What’s your favorite thing to bake? I never know how to respond, even though I bake at least every other week. But if someone asks me to locate my answer in a time of year, I can name my favorites easily. In the spring, I love lemon bars and lemon-lavender slice-and-bakes; in the summer, I love blueberry galettes and peach cobbler; in the fall, I love apple pies and pumpkin bread; in the winter, I love orange-raspberry thumbprints and Earl Grey shortbread. One idea follows another as soon as I move my mind from the general to the seasonal.

When I began to visit the farmers’ market with my mother, we’d start discussing what to look for right after we parked the car. Before we saw a single booth, we’d brainstorm the fruits and vegetables we might spot that morning. It’s May 16, so we might see some strawberries. And definitely some rhubarb. It’s August, so the sweet corn should be ripe by now. It’s October, so the tomatoes probably won’t taste like much anymore. A farmer’s daughter, my city-dwelling mother still remembered the times each crop should be ready for picking and how to distinguish delicious from dull. I learned to smell cantaloupe rinds for the rich smell of ripeness, to choose thin green beans over their fatter cousins, to ask about apple varieties before planning a crisp or applesauce. The in-season food was often cheaper, because eating what’s in-season is often eating what’s abundant and easy to find, not rare and hard to get. And the in-season food was often more delicious, because eating what’s in-season is often eating what’s fresh and good rather than old and stale.

Seasonality centers around nature and the weather, but it is often much more than that. We fill our seasons with holidays, and those holidays shape how we interpret what we see out the window. Snow on Christmas Eve is festive, a reason to throw on a colorful sweater; snow on March 18 is gloomy, a reason to curse the coat you’ve been wearing for months. Once upon a time, we learned which weather belongs in which month. If the forecast breaks those rules, we gripe at the sky.

But time passes, whether or not the weather cooperates. Even in places without a distinct cycle of four seasons, people find ways to mark the passing of time. When my family moved to southern California from central Iowa, my nine-year-old self couldn’t help but giggle at her new classmates pulling on parkas on fifty-degree days. Yet those people spoke their own language of seasonality: May gray. June gloom. Dry season. Maybe there’s something distinctively human about marking time, about trying to notice that something is different now than before. And yet, whenever we try, we end up making cycles and rhythms and patterns. As we try to live in the moment, we become more connected to the past.

The older I become, the more amazed I am by the changes of the seasons. When a child sees a tree change color, the experience is new, strange, uncommon. It has never happened before, or only a few times. But, somehow, the more years I add to my memories, the giddier I am to see leaves bursting into orange and brown and red and yellow. Familiarity has only grown my fascination with an event I have watched before and will probably watch again and again and again.

Perhaps I am a person who loves the seasons because they help me know that time is truly passing. Nothing has to stay the same, and yet nothing has to feel too distant from the past, present, or future. I love seasonal decor, the colors and objects that we have cultured into associating with certain parts of the calendar. I love seasonal activities, plans like apple picking or ice skating that make perfect sense right now and very little in six months. I love seasonal food and clothing and stories that force me to know when and where I am. Knowing the season often helps me find joy when life offers few other reasons for it.

Some days, I want nothing more than to forget what day it is. Anniversaries can be wonderful, but they can also be the days that send sorrow rippling through our bodies with the precisely pointed aim of an acupuncturist. For the lonely, hurt, and grieving, the seasons are just another way today and tomorrow feel like cruel reminders of yesterday. Some days, all we can do is endure the present until we can push it into the past.

With every year I add to my age, the more memories I have of what the seasons once meant to me. Not every association stays for a lifetime; sometimes, a tradition only fits in one time or place or situation. In high school, January was an exciting time, a month for snow days and traveling to show choir competitions. In college, January was a busy time, a month for interim trips and forming lasting friendships. Now, January is a much more mundane time, a month for shoveling and preparing for sales conference at work. When I look at the calendar, sometimes I hear echoes of past schedules, worries, and hopes. Sometimes I slip into nostalgia, and sometimes I am so, so glad to have left that pain behind.

The more years we live, the more possibilities we carry of what a month can or should be. And as winter, spring, summer, and fall circle around us, we define what they are for us, and we define what we consider always in season.

7 Comments

  1. Christina Ribbens

    Beautifully said! My appreciation for the seasons has also changed over time and I think it’s a gift to have certain things happen just in their season—keeps them special and adds layer after layer of season-specific nostalgia.

    Reply
  2. Marcia Talsma- your Aunt

    So interesting Courtney, so descriptive that I started to remember things at the time you were describing the season.

    Reply
    • Julie Hilarides - your mom’s friend

      I so enjoyed reading this Courtney. I, too love the seasons and the reminder they bring of God’s faithfulness.
      I could hear your mom in some of your words. You are blessed with a pretty special mom.

      Reply
  3. Anne Stibich

    Your writing brought me pleasure remembering so many favorite things about the seasons. Rituals and traditions make up part of who we are. Your seasonal baking all sounds delicious!!

    Reply
  4. Clara Joann Holtrop

    A wonderfully nostalgic and comforting piece!
    Thank you!

    Reply
  5. Trena Boonstra

    Loved this piece! I remember your family’s brief sojourn in Escondido–your mom and I were friends for that season.
    Most of my life was in Southern California. When I came to Calvin, I would dash from Veenstra to the dining hall sans coat, jacket, gloves, etc. (And at that time girls had to wear dresses to class and to the dining hall). My four-season friends chided me, but really it was too much trouble to put on/then take off all those layers.
    I now live in GR as of a few years ago and am finally learning the drama of the seasons–much different than Southern California.

    Reply
    • Rob Ruisch

      Thank you for sharing your words about the seasons. The rhythm they bring is cherished. I too, am a CA-IA person.

      Reply

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