Thursday, September 8, 2016

Solastalgia and the asynchrony of fall

In the last days of August, I was hammered by the blues, by the sense--created by a vacuum where my diaphragm should be--that all was not well.  I took the usual inventory:  relationships?  All seemed well.  Work?  Well, I was feeling stymied by all the reading I was doing for the Literary History of Saskatchewan essay on creative nonfiction I needed to write by the end of September.  And I wanted to get to my own work.  But that didn't seem enough for the near-grief I felt.  Was I getting enough exercise?  Yes, in addition to trips to the gym with Bill I was also walking.  Fun?  I was into a rhythm with the applique I was doing for a quilt Nikka wants.   

(Here it is with the first two borders; I have two longer borders to do, and am half done with the first of these.  The blocks are called "country crossroad."  The applique is my own design.)

So I did what I do when my mood is at the bottom of the well and there is nothing I need to fix:  I distracted myself.  When the cold water surged over my head, I would look up and find (as I do now) the squirrel hanging by his toes filching seed from my bird feeder, or the chickadees and nuthatches zooming in for their afternoon snack.  I'd see six sparrows hiding from the rain in the lilacs outside my bedroom window in a stillness I didn't know they could assume.  I'd see a whole landscape in transition:  leaves losing their suppleness and transparency, then some of them bleaching ever so slightly while others took the plunge and turned gold almost overnight.

And then I had an odd suspicion.  In one of those moments that makes readers believe that cosmic irony and paradox are an integral part of the human condition, I suspected that the sometimes austere, sometimes brilliant changing beauty that I looked to for comfort was also what was causing my depression.  I found that for the first time since I retired I actually missed the energy burst that comes in early September--the real new year for academics and other life-long learners.  Despite challenges with parking, I found two excuses to be on campus yesterday, and walked through the halls with the eager students, listening to the little snippets of conversation that I have often found were part of my belief that the human race is actually okay--at least when we're not jockeying for power or money. We're curious.  We're excited.  We're making human connections.

But by then the depression had lifted as mysteriously as it arrived, and as I thought about the preceding couple of weeks, I concluded that in part I was not ready for the seasons to change.  Maybe I felt solastalgia--the word that attempts to capture our nostalgia for the way weather and planet used to be.  We hadn't had a couple of dry August weeks that often prime us for the turning year.  It was as if we'd gone from July to September in a breath.  We were outside place and time.

But I also suspect that it was simply change.  Change in the weather and the landscape that I wasn't in tune with.  I still have quite a bit of my essay on the nonfiction written by Saskatchewan authors, and I've realized how complicated Soul Weather is going to be.  I had wanted to start serious work on my novel by now, but circumstances were conspiring, and I felt out of step and frustrated.

Yet change in the weather is one of the things I love.  What keeps us here, with Saskatchewan's weather extremes?  Why don't we move to Florida, where it's hot and hotter?  Or to Vancouver, where it's rainy and rainier?  I find that the changing seasons challenge my visual paradigms or my expectations or my sense that I know the world I live in.  In full summer, we are surrounded by the lushness of trees, particularly in Regina.  The green world embraces us.  In the winter, we need to come to terms with a more minimalist world--with an architecture or a blue print for "tree."  The spareness of our great prairie landscape is inescapable.  The changing seasons, by defamiliarizing our daily world, by challenging assumptions, keep our minds and souls supple. 

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