Seasons circle, spiral maybe. Each year we return to the same months and the same weathers but, in returning, we notice changes.
I was four years old and clutching books. I don’t remember receiving them, just holding them and knowing they were new and they were mine. With two much-bigger sisters and a whole hand-me-down wardrobe, this was wealth.
My grandfather had just died, and my sisters were in school, so my parents decided that just Mum and I would cross the Atlantic for his funeral. The books had been a gift from my grandmother – likely something to keep me quiet and occupied. They were just the right size for small hands and I remember sounding out the words on the yellow cover. What To Look For in Winter.
The winter on the cover didn’t look like my winter. The pond in the picture wasn’t frozen over and Ducks swam. You could see the reflection of trees against the open water. But I knew it was winter because of the snow – and because I sounded out the word.
The cover of Spring was green and Summer’s was blue. The red Autumn cover was my favourite, with its falling leaves and a cheeky squirrel, too. I remember absorbing these four little books, trying to remember every detail and find every hidden animal.
And a time to every purpose
In the midst of adult grief, I must have been a comfort to hold – a little, reading person in a red corduroy dress, woolly tights and smart, buckled shoes. I remember sitting on laps and sharing my books. There were so many things to see in each picture and my granny seemed to know all the flowers’ names and recognize every animal. She wrote the same message in the front of each of the four books: TO KATIE – MAY ’82 – WITH LOTS OF LOVE FROM GRANNY x.
I found the books again this summer in my parents’ basement and I brought them home to share with my own kids. I was surprised to see how much text there was in each book and how complicated it all seemed. These were not books for a small child to read on her own. They were books to share, their language no-nonsense and informative.
“Winter is the season when we best see how the trees grow; bare of leaves they show the structure of branch and stem. The life of many things may seem to pause during the winter; but this is not so, for although the sap is scarcely moving, the buds of next springtime are slowly swelling.”
Now my youngest climbs up on my lap and turns the page to show me more wintery trees. He points out magpies and woodpigeons. He likes the mistle-thrush best because they look like the ones that like to eat the crab apples in our own backyard tree.
Seasons circle, spiral maybe. Each year we return to the same months and the same weathers but, in returning, we notice changes. The trees are taller, the children older and we are older, too. Noticing these changes is like sounding out the words. By pausing to see, we sort out what’s before us. I watch my youngest learning to read and I understand something of the feelings my mother had, watching me. I find my granny’s handwriting in a book, and I think of my mum now needing to sign letters for my dad. I understand something about the structure of family trees and the changes that come slowly.
To everything, there is a season.
Ecclesiastes may be an unconventional reading for the beginning of Lent with its advice to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and all that, but in this slim scripture, we find both our wintery struggles with the passage of time and our hopes of a better understanding. What has been is what will be and what has been done is what will be done. . . . As we sound out the mystery of the living God – word by word and season by season – we find both a contentment with our present moment and the wisdom to leave the rest to God’s goodness.
“God made everything fitting in its time; but he also set eternity in our hearts . . . I know that whatever God does endures forever.”