Regarding the Season

Here in northern New England, the days are getting remarkably shorter.  In midsummer, the light lingers in the northwest sky until almost eleven o’clock at night, only to resurface a few hours later in a dim glow to the northeast.  By early October, sunset is dramatically earlier, and the sunrise tarries.  What the old almanacs call the “period of darkness” is increasing.

For winter is coming.

Bringing rest to the earth.

And dread to many.


I have an old and lively interest in fairs.

Here in New England, the great fairs mark the end of the warm weather months, winding down, as they do, by mid-October.

Being from the plains, I have a fondness for the agricultural parts of the fairs.

Being like many other people, I enjoy the rides, the food and the venders.

Being an academic, I harbor a longing for livelier times.

Many years ago, while taking a course in the history of entertainment, I became fascinated with the great British fairs.  They continue to tweak my interest, for where else could such a variety of diverse entertainments and retail ventures be squeezed into one small space and time? 

Jugglers, dancers, acrobats, actors, singers, illusionists, farm animals, trained animals, wild animals, produce, an abundance of edibles, useful and frivolous wares of all kinds…

In spite of our love of theme parks, I do believe that the sights, sounds and smells of an old English fair would drive most of us into sensory overload.

We expect our fairs to be relatively orderly.

Theirs were not orderly.

We expect our fairs to be law-abiding.

Theirs were not law-abiding.

We expect our fairs to end on time.

The old fairs resisted such artificial constraints.

Given a certain amount of blindness by local licensing authorities, some fairground booths continued operations well past the end of summer and fall.  In one rare winter, when the Thames River froze solid in London, some of the local entrepreneurs simply moved their booths out onto the ice in a spontaneous “Frost Fair”.

The impulse was clear. 

Don’t let the summer die.


Some years ago, while living in the Boston area, I worked alongside a teacher who was, like myself, an avid gardener.  Unlike myself, she concluded her gardening season early. 

She pulled her vegetable garden before Labor Day.

The mere thought of her actions would bring a shudder to many backyard gardeners.  For in the urban heat-island that is Boston, frost may well be delayed until late October.

She could be consigned to the fellowship of those who argue for an observance of strict seasonal propriety: those who are always glad to tell us when we have had “enough fun”; those who would no more have pancakes for dinner than go swimming after Labor Day; those who argue for a proper observance of the times and seasons…the man-made times and seasons, that is.

She could be consigned to the ranks of those who are not only willing to see the summer die, but are more than prepared to bury it.


But there are no villains or heroes in these accounts.

To those who observe the seasonal proprieties, it would seem amiss either to curtail or prolong a season.

Yet the seasonal flow is not so easily defined by our limits. 

My colleague gave up the pleasures of an optional backyard garden in order to give her full attention to her job and to her students.

The fairground folk, like many of us, were not people of great means; in extending the season, they extended their resources; at the same time, they provided a moment of warmth and a bit of summer for passers-by in the increasingly chilly air.

Both reflected the season.


It bids us to regard the time that we have.

It bids us to seize the moment.

All of the seasons, with their unique variations, utter the same call.

But the call of Autumn has the edge of necessity.

What do you have?  What do you need?  What will you give?

Like the Christmas message of Charles Dickens, it’s call may be heard at any time of year and answered in any number of ways: in the sustained commitment of a teacher, perhaps, or in a brief moment of “Frost Fair” warmth amid a river of ice.

But it bids us to do so before another moment, hour, season, year or lifetime is lost.

For winter is coming.

I am reminded of the words of Maxwell Anderson in his play High Tor:

“The earth you have
seems now so hard and firm, with all its colors
sharp for the eye, as a taste’s sharp to the tongue,
you’ll hardly credit how its outlines blur
and wear out as you wear.
Play now with fire
while fire will burn, bend down the bough and eat
before the fruit falls.  For there comes a time
when the great sun-lit pattern of the earth
shakes like an image under water, darkens,
dims, and the clearest voices that we knew
are sunken bells, dead sullen under sea,

For winter is coming.

Bringing rest to the earth.

And dread to many.

For to many of us, in our time, in our place and in our particular circumstance, this winter will be unspeakably cruel.  


I post new articles twice-monthly in "Author's Corner".

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                                                                                                                                                                Rob Wright

*In Four Verse Plays by Maxwell Anderson, New York, Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1959.

Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for sixteen years.  In his home tradition, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities.  He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.