Seasons

It’s officially fall. The air smells like a new season, the sun sets earlier, and our bedroom is a shade darker each morning  when our alarm clock goes off. I love this time of year, but I’m scared of this particular fall. With the cooler nights and the darker mornings, a tinge of malaise has settled over me. We all have pandemic fatigue. We were promised at the beginning that this would pass–that the strict lockdown in March and April would curb the spread, allowing for a normal summer. Then summer passed, its golden glow creeping further away into the horizon, leaving me here.

I felt like I was able to carve out a semblance of a summer despite the pandemic, mostly because so many of my typical summer plans involve getting away from people. We went camping, sleeping in thick forests swarming with more mosquitos than mammals, and kayaked on lazy rolling rivers. Thanks to some coordinated covid testing and a lot of planning flexibility, we were able to spend part of our usual annual week at the lake house with my family. The lake house is one of my favorite annual traditions, and though Kurt and I only got to stay there for 3 nights instead of the usual 7 due to the testing waiting period, it was well worth it. We  sat by campfires, cracking open cold beers while gazing over the flames at the sun setting over the lake, and I felt a semblance of peace. I can get through this year, as long as these moments can still exist, whenever I can make them happen. I hold them close, savoring their fleeting sense of beautiful normalcy, like capturing fireflies in mason jars and watching them glow before setting them free.

Fall has an uncanny ability to make me feel wistfully lonely. Maybe it’s the muscle memory of returning to school, all of those awkward adolescent years when I craved a John Hughes vision of what high school was supposed to look like while forever feeling outside of it all. Maybe it’s the sense memory of my recovery from knee surgery 8 years ago, when I went through one of the deepest depressions of my adult life, spending every day and night on the same corner of the couch while watching the leaves fall outside, grieving my temporary ‘new normal.’ That was the season we adopted River, who became my buddy in anxiety and isolation. She would curl her furry little body around my knee brace, tucked between me and the CPM machine (my daily therapeutic torture device) on the couch. The sight of changing leaves immediately brings back the memory of the CPM machine as it flexed my knee for me, its creaky pneumatic wheeze creeping into the background soundtrack of my Twin Peaks rewatch. 

This winter is going to be hard. We’re going to feel isolated, and alone, and anxious. It will end, at some point. The days will grow long again; the sun will return. The changing of the seasons will cycle through, as they always do, marking time in a physical, visible, immersive way that feels so familiar and vital. 

This fall, we have a second dog. It’s funny how it happened this way–we adopted Winnie in mid-August, one day after River’s 8th adoption anniversary. Winnie is floppy and goofy, somewhere between 8 months to 1.5 years old, mostly pit bull but has a snore that sounds like a manatee. We drove home with her on a late summer evening, Kurt at the wheel while I sat in the backseat holding Winnie, because we didn’t know if she’d try to climb over the seat or not. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a puppy in the house, the need to constantly watch her, the mystery of not knowing how she’ll react to all her firsts–the first visitor at the door, the first car trip, the first run-in with another leashed dog. I worried about how River and our cat Esteban would react as the days went by. I worried that I had blown up our peaceful routine, introducing 44 pounds of chaos in an adorably cute, velvet-furred package. Quickly, we had to restructure our lives into a schedule that involved obedience training, solo walks for River, playtime for Winnie, crate training, socialization, puppy-level exercise. I had some meltdowns. At times, I feared it wouldn’t work out. Days passed, and it got a little easier. A little bit better. Summer melted into fall.

I’ve been so focused on my little corner of chaos, so much of what is going on the world has faded into the background. But once I leave my house, I emerge into an altered reality. The other pedestrians wear masks, and we make wide circles as we pass each other. Businesses have boards over their windows. More and more homes in our neighborhood display Black Lives Matter signs in their windows, many of them homemade. And these early days of October have already been so jam-packed with major news events, this post will be outdated within minutes of me clicking Publish. I can only imagine that the coming months will continue to be some of the wildest, most unpredictable times we’ve ever witnessed. And eventually, the season will change again. 

 

photo by Kurt Matsen

Midwestern Autumnal Realness

Autumn is my favorite season. Much of the reason for this is my undying love of Halloween, but I also embrace the crisp weather and watching the leaves change color. This time of year makes me crave walks in the woods, campfires, and red wine. At home, I light candles on the window sills and curl up under wool blankets and watch movies all day. I am ready to hunker down and enjoy the harvest season. Pretty much since early October and on, I’ve been crafting costumes, listening to Bon Iver, burning forest-scented candles, and rewatching that one Harry Potter movie that’s two hours of our heroes camping while being tortured by existential dread. I’ve been compiling slow cooker recipes and even signed up for a weaving class so I could learn how to use a loom for maximum hygge skills. Autumn is basically prep time for hibernation season a.k.a. winter and I am 1000% here for it.

I do well in the cold. Maybe it’s my quarter-Swedish blood, or my Midwestern roots, but I like to think I approach winter with the stoic attitude of a Viking warrior. Like Lyra Belacqua or Jon Snow, I’m drawn to the North. I prefer camping in the crisp, quiet serenity of fall over the sweaty, sunburnt heat of summer. As the temperature drops, I simply add more layers–wool socks, wool leggings, stocking cap. Wool is magical, and I like anything that allows me to keep staying outside, watching the moon disappear and reappear from behind wispy November clouds. I love the smells of autumn–pine needles, fresh snowfall, campfire, whisky–all enjoyed while wallowing in cozy knit sweaters like I’m damn Felicity. Currently, I’m reading a book set in Kamchatka and reveling in the descriptions of desolate, icy tundra. Earlier today,  I shoveled snow from our sidewalk and wore my favorite winter boots that make me look like a 70’s-era Star Wars extra.

I think what it all boils down to is my love of the changing seasons. I can’t imagine living in a place where the weather doesn’t drastically change every several months. Seasons create rituals, and I fully lean into them. I make playlists for every time of year (currently queueing up “Cozy Winter Cabin” on Spotify to accompany Chicago’s current snowfall). For the next several months, I’ll embrace my favorite knit caps, pumpkin bourbon-scented candles, fluffy slippers, and Pendleton blanket. I’ll enjoy the sound of ice crunching beneath my boots and watching my dog frolic in powdery snow. I’ll go to hot yoga class for that Swedish sauna moment. I’ll spend decadent Saturdays watching an entire season of a television show while drinking a lot of pinot noir.

But most of all, cold weather gives me the gift of time to work on projects. It’s usually when I do the most writing, and when I most enjoy losing myself in an engrossing novel. I’ve said before that winter pushes hibernation upon me and forces me to give up the non-stop social and travel schedule I keep during the spring and summer. I’ve got my cozy home office prepped and ready to go, with plenty of candles waiting for me on the window sill.

 

Summertime

I blinked and June  and July were gone. How is August almost over too?? I swear that summer just started. In a midwestern city where summer flies by so fast, we feel the need to be outside every single moment so as not to miss a precious drop of sunshine.

Remember when you were a kid and summer was the greatest time ever? Long days at the swimming pool, cruising town on bikes with friends, sprawling out in the backyard to look up at the moon while cicadas chirped a soundtrack to your most secret sleepover conversations–summer meant pure freedom. No school. No responsibilities. Even when I eventually had summer jobs as a teen, they were easy, carefree times. I’d scoop ice cream for a 4-hour shift before my friends came to pick me up from work so we could drive around, playing Alanis Morisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” on repeat and riding past boys’ houses.

As an adult with a full-time job and a mortgage, it’s hard to capture that delicious taste of summer freedom again. How do you fit in long, lazy weeks of bicycle-riding, dock jumping, keg beer drinking, and s’mores burning amidst the work week, the paying of bills, the doing of laundry, the running of errands that never go away? I used to have a co-worker who, every time I’d run into her and ask how it’s going, would reply “Same shit, different day.” That phrase perfectly describes the grind that is adulthood.

How do you make summer magical again? It’s all about catching the little moments when you can, as often as you can. You head out after work to the local street fest near your house to listen to a band and eat meat on a stick. You drive up to Wisconsin to spend 36 hours at a cabin to ride on a pontoon boat while drinking New Glarus before jumping out into the deep dark water in the middle of the lake, floating on a pool noodle and letting the sunshine beam down on your face. You go to a  giant music festival and sweat through the summer heat until the sun goes down, the night air soothing your sunburnt skin, and you share a spontaneous moment with tens of thousands of people when the headliner plays their biggest, most classic song, and you all sing along and feel the communal thrill of happiness over being present for this moment of time. You go canoeing with a few dozen friends, lazily floating down the river while drinking light summer beers and laughing at what everyone says, because everyone is hysterical when you have known each other for so many years and have a rich history of shared, hilarious stories. You let yourself float along the edge of the bank of the river, feeling the current tugging at your feet while a sun shower breaks out overhead, dappling the water all around you while warm raindrops bounce back up onto your face. You stand on the back porch of the house you bought and listen to the cicadas, the soundtrack to every summer of your Midwestern life, and remember the times you heard their chirps while riding around in your best friends’ Geo Metro listening to “Jagged Little Pill” so many years ago.