Once, long ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.
It was not a good trade.
I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.
I still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was believe the truth of them, a truth that drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.
At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel. The squirrel didn’t forget. Because he is a creature of instinct and the outdoors, he knew. It was September and he was doing the work of the season—gathering pinecones and flinging them down from the tree in rapid succession. They landed on the ground, the picnic table, the tent, and the camper next door. Autumn, the season of harvest, of preparation, of gathering and storing what he needed for the winter, weighed on him. He went to work with the sunrise.
Cocooned between my husband and our littlest one, who’d woken up cold in the night and sought out somewhere warmer to sleep, I listened to the frenzied activities of the squirrel in the tree above as he prepared for the unavoidable days of winter. From the warmth of our double sleeping bag, I considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.
Deep winter. There was no other name for it.
Our babies had grown into big kids, but even years beyond what we hoped would be the last move, the bleak chill of displacement claimed my soul in the same way the afternoon cold settles into my bones and makes them ache. And this frozen season of the heart held on too long, so long that my emotional storehouses—reserves against times drought and famine—depleted to dangerously low levels. With little left to fight off an engulfing depression, I longed for spring, a spring so slow in coming I thought it might never arrive.
But it did.
It came quietly, meandering in soon after waking up to that squirrel. It came on the heels of a long breakfast with an old friend, several perspective-challenging days in the mountains with my dad, and a couple of space-making weeks in South Dakota with my family. It came slowly, spring, with its powers of restoration, and its light, balmy air that took the chill off my soul.
The squirrel gathered because his fields were ripe. He gathered because it was time to harvest. The physical world is tidy that way. The seasons come in turn. Winter, then spring, then summer, then fall. And then it begins again.
It isn’t so simple in the world of people. Our seasons don’t follow a predictable pattern. They don’t always come in turn. And because of the rich complexities of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves facing deep winter in one place and high summer in another.
What the squirrel didn’t know on that sunny September morning was that within the month his home in the Black Hills would be blanketed by two feet of out-of-season, blizzard-driven snow. Like him, I’ll never know when autumn’s abundance will end. But what I’m learning is that winter is inevitable, that it’s best to gather whenever and wherever the fields are ripe.
This post was originally shared at circlingthestory.com.