A Leviathan Breathing

Here in Michigan, we are fond of saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” (Google confirms this conversational convention with unsettling analytical accuracy.) But we are not the only citizens who’ve noted the lack of weather predictability, and this paragraph from Annie Dillard’s astounding Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I’m currently re-reading — as I have every few years since Mrs. Granger introduced us to the work in high school; I absolutely love it — reminded me how seasons aren’t as self-contained as our invented calendar implies.

[T]here’s always unseasonable weather. What we think of the weather and behavior of life on the planet at any given season is really all a matter of statistical probabilities; at any given point, anything might happen. There is a bit of every season in each season. Green plants—deciduous green leaves—grow everywhere, all winter long, and small shoots come up pale and new in every season. Leaves die on the tree in May, turn brown, and fall into the creek. The calendar, the weather, and the behavior of wild creatures have the slimmest of connections. Everything overlaps smoothly for only a few weeks each season, and then it all tangles up again. The temperature, of course, lags far behind the calendar seasons, since the earth absorbs and releases heat slowly, like a leviathan breathing. Migrating birds head south in what appears to be dire panic, leaving mild weather and fields full of insects and seeds; they reappear as if in all eagerness in January, and poke about morosely in the snow. Several years ago our October woods would have made a dismal colored photograph for a sadist’s calendar: a killing frost came before the leaves had even begun to brown; they drooped from every tree like crepe, blackened and limp. It’s all a chancy, jumbled affair at best, as things seem to be below the stars.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

And, while drawing a line between Dillard and Proust, with his own ravishing natural descriptions, might be a more romantic concept than a literal one, nonetheless it is appealing to see a similar description in Swann’s Way:

For often we find a day, in one, that has strayed from another season, and makes us live in that other, summons at once into our presence and makes us long for its peculiar pleasures, and interrupts the dreams that we were in process of weaving, by inserting, out of its turn, too early or too late, this leaf, torn from another chapter, in the interpolated calendar of Happiness.

 

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