The Weather Report

The preacher in Ecclesiastes says that to everything there is a season. He uses “seasons” and “time” interchangeably.  “Time” here is not a specific moment or “clock time.” It is an occasion that is right for something. When he speaks of a “time for laughing” he is not designating a date but the right circumstances, say a Super Bowl party, rather than the Intensive Care Unit.

No one used seasons more than did Shakespeare. The roguish king, Richard III roars the opening lines of the play by his name, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” When young lovers steal away to the woods to figure out their romantic difficulties it is a midsummer night. (Few have compared their lover to a day in the bleak, mid-winter.) Summer and winter are understood to be more than neat divisions of the year. They are signs, and they work their magic on us.
Winter is the punching bag of seasons. Most endure it with an eye on the 20th of March. I was reminded recently that this is not so for everyone. A transplant from the mountains of North Carolina pined for snowy days. She fondly recalled making snow-cream on the way to pointing out that snow is clean, warm and playful. As she spoke I was thinking inconvenience, chill to the bone and filthy slush.  My beef with winter has to do with light. “The sun gives its light, as it were, in faint intermittent explosions, squibs, not rays,” to borrow the words of John Donne.
In his memorable poem in Ecclesiastes the Preacher is telling us that seasons matter to him. The seasons stood for the same set of meanings then as now. Winter is associated with old age, resentment and harsh conditions. Summer is likened to adulthood, passion and crops maturing. Perhaps it is hardwired into us to see the seasons thusly. It requires effort to see them as signs that point toward a fixed pole in the scheme of things. The seasons are a fixed reality that conveys this truth: things will happen when and where they will. 
Winter is a season of the heart as much as it is a season in the weather. It has been said that winterless climates there may be, but winterless souls are hard to picture. Like birds, a person can escape the chill flying south. But as far as the heart is concerned, winter chill can find you wherever you go and when you least expect it. The wintry sort of heart moves on a landscape where drifts of snow impede and slippery surfaces prohibit running. Here one learns to walk and not faint, trusting that winter, like summer, has a purpose.
Winter’s squibs of sunlight in our part of the world lack the intensity required to ripen a tomato. It is not the right time. It cannot be forced. This is at the heart of the Preacher’s question, “What gain has the worker from his toil?” “Toiling” is synonymous with “overdoing.” It is to struggle and strain. It is to attempt to grasp something before the occasion presents itself.  
Firmly fixed in the furrow of the season called winter we know we are not buried in perpetual winter. Spring always follows winter. It is not given to us to know the future nor can we change the course of events. We adapt. We come in from our work early. We spend time with loved ones around a fire and furnished table. We rest. And if it snows in early March, let us grow ever so still. Let us learn from the whiteness that touches the earth perfectly to do our work silently and completely.   —Steven