Winter has arrived in the south of South America, and I am loving every second of it. Honestly, it is glorious. It’s been nearly four years since I’ve had a winter, and it’s true what they say: you don’t miss something until it’s gone. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m at the foot of the Andes in Bariloche; mountains covered in snow make winter a little more magical.
For better or worse, Michigan, my home state, has four distinct seasons. I didn’t realize exactly what those seasons meant to me and how much I actually liked them — or at least appreciate them for what they are and what they mean to me — until I’d moved to and lived in Berkeley, California.
I lived in California from 2013 to 2016. During that time, the state was in a massive drought, one of the worst it’d experienced in years. I can count on one hand the number of times it rained during my three years there.
Among many things, the San Francisco Bay Area is known for its moderate weather. While the weather did cool off at times, I felt as though I was living in a perpetual state of summer. From one season to the next, there was little change in the weather. For many, that’s bliss. For me, that wasn’t quite the case.
In living there, I soon realized I like a mix of weather because cold, rainy days make you appreciate warm, sunny days that much more. You need the “bad” to appreciate the good. A bitter-cold winter makes you appreciate a stifling-hot summer — and vice versa. Living in California made me realize just how much I like and appreciate having four distinct seasons every year.
Distinct seasons help measure time. They provide a yearly pace; they give each year a distinct rhythm. Without seasonal benchmarks my first year in California, my balance felt off. When October came around again, it didn’t feel as though a year had gone by. It’s not paralyzing — and you certainly come to terms with the flow of a year in a place that lacks changing seasons — but it definitely messes with your sense of time.
I think what I love most about having four distinct seasons — and what you can’t get in a place that doesn’t have them — is that you learn to appreciate each one for what it is. When it comes to the weather, you get what you get. It is what it is. You complain about it, deal with it or — for the human among us — do a bit of both.
I was talking with a California coworker on the phone the other day. I told her I was savoring winter in Bariloche and that I’d missed having four distinct seasons while living in California. She grew up in Maryland but has been living in California for a while now; I mentioned that perhaps she felt the same. She paused. She understood what I was saying but said she doesn’t feel the same. She loves her San Francisco Bay Area weather. She can go to the mountains — only four hours away from San Francisco — and embrace the cold and snow whenever she wants.
At the time, that made sense to me. But as I was walking around Bariloche today — it’s one of those sunny winter days where the brightness of the sun is multiplied as it reflects off the snow — I realized why California (and getting to choose your seasons, more or less) wasn’t quite satisfying to me.
In places with four distinct seasons, you don’t get to pick and choose when you get sun, when you get rain or when you get snow. On any given day, you make the most of the hand you’re dealt. I think it not only makes you appreciate each season for what it is, but I also think it teaches you patience. You’re forced to patiently live in each season as you look forward to or brace yourself for what’s to come. The weather is what it is. Unlike California, within the state of Michigan and so many other places, you really don’t get to drive four hours and escape whatever season you’re in. You get what you get.
Four distinct seasons teach you to live in the moment. Every year, you only get a few months of each one. (Okay, in the Midwest and further north, winter can often last five or six months; spring and autumn fly by in the blink of an eye; and summer can be long but often moves way too quickly. But I think you get what I mean.)
So while I appreciate the San Francisco Bay Area for its sunny, summery weather and mix of city life and outdoor splendor, I’ll take four distinct seasons — including winter.