If you’d like your days to exhibit a little more order and stability, stop to take stock of the seasonal events that help you orient yourself. What is your favorite time of year? What do you like about it? What rituals do you look forward to?
Holidays and seasonal routines help us regulate body and soul. They remind us that some wonderful things are predictable—good to know in a world where so much seems uncertain, chaotic, and threatening.
Below are some of the things I look forward to throughout the year. I have shared some recipes and some links. I hope my list inspires you to make your own. The more we can find to enjoy and celebrate, I believe, the richer our daily experience. The act of appreciation is one way in which we thank the universe for the privilege of living on earth.
On or about Mother’s Day I look for moccasin flowers at Westwoods Trails in Guilford, Connecticut. Flanders Nature Center in Woodbury shows me the yellow lady’s slipper, Dutchman’s breeches, and other native wildflowers. The fragile spring flowers seem especially improbable after the hardships of winter.
Wild ginger grows alongside my patio. At Reservoir 6 on Avon Mountain I can see skunk cabbage, trout lily, marsh marigold, and bloodroot. For a week or two in May, the local supermarkets will carry fiddleheads, which I steam and eat with a little butter or vinegar.
If I watch carefully, I can find soft shell crabs, briefly available in the fish department. They are good sautéed in butter with some salt, pepper, and lemon juice. I make sour cream cinnamon coffee cake.
Strawberries, beginning to be in season now, tell me that summer has started, with sweet local varieties replacing the tasteless ones that come from far away. My favorite farm market, Eddy Farm, is nearby in Newington and opens at the start of July.
Here in New England, we have memorable local peaches for a month or two as well as heirloom tomatoes. Other familiar friends are local beets, swiss chard, kale, and several types of corn. I enjoy looking at the fresh produce as much as I do buying and eating it.
Sometimes I get a bunch of zinnias, which for some reason I can’t grow in my yard. Blueberries become a staple of daily life until the start of fall. The farm stand’s cooler holds pickled cucumbers and onions, which I love. Near the cash register the air is fragrant with fresh picked basil. I like to make pesto.
By summer my garden’s weeds have put down long roots, and I have given up on pulling them. The robins build two or three nests each year, which I pretend not to see. Sometimes Carolina wrens raise their young nearby. I watch the shallow dish in the backyard and the hanging flower baskets on the fence to keep them from drying out.
At the start of my workday, and again at the end, I stroll around my yard. I look for honey bees and praying mantises and check the buds on the late-blooming crape myrtle. The blue morning glories have begun their annual climb up the fence. They will spread a blue mantle over the top rail in late August.
Once July has arrived, the lawn grows more slowly, and I don’t need to mow so often. I never stop pulling seedlings from acorns that fall from the neighbors’ overhanging trees. I don’t want to live in oak woods!
Summer is the best time to make bread, because it rises quickly. In an earlier time, when I lived on the shoreline, I would collect mussels and oysters for a backyard feast that included fresh bread and salad and ended with hand-churned ice cream.
Fall is my favorite time of year. My ideas and energies peak. As a child in the Berkshires I loved the burst of reds and yellows, for which the evergreens serve as a foil. The smell of burning leaves is now only a memory.
These days I drive down to South Glastonbury for cider, gourds, pumpkins, and apples, in particular the old-fashioned Stayman winesap. In September I look for Anniversary Blend coffee at the local Starbucks. I buy two bags for the coming holiday season. Sometimes I make pomanders, something I once did with my mother, to hang in my closet and give to friends.
Near the Newington farm stand, which closes at the start of October, I can pick cattails to stand in a vase in my living room. I plant chrysanthemums along my driveway and cut down the spent peonies, daisies, and black-eyed susans.
Spiders are suddenly everywhere. I look to see how many I can identify. One of the commonest, the orb-weaving black and yellow argiope, is spectacularly beautiful. It lays its eggs upside down.
I water and fertilize last year’s amaryllis in hopes of a December bloom. I wash the bird feeders that will hang outside my office windows so that the children who visit me can see woodpeckers, finches, and sparrows at close range. When the mourning doves sit on the sill to collect stray seeds, I admire the fine aquamarine line around their eyes. Two of them nest in my in-the-window bird feeder at home. Most years I can watch two little birds fledge.
As the air cools, I sweep the patio and ready the houseplants for their return indoors. I don’t carve pumpkins at Halloween, but I usually buy one. I like to look at its curves and stroke the cool skin. I often make pumpkin soup or a pie. When Thanksgiving comes, I listen to Bailey White read her annual short story on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
I have lots of winter rituals. I put CDs of holiday music in my car, especially those from the Boston Revels. I heat some frankincense and myrrh until it bubbles on a piece of tin foil in a pan on my stove. The wisps of smoke perfume the kitchen and living areas of my house.
In preparation for storms and cold, I seal the windows shut and bring in buckets of salt mixed with sand. I put a snow shovel in the furnace room. On Saturday nights I often listen to Garrison Keillor. I buy tickets for the Boar’s Head Festival at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in late December. It’s a wonderful pageant that includes dancing, music, and animals—a camel, a llama, chickens, geese, goats, and sheep. I make beef borscht and minestrone and cranberry bread.
I put up a wreath for the holidays and place candles, garlands, and holly around the house. On Christmas Eve I listen to the Public Radio International broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Cambridge, England, which airs at 10:00 am EST. The recording is rebroadcast on Christmas Day, also at 10:00 am. The holidays are a memory tunnel, inviting me to reflect on past centuries as well as on past years in my life.
When Christmas is past and the decorations have been put away, I buy daffodil or narcissus bulbs to force in my greenhouse window. This is now the coldest, darkest time of year. The holidays mark steps on the path to the spring growing season: the spring equinox, the presidential birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and finally Memorial Day.
I like to think of time as cyclical more than vertical or linear. Life’s surely not about getting ahead. The ultimate destination is the same for us all. It seems far better to notice the unending cycle, enjoy what’s at hand, and look forward to the next stage, greeting each new season like an old friend whom we, given past experience, can appreciate now more than ever before.