When the time is ripe: Navigating seasonal change

I used to hate the end of summer.

It didn’t have to do with dreading the beginning of the new school year — though I did, indeed, often dread the beginning of the school year. I would equate the end of the summer with the end of the weekend, though on a larger scale. On Sunday nights I used to get that uneasy feeling while watching “The Simpsons” — you know, that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach that a person gets when dreading the inevitable new week of school or work. When she was growing up, my mother’s family used to call it “The Gentle Ben Blues,” in reference to the show about the bear, “Gentle Ben,” which was, like “The Simpsons,” on television on Sunday nights. It was the last hurrah before turning the lights out on another weekend.

Likewise, so it was with that last Labor Day barbecue, sizzling out with the fizzling out of summer. And yet still, this was not why I used to hate this time of year.

Hating the end of summer didn’t have to do with the intimidation of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur either, though I did, indeed, find these holidays intimidating (and still do). No, the end of summer meant the coming of autumn, which then meant the onslaught of winter. In essence, I would basically disregard an entire season — autumn — for fear of what was to come after it: winter’s doom. The anticipation of winter’s approach, even if a whole season away, was enough to ruin three months out of the year for me. Three months when I could not fully enjoy the more comfortable climate; when I could not fully appreciate the leaves changing from green to brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red; when I couldn’t be as thankful on Thanksgiving as I would have liked — all this because of the anticipation of another dreary winter.

While I did enjoy winter when I was a child, late adolescence kind of ruined it for me, when the seasonal nature of my moods started to take shape. Winter blues, winter blahs, seasonal affective disorder, and it was all downhill from there. Even if a particular winter ended up being an uneventful blip on the mood spectrum scale, it was the not knowing what was to come during that season — the nervous anticipation — that was the worst of it. Winter was one big fat question mark. Unpredictable. In essence, I spent autumn psyching myself out. It’s unfortunate, though, to skip an entire season when that season has so much beauty and positivity to offer.

At some point, that dread that accompanied autumn fell by the wayside, if you will, and for the first time I didn’t see it as merely a precursor to winter. This probably occurred out of necessity — it’s not healthy to miss out on 25 percent of your year (autumn) for fear of the next 25 percent (winter), which may or may not turn out to be as bad as you fear it to be. So at some point autumn began to take on a life of its own.

This started with the apples and honey of Rosh Hashanah, which signified not just sweet wishes for the new year; to me at least, it signified ripeness as well. This time of year, when the apples are ripe for the picking, is the beginning of the harvest season, when we celebrate change. The end of an apple’s growth becomes a sweet beginning to our new year.

The festive nature of the season continues throughout Sukkot — one of my favorite Jewish holidays, despite the time of year being as unpredictable as you can get weather-wise. (I recall warm nights in the sukkah as well as nights requiring winter coats.) There’s something about Sukkot that makes me feel close to nature, to our roots, and to the harvest, much in the same way that Thanksgiving, some weeks later, celebrates the harvest. Autumn, with its earthy charm, is a time when we use nature to celebrate our holidays, religious or not. Whether symbolized by corn hanging in the corner of a bamboo sukkah, palm leaves and citrus from the lulav and etrog, or the cornucopia centerpiece at the Thanksgiving table, autumn is a time that celebrates ripeness.

But then what happens once all those ripe fruits and vegetables are plucked from the earth and all the beautiful, colorful leaves transform into crunchy brown dust?

Winter, that’s what.

And in years past it’s been the bareness of winter — or, rather, anticipating that bareness — that has ruined the wonderment of autumn for me. I think, though, that the year I decided (by necessity) not to bypass autumn was the year I also started to make my annual chop-up-every-vegetable-I-can-find-and-throw-it-into-one-huge-pot of soup. Maybe that’s been my own way of celebrating the earth before the arrival of a harsher climate. My own way of harvesting the season in the form of a hearty vegetable soup.

My secret ingredient (which in five seconds will be a secret no more)? One beet. A little throwback to Rosh Hashanah’s traditional borscht, some sweetness added to the pot. This soup has become something to savor and carry me through the months that follow.

This year I plan to enjoy autumn, but I also plan to appreciate the coming winter as well. Not just because of all the positive vibes that will have been stored up like acorns for the winter, but also because winter is beautiful, too. Despite the cold. And the colds. And the dangerous driving conditions. And the shoveling. Yes, winter is beautiful, too … and maybe I’ll even figure out some positive things to say about it before this next 25 percent of the year is up. Maybe. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

About the Author
Dena Croog is a writer and editor in Teaneck, New Jersey, whose work has focused primarily on psychiatry, mental health, and the book publishing industry. She is the founder of Refa’enu, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mood disorder awareness and support. More information about the organization and its support groups can be found at www.refaenu.org. You also can email dena@refaenu.org with any questions or comments.