Last week, we were on vacation in Tobermory. As I am every year, I was again stunned speechless by Tobermory’s absolute beauty: the perfect trifecta of rock, coniferous trees and water; the magnificence of the high places overlooking Georgian Bay; the mesmerizing sound of waves invading the stony shore of Lake Huron.
On one particular hike out to see the Fathom Five islands, as I was surrounded by effortless nature, soft beams of sunlight and tangible peace, and as I began to realize that summer was coming to a close, I started wondering about the significance of seasons.
Tobermory is far enough north that it’s one of those touristy places that essentially closes down in the winter. People come to Tobermory to work there all summer and then leave for the winter months. Not much happens in Tobermory during the winter—nothing except for harsh weather and layers of snow.
As we hiked through the forest that particular day, I felt honoured to be in the middle of so much natural beauty. By natural I mean that things have been largely left alone to grow and die as they would. Bright green moss thrives on dead, fallen pine trunks. Promising saplings arise from the decaying wood chips of their elders. Life and death mingles to create countless natural wonders.
Up north, where the growing season is short, the beauty of summer and the blessing of life is valued and appreciated as a fleeting state-of-being, soon to be destroyed by a ruthless winter. Would Tobermory be as striking and as calming as it is, if it thrived 12 months of the year? Would any place that has four seasons be as beautiful in its transformations as a place that stays the same? Or do the seasons create the opportunity for a more fulfilling experience of wonder?
Let me quickly say that I wouldn’t be completely opposed to living somewhere that is warm all year long. Places like California definitely have their perks. However, the “just as I am” natural occurrences that build the visual splendor of northern Ontario (and Ontario in general) are a product of seasons.
As much as most of us dislike winter (or maybe even hate winter?)—months indoors without sun; driving in the snow or sleet or slush or freezing rain; being perpetually cold—we would not get to experience the miracles of spring if we didn’t first endure the winter. We wouldn’t appreciate the warm summer breeze on our faces or the exhilaration of jumping in a cold pool for the first time or soaking up the sun as much as possible or shopping for new light, airy summer clothes and shoes if we didn’t first experience the exact opposite.
I wonder if the same logic applies to life’s seasons. Would the summers of our lives be as bright and light as they are if they hadn’t been predicated by difficult winters?
Perhaps if nothing ever went wrong—if we had the choice and could live in a California or New Zealand climate without ever knowing that winter or hardship exists (because we’d probably all choose that, right?)—we would thrive in and love the constant sunshine and happiness.
Alas, however, that’s not the world we live in. It seems that a prerequisite to being human is to endure hardship and experience suffering at some points in our short lives. We can’t seem to escape it all, but here’s the silver lining of enduring the winters of our lives:
Spring always comes after winter. (Has it ever not?) Summer always comes after spring. Autumn always comes after summer. We can rest assured that three beautiful, rich seasons are the imminent rewards of enduring the winter. What’s more, we appreciate our seasons of blessing and life so much more after having experienced the human-being hardships of life's winters.
Just as the night is darkest just before the dawn, winter seems to be the most unfair and unforgiving just before the glory of a new beginning. If it were not that way, spring would lose her miraculous glory, summer, her happy shine, and autumn, her striking colour.