Out There: For every season, turn, turn, turn

Out There For every sea

November 7, 2009 21:49
4 minute read.

The stunning beauty of leaves changing colors is striking in the American Midwest, where I am writing these lines. Auburn leaves are not something we have a lot of in Ma'aleh Adumim, where I live, and where almost the only things that change color are the lizards. In fact, there - on the cusp of the desert - one is thankful for any trees at all. Changing leaves is asking a bit much, something of another place. It's for a place like Chicago, where a simple walk down the street leaves one bedazzled by the colors - the deep reds of the maples, the bright yellow of the cottonwoods, the sunset orange of the oaks. Everything, even the plainest of streets, looks nearly wondrous as the leaves change colors and the trees begin to shed. Exactly a year after Barack Obama was elected US president, change hangs heavy in the air of Chicago, his home town. But it's a change of the seasonal variety, not the political type. Politically, well, it's politics as usual. But seasonally - now there you literally sense the change. And the change is not only there hanging on the trees. its felt in the cool nip in the air, the football games on television, the Halloween pumpkins sitting on people's porches, the pre-Thanksgiving sales, the rustle underneath from walking on fallen foliage. It's the stuff poems are made of - the passageway into winter. HAVING GROWN up with those signs of passage, I hanker for them, long for them, romanticize about them, just as my kids, I imagine, will - when they get older - long, hanker and romanticize for the rites of seasonal passage that they remember as children. And, yes, we too have rites of seasonal passage, even though our two seasons - summer and winter - fold one into the other without much warning. One day it's blistering hot, the next it's bitter cold, just like that - without warning, without the padding of transition, the transition marked by those majestically colored trees. Our passageway into winter goes through those apartment building committee meetings that historically take place just as it begins to get cold to figure out how much everyone in the building has to pay each month for central heating. Granted those meetings aren't exactly as thrilling as a leap into a pile of leaves, but there is a simple pleasure in getting together with all the neighbors one night and wrangling about who will get stuck with collecting and then depositing the checks as head of the va'ad. And then you have the winter ritual of changing over the closets, pulling all the coats and blankets out from the boidem and storage drawers underneath the beds. In apartments with little storage space, this is actually a joyous event, as moving blankets all of a sudden opens up - magically - more storage, and one suddenly feels blessed with a winter feeling of newfound space. And then there are the clouds. Don't forget the clouds. After half a year of endlessly blue skies, clouds finally dot the horizon. It often amazes me, really, how cloudless the summer skies are in Israel. For weeks on end you can go without seeing a puff of white in the heavens. It's just one cloudless, blue-sky, sunny day after the next. For some that's a dream. Not me. I long in the summer for a respite from those cloudless skies; for some damn clouds. It's a Jewish thing -- thinking of clouds on a sunny day. In the desert, the clouds are especially welcome since they add shade, hue and pattern to what in the summer is a pervasive bright, brown landscape. The clouds break up the desert's monotony, as the sun filtering through them casts blue shadows on the ground and adds color - yes color! - to the landscape, just like the leaves. The onslaught of winter in Israel also brings the welcome chance to finally close the windows. After months of living with the windows open because of the heat - and sleeping with the windows open because of the heat - it's possible, once again, to close them. The clicking of windows is as much a sound of winter here as the crackling of a fireplace in Chicago. No more will I hear a baby crying from the apartment building next door, or the conversation of neighbors upstairs, or a radio blaring across the street, or an odd sneeze from somebody walking on the street below. No more will my neighbors have to hear my boys fight, or me yelling at them to stop fighting. That tenement feel that often comes from apartment living, from hearing your neighbors and the sounds of the street because everything in Israel is so close, because so many people live on top of each other, is muted by the ability to simply shut the window. The windows also give birth to another Israeli winter ritual - the shul "window wars." There is nary a synagogue in the country where arguments around this time of year don't ensue because one person wants the window open - to let in a little air - while another wants it closed, because he's got the sniffles. Bemused, I've watched this same ritual play itself out numerous times in numerous different synagogues: One man opens the window, only to have another man come and close it. The first man, nobody's fool, returns to reopen the window, only to have the second, nobody's frier, come and shut it again until words are exchanged and the reverential mood of the shul is diluted. This, too, is a rite of seasonal passage, sure to happen and fun to watch in a sick, smug, I-know-what-is-coming-next type of way. But fun as all that just might be, I'll still always take the leaves.

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