I have always had a thing for seasons, and it would be dishonest to say that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have them, but it would only be slightly less untrue to say that it does. Portland, Oregon has seasons the way a Sound (as in Puget or Long Island) has waves: technically it does, but they are small and gentle ripples, and have nothing at all of the power and fury of the wild sea. The seasons of New England obliterate the landscape with a cyclical frequency and a constant intensity that I somehow find very romantic.
My ache for the extreme seasons I grew up with hasn’t faded, as I thought it might, with more time and conditioning in this more temperate climate; instead, the wanting accumulates. Even though I live on a big hill known for its power outages, impassability in heavy snows and general storm susceptibility, the most winter I’ve seen out my window–invariably on mornings when I have exams in like organic chemistry–only lasts long enough to take some cell phone pictures of the fleeting moment. Every successive winter that passes without significant snow, I feel a little betrayed by Mother Nature, or by myself for having chosen to live somewhere without real winters. I yearn for a good blizzard, the sky before a good snow, so dark it makes the lights inside houses and hallways look warmer, howling wind so gusty it makes the lights go out, months of snow angels and snowmen and forts and snowball fights and hot chocolate and sledding and real bundling up and layers and fires in the fireplace, a coldness and a darkness that seems to permeate everything, grab hold of the Earth and never let go until spring, when the ground would get soggy with all its melting snow. I miss that.
I am obsessed with the sea. This river isn’t that, but it stretches out for eons. I gaze at the horizon, misty and distant. My parents grew up in Connecticut and I was born in a small town right outside of New Haven, only a five-minute drive from the shore. Long Island Sound, I think, shaped me more than I can remember. I have vague blurry childhood pictures of being at the beach when I was little, walking down a woodsy road with a yellow line in the middle and thick trees on the sides, until we reach a little wooden shack with stalls where we could change. In other still photos I see Mom showing me how to listen for the ocean in a conch shell, talking about seahorses during a sunset, walking along the shore combing for smooth rocks, shells or colored glass. My life was colored with the scent of saltwater until just before I turned six.
We were eating McDonald’s food for lunch the day Dad told us he got transferred. I still remember the taste of the salty fries in my five-year-old mouth after he told me and Randy, we’re moving. I didn’t think I much cared. We traveled often enough, all over New England, to Santa’s Village in New Hampshire and other amusement parks in Massachusetts and Vermont. My dad used to be a policeman, and oftentimes he had to work nights, but it seemed like we always had time for vacations. Then Dad decided to join the FBI and had to go to a place called Quantico for sixteen whole weeks. That McDonald’s lunch—a special treat reserved for special occasions—was so soon after his return. We moved to Buffalo at the end of that January, while Mom was newly pregnant with June.
And it’s true what they say sometimes in books and movies and in that old song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” done originally by Joni Mitchell, you really don’t know what you’ve got until after it’s gone. There is no way to calculate how much something means to you, especially when it’s something you always see, something you live with every day, like a nearby ocean and a nearby Nana. Those things creep up on you, so invisible and insidious until they’re a part of you that you can’t live without.