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Burt Siemens: I’ve come to appreciate the change of seasons

“What! Are you crazy? Doesn’t it snow there?”

That’s how our California friends responded when we told them we were retiring to upstate New York. Actually, snow was the point. The fact is, we had grown tired of nothing but good weather, day after day after day.

So, after 25 years in Los Angeles, we broke camp and moved back East, bucking the trend of retirees going the other way.

Now it’s our Buffalo friends, those who are longing for the day when they can retire to Florida, who say we were crazy. We understand. My wife and I, native to the four seasons, knew how winter can oppress. Full of youthful expectations, we thought we might find in California a paradise. And so we did, for three or four years.

But the humdrums of daily life eventually broke through the glossy surface. A two-hour commute became a steep price to pay for an occasional Disneyland ride on a balmy winter day. Paradise, we learned, was no more real than a backlot movie set. When we were no longer tourists, we felt like aliens.

Then came the vexing aftershocks. The native chaparral was starting to look thorny – and it never seemed green enough. The hillsides, dotted with stunted oaks, were green enough. But it proved a tease, green for only a week or two in March before it reverted to its native dun.

We missed verdure. And snow.

On Christmas Day, soon after we stirred from our after-dinner naps, we strolled around the corner in shirtsleeves for ice cream cones. It had become a family tradition. The boys, native Californians, loved it. My wife and I thought it disturbing. We missed the possibility of snow that informed our childhood sense of the Season. Christmas weather in California never disappointed. Or, better put, it always disappointed.

One weekend we took a trip up to the mountains. It was late spring. Our youngest son spotted a small patch of snow still holding out against the melt. He dashed over, cautiously poked his finger in it, and pulled out something more thrilling than even a plum: His first experience with snow – at 5 years old. Driving back down to the valley, my wife and I discussed whether this was something we should feel guilty about.

We missed the punctuation of the seasons: the silence of snow settling in; the song of a warbler hidden in the naked branches of early spring; the buzz of insects lush in a still summer night; the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot.

Clouds now and then give rest to people viewing the moon. The ancient wisdom of this haiku resonated. Living where one season is symmetrical to the next is like staring at a blank page. We needed to turn that page.

True, it’s nice on a January day to take out the garbage without having to put on a coat. But we had come to realize comfort and convenience were not the sum of human satisfactions.

We have been in upstate now for over 20 years. OK, so it’s not a paradise. Sometimes, when I must move my car off the street, and first have to put on a heavy coat and clunky boots, curses may abruptly pierce the cold night air as I step out the door.

But I cut them short when I pause to remember I asked for this. Then my grudging resignation adjusts itself into something more like an agreeable satisfaction.

Of course, it is not quite as agreeable as our satisfaction in knowing spring is officially here. After all, we’re not crazy.