Friday, October 29, 2010

Change of Seasons

By my way of looking at things, we have two seasons in Austin: the hot season and the cool season. 

The hot season is the constant season.  Constant heat, constant humidity, constant sun, and constant south winds bringing warm, moist air from the Gulf.  Which is not to say that we don't experience anything but sunny days in the hot season, or that temperatures do not change, but that, even on the rainiest, coolest hot-season day, the sun is always close, the day is always long, and the lowest temperature of the day always falls somewhere in the mild range.  As someone who dislikes being cold, I am comforted by the hot season, even as I complain of the heat, because I know that I never have to worry about being too cold.  Through storm and drought, that is the guarantee of the hot season - that I will never find myself wishing that I had brought a jacket.

The cool season is the season of change.  In fact, the cool season is so characterized by change that I sometimes say, We have two seasons in Austin: the hot season and the variable season.  The cool season guarantees nothing but shorter days.  Winds shift in a matter of hours, changing the temperature and the humidity just as quickly.  Highs in the 80's may turn into lows in the 20's in the same day.  A day in December is just as likely to be warm, sunny, and mild as it is to be cold, dry, and bitter.  And the cold of the cool season is real, despite the Austin tendency to say that it is always warm here.  Anyone who has lived here without heat knows that, when it is cold, it is the dry, piercing cold of the Midwest, carried southward on an arctic front.  But the cold never lasts for long, because change is the only constant of the cool season.

When I first moved here from the Northwest, I was impressed with how quickly the seasons changed here in Austin, from warm and humid to cool and dry within only the hours that it took a cold front to pass through town.  As I lived here, though, I've realized that the seasons change more in the way that fresh water changes to salt water as a river flows into the sea.  Fresh water slowly becomes more salty until, eventually, the river water is indistinguishable from the sea water.  In the same way, the hot season holds on through the weeks of September and October, slowly becoming more diluted by northern fronts and shorter days until, finally, we realize that we have reached the cool season.

The hot season held on longer than usual this year, providing a second, more-reasonable summer with cool mornings and sunny afternoons.  At the beginning of this week, realizing that the heat wouldn't last much longer and that, even if it did, water levels in Barton Creek were dwindling by the week, Lee and I went to the Greenbelt for the final "swim" of the season.  Upstream of the Mopac entrance, the water was flowing but shallow, and the Golden-Eye sunflowers were wilted in the afternoon sun, speaking of the hot season that still hadn't given up, but yellowed tree leaves were also scattered along the trail, reminders that the cool season was gaining strength.  We jumped in the water at Sculpture Falls, claiming our last bit of summer, but the sun was already below the trees to the west, casting cool shadows across the water, so only a few minutes later we climbed back onto a sunny rock.

Now, at the end of the same week, the cool season has claimed the upper hand.  Waking in the morning, I linger under the blankets, calculating the distance to my robe.  I use more hot, than cold, water in the shower.  I'm wearing jeans instead of shorts and drinking hot tea instead of cold water.  Benji's morning nap has moved from the cool, northeastern-facing living room to the sunny windows along the south wall.  Today, as I write this, she is curled up in my lap, with her tail wrapped around her nose, forcing me to sit sideways as I type.  To me, this is the truest, and most precious, signal that the cool season has arrived - when Benji, our sixteen-year-old, too-independent-for-lap cat, insists on curling up in my lap for a little warmth.

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