I woke up at 4:30 AM to the smell of fresh coffee, which someone had started boiling, in anticipation of Black Friday shopping.
I couldn't sleep, because my body is so used to short hours of rest, it doesn't know how to overstay its welcome in a bed.
I looked outside the window right above my bed. The bed that I always sleep on at the Rancho.
The bed whose quilt used to be patchwork girls with charming calico bonnets. The bed I slept in with my sisters, when we all fit in twin-size beds together. The bed I slept in with old boyfriends' college sweatshirts. The bed I've slept in as a child, girl, woman, adult. That bed.
It has a little window above it, so I looked up. And I saw the moon. It's a moon that's full, or at least mostly full. It's that moon that's just past peak fullness, so it looks a little bit of shadow has shaved off a small sliver of the perfect silver disk. But it shone bright and white and cool above the sharp peaks of the pine trees outside.
Today is the last day of the year. Not of the calendar year, but of the liturgical year. I am thinking of endings today. I am thinking of the world that is winding down, stripping down til it is no longer dressed in any of her sumptuous, extravagant raiment.
Annie Dillard meditates on the importance of the seasons. She wonders when the first human began to realize the rhythm and the cycle of the seasons. Without the calendar year, the ebb and swell of nature would be hard to pinpoint entirely. The difficulty with weather is that it is not a generalization, it is a particularity. We do not experience winter as just a swath of "cold, snowy days." Winter is a season of fierceness: sometimes harsh winds and snow blowing through the fields, other times sun, unhindered by clouds, turns the snow-clad world into a mirror of light. Spring can be very cold, or a muggy summer warmth. And autumn, without the defining motion of leaves floating ground-ward, would be a grab-bag of all sorts of cold and hot and lukewarm golden days. What would all these days mean, without the narrative and stereotype to make sense of them?
How terrible, Annie Dillard imagines, it must have been to weather the first winter, without the assurance that spring would come again. The world would start falling apart, and you had no promise the trees would ever grow new leaves. Imagine how traumatic autumn would be, before you knew that this was just a season, not a new, permanent condition. Before autumn became a playground for white girls with pumpkin spice lattes, it must have been a season of great anxiety, not joy or Uggs.
How long would that collective memory of the cycle of the seasons take to build? Several years? Several generations? Perhaps that is why human beings began to tell stories: to remind their progeny that spring would come after every winter.