Thanksgiving in Philadelphia is not exactly the New England poem’s image of “to grandmother’s house we go.” But from Boston, Detroit, Columbus, and Geneva we did go, traveling to gather around the table as family. To Philly specifically, as mentioned last week, because our overtly expectant daughter was within days of her due date.
No matter that we were in the gritty neighborhood of West Philly, its once-glorious-now-dilapidated blocks of three-story row houses melding into blocks of freshly restored-and-once again glorious homes. No matter the icy cold seventeen degrees that startled the Philadelphians far more than those of us from Upstate New York, Boston, or Detroit. No matter the dusty Airbnb, heavily stained with the scent of cigarettes and pot. Besides being together, there was sunshine!
Something from the distant past for us here in the Finger Lakes, sunshine is an occasional condition of the heavens many people find enjoyable. It takes place when there is no wet blanket of clouds forming a grey pall overhead. When cloud cover dissipates, whether with occasional clumps of cottony white or a clear expanse of bare-naked blue, a fiery orb of atomic gases bursts out into the open and rains warmth and light down upon the earth. Remember?
For two hours on Thanksgiving afternoon, after a two-mile family walk over uneven concrete underneath a breath-takingly blue sky, my oldest son and I sat on a peeling porch with urban ambiance and roasted in the radiation. No matter the temperature never peeked above thirty-six, or that we could hardly see without squinting, we feasted on vitamin D. I must have unselfconsciously exclaimed over and over again about the sunshine, because my son said I sounded like an addict in relief after a long withdrawal. Back in Geneva, on a grim gray Monday, I felt as if I were in withdrawal.
Even so, I find myself exceedingly grateful for the seasons. We know what we cannot see: this damp gray is mulching the fallen leaves, tattered bark, and dead minions of seasonal insects into rich dark loam. That soggy wooden scent rising up from flower beds, yards, forests, and fields is life re-inventing itself even as a long winter of frozen death creeps our way.
I know, some people like to flee this time of year and camp out in sunshine states until it is over. But even in that most miserable month of February, I grimace with tortured patience and applaud nature. It is not perverse stubbornness that causes me to stand this frozen ground of the north, it is passing through the seasons. Truly, it is a kind of spiritual cartwheel that tickles and satiates deep down in the bones.
I remind myself of that on these dark, damp, gray days when we have yet to savor the joy of snow and delightful hush of frigid cold. These are the mulching days, when the earth silently swallows nutritious decay and we must tell ourselves that the luscious green next June depends upon our endurance now.