where i find myself: seasons
My previous post launched my ongoing series about faith, writing, and what I keep calling (perhaps not very poetically, ironically enough) “the language of place”—specifically, my place, my native state, my home. California.
Well, I realized I might not have quite as good of a hold on my own idea as one would hope when, after I finished “explaining” my topic to someone recently, he said, “So it’s about slang?”
Nah, dude. Not exactly.
But OK then, what is it about? The truth is, not completely knowing is part of why I write. The act of writing is an act of exploration, as is (in my experience) the act of having faith. Not to mention the act of living day to day on the shaky ground and in the smog-laced atmosphere of the Golden State.
Commenting on my last post, in which I ventured the idea that the voice of my native state has strongly and unavoidably affected the ways I perceive and make sense of the world and of my faith, a friend had this to say:
I have wondered if my love for bittersweet endings comes from the native tastes of a Connecticut fall. Or if my appreciation for circular stories comes from a childhood filled with a regular flow of seasons. And I have wondered to what extent those sensibilities have shaped my own faith.
I found my friend’s observation fascinating, not least because of his mention of a “regular flow of seasons” to which he was accustomed from his childhood.
I’m not sure that I ever developed a taste for obviously cyclical seasons. The seasonal shifts of my native state can be both more subtle and more intense, and if that sounds like a contradiction, well, welcome to California.
The strange weather here has perhaps been most beautifully depicted by author and sixth-generation Californian Joan Didion, in her essay about one of the regional meteorological quirks, the Santa Ana winds:
Easterners commonly complain that there is no “weather” at all in Southern California, that the days and the seasons slip by relentlessly, numbingly bland. That is quite misleading. In fact the climate is characterized by infrequent but violent extremes: two periods of torrential subtropical rains which continue for weeks and wash out the hills and send subdivisions sliding toward the sea; about twenty scattered days a year of the Santa Ana, which, with its incendiary dryness, invariably means fire.
Wind. Fire. Torrential rain. California’s “numbingly bland” cycle of seasons is both real and unreal—a true deception, if you will. It is more often sunny and mild here than not, but this mildness is a mask for the wild elements that can lash into life at the slightest provocation at any time of year, with a complete disregard for whatever season they “ought” to belong to.
California’s seasons give voice to the dislocation and unpredictability that mark our experience of life—and, for me, of faith.
The language of faith regularly borrows from the language of seasons. “I’m in a growing season,” says one friend. “I think the Lord is bringing me into a season of rest,” says another.
Implicit in this way of talking about faith experiences is the assumption that seasons can be clearly discerned. But discernibility is not a word that fits well within the California lexicon, at least in my opinion.
To illustrate: May 2013 kicked off with a raging brush fire (driven, yes, by the Santa Ana) that broke out an hour north of where I live. Flames quickly devoured close to 30,000 acres, helped by a sudden, brief heat wave. But a day or two after the fire began, the temperatures plunged, clouds gathered and rain poured.
The fire was eventually extinguished. But just days later again, the heat came back with a vengeance—temperatures recently soaring to triple digits in the Valley.
That was at the beginning of this week. This morning, I look outside at a line of transplanted palm trees somewhat hazily silhouetted against a backdrop of blank white fog. The air carries a chill, and I’m wearing a sweater dress, leggings, and boots.
I keep hoping the season has finally changed, that the new leaf has finally turned over, but California keeps reminding me that here the word “finally” doesn’t apply.
My friend wondered to what extent that regular flow of seasons in his home state shaped his personal sensibilities. I wonder to what extent California’s “infrequent but violent extremes” have shaped mine—especially, my sensibilities of faith.
Words like “clarity” and “regularity” (which could perhaps in both seasonal and faith contexts also be called “dependability”) make little sense to me, born in this land where winter, spring, summer, and fall don’t flow into one another so much as get tangled up together, becoming utterly confused about themselves. Where, really, what we have is one long season marked by epic mood swings.
“A new season is coming”—When, Lord, when? How will I know when it comes, and for how long will it last? Hard to trust in the coming of spring when for all you know it might leave the day after it arrives. Hard to settle into the contemplative rest of a wintery night when it might melt away into an 80-degree fire alert come morning.
There have been so many false springs this year. One doesn’t want to raise one’s hopes. One’s hopes rise despite oneself.
Welcome, as I said, to California.
Grace Farag is a writer living in Southern California. Her work has appeared in various places, including San Marino Patch (where she has contributed articles on, among many other things, The Art of John Frame and a museum exhibit about novelist/poet Charles Bukowski), a devotional prayer book on gender injustice issues, the online journal Ontologica and Offerings: A Creative Anthology.