Return to TauZero.comReturn to Brenda LaurelReturn to Brenda's rantsOn California Seasons
On California Seasons
16 December 2003

Midwinter Solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Although it is the first day of winter on our calendars, it marks the slow returning of the light. We know of calendars as old as 30,000 years, but long was the time when the mechanism of the turning year was a mystery. And humans, thinking always of their agency, engaged in rituals and propitiations to make the sun burn bright again. It always worked.

But in a deeper way, the turning of the seasons remains mysterious. I watch the leaves go gold, the white frost come, then little heads of ferns emerging in our woods. This all is understood, of course, and yet I think it quite amazing that it happens at all, and that I am situated in such a world. When I first came to California twenty-five years ago, I despaired of the apparent absence of the seasons.

they say the coastline
is where rivers end
but golden leaves don't
run down to the sea -
birds and blossoms weave a softness
in this desert greenhouse
and seagulls cry Freedom like vendors
in the ever-cloudless sky

here they know less of
the Power of a thunderstorm
than I knew of oceans in a cornfield
and here they call it landlocked
where creeks curl like labyrinths
in the woods

and my spirit needs to burrow
in the brown leaves of the heartland

make me all red and gold, my dreamer
fly me in a violence of clouds
and let my tears freeze on my face
take me inside your coat
for a walk with the leafshadow streetlamps

for a gull is not a phoenix
and the seasons are where you are.


After many years I began to see the seasons changing here. It seemed - and still does - that autumn links hands with spring and winter is a snowy whisper. Before the fallen leaves have gone brown the first wild irises have put up their green shoots. Yellow mustard flowers announce themselves in orchards close to New Year's day. I learned that summer is sun and winter is rain, mostly. I learned that in a wetsuit, you can have the ocean to yourself in January.

When Hilary was small, we used to take baby Brooke in her carriage down a rutted trail to the next canyon, where two bridges crossed two converging creeks, overarched by big-leaf maples and framed with exuberant moss on ancient oaks. We would sit and listen to the white water sing and I would hug a redwood tree and stare up its incredible height to the deep blue sky beyond. One day in early spring we made our rounds and noticed ladybugs - thousands, millions of ladybugs - congregating on the little bridge. They would come in December and leave in March, sometimes returning for a second party. This was my girls' first sex-education moment. One day when Hilary was 4 or 5 we had returned from the bridge and I began to see ladybugs crawling everywhere. I opened her little backpack and found thousands of them. She wanted to bring them home. We took them back to the bridge. And they return to party every year.

ladybug picnicLiving in the forest has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. Here we can see, not only the changes in the plants and sky, but also changes in the birds and animals. When Brooke was small, looking out the window one spring day she remarked, "Oh, look at the big kitty in the garden." It was a baby mountain lion. Just last week I saw a junior-grade bobcat on the road. In a few weeks the waterfall at the bottom of our land will shout its white exultation and the hills will run with tiny streams like lace among the old Douglas Firs. In a few months fawns will wobble into view, and a month after that the hawks will begin their mating screeches in the madrone grove east of the house. When you are lucky in the summertime, a venerable rattlesnake lies in the path taking sun.

I grew up in an Indiana suburb populated mostly by WW II veterans and their families. There will still woods around in the mid-50s, and I remember picking violets and Sweet William with my mother and making little lace cones filled with flowers to hang on people's doorknobs just before dawn on Mayday. My mother knew nothing of the Beltaine tradition we now celebrate, but something of Mayday had passed down to her from her German and Irish roots. Now the woods there are gone. The high school I attended is an office park and the roller rink has been rolled over by a WalMart. There are still lovely hills in the south of the state, ringed by Dairy Queens and McDonald's.

Here the land is too steep for WalMart. It is even too steep for suburbs. I used to wonder why anyone would be crazy enough to live on the fault line, much less in a house on poles hanging over a canyon in the woods. Now I know the answer: because we are in Nature. I didn't even discover the full moon in Indiana until I was on a Girl Scout camping trip. Shock and awe: I cast a shadow in the moonlight. I remember it like a movie. My little house was hemmed in by suburban carports and streetlights, cooled by air conditioning with sealed windows, lit by a flickering television rather than a good oak fire. And so, although I left the place of seasons, I have come to the heart of Nature, and it has taught me the meaning of "sacred." And yes, oh yes, there are seasons, and parts of days where everything turns, and phases of the moon and the rising and falling of constellations. I am home.

Brenda looking out at snow, at Locus VociNow the children are grown, about to fly, and Rob and I remain resolved to stay here, to die here if possible, among these trees and birds and creeks and chuckling quail, as conversations among owls and coyotes cross overhead and chimes call out the shape of the wind. Our great good fortune amazes us, and the world is full of wonder.

Our loved ones are with us this eve
before the hearth, inside the night,
enfolded in a velvet cloak
of comfort, dreaming and delight.

'Though morning sun will draw them forth,
away to chase their destinies
their sweetness still will linger here
within this house, among these trees

and days will lengthen toward the spring,
leaves will bud and vines will climb,
but memories of this good night
will dwell with us, outside of time.

-Yule 2003-