missing the seasons, (not) missing social media

Edward Hopper "Cape Cod Morning"
Edward Hopper “Cape Cod Morning”

This started as an “around here: outside my window” post but it evolved into a brain dump about weather, and the seasons, and mindfulness,  and social media (yes, again. Now that I’m off chatty social media, I really can’t help notice all the little ways it influenced me and the way I move through life.)

I think it’s pretty obvious by now I MISS THE SEASONS. Big time. I really thought I would get used to the lack of seasons here in south Florida, but the truth is, I haven’t. Especially in spring and summer.

I never realized how much I depended on the seasons and the corresponding weather to sort of guide me through the year, to function as a foundation for things, until I moved here and lost them. Don’t get me wrong- I love the fact I can swim year round and it doesn’t get freezing cold (cold + bone, joints, neurological, spinal stuff = PAIN) but I’d love some cooler months, no threat of hurricanes, plus a real sunshine-y blue sky summer. Just a little bit more seasonal stuff.

Right now, it’s spring. Well, sort of. I’m not really sure we have what could be called “spring”. This time of year, here in Florida, it just gets hotter, and then you can’t keep the doors and windows open anymore because there’s no more breeze and the humidity is up to 100%, so that’s how we know it’s spring. Our real spring is more in the fall, when the trees bounce back from the summer heat and flowers start blooming again and it feels like everything is waking up.

So this is just kind of pre-summer. It reminds me of mid-July in New York, where I grew up. Just more humid. We have a few more months of this, then we get hurricane season, which is another term for “summer in Florida”. Hurricane season is a bit of a bear, not just because we have to keep an eye on long term weather, but because it’s stormy all the time.

Normally, I’m a fan of a good storm (feels cozy) but because I am a swimmer, lightning is a BIG deal. I have to keep a constant eye on the radar and the sky, especially when I’m in the pool. I have gotten really good at reading radars hours in advance, and determining what’s going to happen by the color of the clouds and the movement of the air and by watching any living things that live outside. I remember I once commented on Facebook that I could always tell when it was going to rain if there were no lizards around- Marco Island is literally crawling with them, but they disappear and take cover before a storm. Someone scoffed at it, but if you spend any time outside you realize that nature’s often a better predictor of severe weather than any weatherman.

Anyway, lightning is freaky and scary. I’ve seen it come out of of nowhere- a single little cloud, and all the sudden the blue sky turns the color of charcoal and it sounds like a bomb went off. If you want to spend time near the water in summer, you just have to be on guard for it. That’s just the bottom line rule of living in Florida.

But I’ll admit- after 18 years of it, I’ve become more than a little phobic of lightning. I don’t enjoy that feeling of being on high alert all the time. That’s one of the reasons why I’m always so happy when summer is over- I can literally feel myself unwinding and uncoiling as September ends and October begins. We suddenly get a cooler period of weather- we’ll wake up one day and thermometer reads 79. And then 75. And then 72. It’s *so* refreshing.

And the sun suddenly goes from being a blinding hot ball directly above to being a golden glow behind the leaves of the trees, leaving dappling shadows all over and setting before 9pm.

All of these things are like magic little gifts, at least to me. Just when it seems summer has gone on forever, then comes autumn. It’s pretty much the thing that keeps me going all summer- at the end of it is this little magic period of just a few weeks, when the world comes back to life in this golden, sparkling way. I feel this quickening inside every.single.year that I don’t feel any other time of year. One day I will notice the shadows changing and I’ll just feel it inside and get instantly happy. Like I said- magic.

I think the way I have learned to cope with having no real seasons is by paying big attention to any little shifts in the weather. I’ll take anything I can get. Anytime the weather does anything unusual, especially in the cooler months, I get a little excited. If it’s something that leans towards cool and less humid, I *savor* it. Foggy morning? 68 degrees at noon? Sun moving a little bit away from directly above us? All reasons for excitement and reaction. Maybe not to someone in, say, New York, but to someone in the sub-tropics, all of that is BIG STUFF.

I gotta admit, one of the little side perks of being off social media is weather-related: I no longer feel like an asshole for my honest reactions to the seasons (or lack thereof). Because the seasons down here don’t match with anyone else’s, I don’t have to feel like a Debbie Downer for complaining about Florida’s version of summer while everyone is enjoying their 80 degree blue sky sunshine. Or feel like a big jerk for celebrating the beautiful mild winter mornings while everyone is slogging through dark and ice and snow.

I can feel however I want about our wonky weather any time of the year and not have to feel “is this a reasonable reaction?” about it. I get to notice all the tiny shifts in the weather and really savor and enjoy and celebrate them and make a big deal about them without the instant “ha! You think 40 degrees is cold, try -37546593 and snow! That’s cold!” hand-slappy responses that seemed to be a certainty on Facebook.

It got to the point where it felt like I needed to add a post-script to every weather-related post saying something along the lines of: I LIVE IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA. NO MATTER HOW SEVERE THE SEASONS GET WHERE YOU LIVE, THIS IS UNUSUAL FOR WHERE *I* LIVE AND I WANT TO TAKE NOTE OF IT.

It was kind of a small thing, but it always bothered me.

Another thing I don’t miss on social media: storm trackers. Those are the people who, for some reason, are desperate for a hurricane to hit. These people analyze and post constantly about anything that looks like it might turn into a hurricane, and in doing so they scare the living shit out of everyone else. There are two responses to the “a hurricane is forming!” posts: sensible people Google the storm to see if it’s a real threat (99.9% of the time, it’s not), but the non-sensible people just hit “share” and suddenly the whole island is in a panic about Hurricane Joey which is really just Tropical Depression 618 off the coast of Iceland and has no real chance of even developing into a storm, much less one that will make it across the Atlantic to Florida. But every time the hurricane tracker posts a new update (hourly), with “drastic new information”, the Google search has to be done again, just to make sure nothing has really changed. And the information gets shared again… Two weeks later, the storm fizzles out in the Atlantic and everyone feels absolutely exhausted.

But then there’s a post about a NEW storm…

I won’t miss that this summer. In fact, I’m kind of breathing a giant sigh of relief to be away from that aspect of things.

One thing that IS different this year, and that relates to the weather, is the butterflies. I have to admit that last summer was very, very different because all the sudden we were caring for a bunch of butterflies and that suddenly took precedence over fretting over dormant plants and soggy containers in the garden from all the rain. We were too busy caring for the butterflies that were suddenly living in the garden to notice all the gardening we couldn’t do. The summer really kind of flew by, to be honest- we measured it in cycles of eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and butterflies. Each cycle for each breed. It adds up to weeks and months without even noticing how much time has flown by.

And the butterfly related stuff got us outside despite the rain and humidity. In fact, towards the end of summer, we started spending every evening out on the lanai together before dinner, just hanging out while Tom closed up for the evening and Grace and I read.

The summer wasn’t about the weather as it was about all the butterflies. It was something to look forward to every day. It’s nice to have that now- a real reason to be here for the summer. Something meaningful and beautiful to look forward to. Swallowtails and monarchs and buckeyes and sulfurs. We were too late for the Swallowtails last year, so we’re hoping that we can find some eggs this spring and bring them into the garden. We have the host plants ready to go for the caterpillars to eat, and a garden full of nectar plants for the butterflies to drink- we just need the caterpillars to move in…

Since a lot of the species of butterflies disappear during the winter months, and re-appear in spring and early summer, we’re actually just looking at a few weeks until butterfly season. So in a time of year I’m usually fretting about there’s now something really cool on the horizon.

Before I stop yammering on about seasons and social media, there’s one last thing:

One big unexpected perk of being off social media emerged during the holidays (all of them, but especially Christmas…): the stress of celebrating went way way WAY down because I wasn’t seeing all those holiday-related posts. Without social media, there weren’t any time tables and hallmarks for the holidays anymore. We could get the tree up when we had time (mid-December, and we only did two small trees this year), get the gifts wrapped when we had a moment and everything we ordered arrived (a few days before Christmas), do our usual little family celebration (went to see Star Wars and had dinner at our favorite restaurant a few days before Christmas, opened gifts here on Christmas Day, but no big home cooked meal) and it was all lovely and perfect for us.

I’m not much of a holiday person (I do like Thanksgiving a lot, but the December holidays…) and for years seeing all the social media posts of people prepping their houses and doing wonderful crafts and decorating their multiple trees and baking amazing treats and getting ready for huge family gatherings really was very very very difficult. When I was a kid, the holidays were magic and busy and amazing and cozy, but since finishing school and moving to Florida, it’s a whole different story- my parents are nearby but none of my extended family, and I’m an only child so it’s much more quiet. For years I felt like I should do so much more for the holidays, to fill in all those gaps left by the lack of extended family and gatherings and winter weather and cozy feeling, etc. and I tried for a while, but it just created a lot of unnecessary stress and fuss and left me depleted.

I finally realized that the holidays ARE different now- I was in grad school until I was 25, and when I was a student, holidays meant winter break which was four weeks of completely unscheduled time with no responsibilities, and doing things like shopping and wrapping gifts and decorating and baking were wonderful ways to spend that time- those things were so much fun. Now that life is life, and there is no four week holiday break in December in which all responsibilities fall to the wind, the holidays are different. So I started embracing a simpler way of approaching it, and it helped so much, but I still felt kind of horrible about it all because the media is all DECORATE ENTERTAIN HOST ENCHANT CELEBRATE COOK EAT GATHER and I have been being pulled in an “enjoy, relax, rest” direction. Now that I’m less exposed to that, it’s so much more peaceful. We all enjoyed it so much more.

It’s kind of like I got my own sense of the seasons and the cycles of life back, in a way, by disconnecting and being more mindful. I kind of wish I had done it years ago, but it’s kind of like how I feel with the whole Buddhism thing- I wasn’t ready until I was ready.