Letter From The Desert: Seasons

The desert is still searing during the day. As I write this, a half hour after sunset with the sky just now going truly dark, the air temperature is just below 90°. Roadrunners stalk unwary lizards under the noon sun. Every weekend, when I set the hose to slow-trickle at the base of the trees around the house, rabbits and quail come to drink from the pool.

Someone who expects the change of seasons to come with a change of temperatures might thus be perplexed.

Season comes to English via the Norman Invasion from the old French seison, meaning roughly “appointment” or “the appropriate time,” itself from the Latin sationem, meaning “sowing” or “planting.” Centuries ago some ancestor of the word we know was used to describe that time of year when crops were planted. Over generations the word became more of a metaphor for itself, “the proper time to plant” symbolizing all the other times of year when you do other things. Baseball season is when we plant baseball seeds, etc.

The notion that summer ends and fall begins at a particular moment when the sun crosses the celestial equator, this year on September 22 at 6:54 pm while I was walking the dog, owes more to the Romance concept of the seasons than the English one. The Italian word stagione, for example, or the Spanish estacion, despite a rough similarity to English “season,” are actually derived from the Latin statio or “station,” implying a clockwork arrangement of the heavens in which the Earth moves from place to place along its orbit like a well-managed train, always on time.

It’s an appealing metaphor for the passage of the year, mechanical and precise, and relevant to almost no one’s daily lives, excepting astronomers and those who design sundials. I much prefer the word that ended up in English, and the implication that each piece of the year sows the seeds of the pieces to come.

Three weeks ago I walked out with the dog after 11:00 pm and saw them, hanging low in the sky just above the small glare of the Twentynine Palms Metropolitan Area, harbingers of the next months to come. A packet of Winter Seeds. The Pleiades, which I had not seen since one early morning in February.

This week a low, wet haze hung over the desert two mornings in a row, and I walked out to the scent of creosote after a rain, though there was no rain. Today the clouds built over the mountains a half mile south. We may yet get a monsoon, here in late September after the equinox, and more of those fall rains that clothe the valleys in yellow chinchweed. Soon the days will cool, first to the mid-seventies and then all at once down into the 50s and colder, and I will shiver as I watch the parade above my head: the Pleiades. Taurus. Orion, his belt, and his nebula-bedecked sporran. Canis Major. The desert will slide into the season of dark, of cold rains off the Pacific. A billion flowering plants will cast their seeds into the unknown future.

Heart portrait
Disclaimer: dog in photo may not actually be Canis Major

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