feels really nice. D

  7. I really enjoyed reading this, Dave. I think many of us felt that way in College. I can remember my college freshman English professor talking about “making the leap.” I had no idea what he was talking about, and it seemed as if everyone in this nineteenth century literature class got it but me. Today I understand what he meant. He was talking about a geography of the mind, not of place. I think it is a matter of maturity which we gain only through experience, time and education. It appears you have more than made up for what you missed in freshman English. In fact, I would say you have surpassed most in the depth of your understanding. Also, you are absolutely right in what you say about anticipation. That’s all the fun. In high school, waiting for my date to pick me up was the best part. After that, it was mostly down hill.

  8. Well, at least the Cliff notes served their purpose. You can always go back to those reading lists and read the books for pleasure! I agree with you about anticipation being just as wonderful, if not better than the realization! Who knew you would one day appreciate Keats? Just proves that anything in life is possible! πŸ™‚

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