Growing up in the Nilgiri hills in South India, I must admit that I did not feel the keen delineation of seasons. In jest, we often told each other that our seasons were broadly divided into two: rainy and not rainy.
It was beautiful and scenic all around me, and I am eternally grateful for a childhood spent in those charming environs. It isn’t a gift granted to many – I realized this truth as a child, and this becomes even truer with every passing day, as I live as an adult far away from those beautiful hills which formed the landscape of my childhood. Nestled in the South of India where the Eastern Ghats met the Western Ghats, the Nilgiris was at the unique spot of inviting monsoon rains that lashed both the East and West coasts of the Indian peninsula. Between the South-West monsoons and the North-East monsoons, it rained for almost 9 to 10 months during the year. The few months in April and May, when we could hope for sunshine, doubled up as our summer.
Spending many months with rainy weather in an environment devoid of electronic stimulation meant that we learnt to occupy ourselves with books and our imagination. Complaining about being “bored” got us the gift of chores or more homework. We were smart enough to give these two a wide berth and be completely at peace with ourselves. The books that I read were varied and often spoke of fantastic adventures in the English countryside or on the slopes of the Alps; books about sleuthing that made me yearn for such deductive skills; or travel and humor that made me want to pack up and get started on adventures of my own.
Many of these books were set in Europe where the seasons were far different from the rainy and not-rainy strains of weather that I experienced. They spoke rapturously of spring and autumn. I suppose the magic of youth made me read about “gold and scarlet leaves” and imagine a wondrous world of multi-colored leaves though my forays into the forests nearby always revealed only shades of green. I wondered what geography textbooks meant when they spoke of Deciduous and Evergreen forests. Did the leaves fall like clumps of hair? What did they mean by resplendent autumn? The trees were always beautiful, green and calming – I could not quite understand how they became especially resplendent in autumn.
I think it is fair to say that I did not truly get the meaning of spring and autumn till I saw it for the first time with my own eyes. When I first moved to the United States as a wide-eyed lass in my twenties, everything about the weather and seasons seemed wondrous (it still does!). Suddenly, what the books were talking about when they referred to autumn and spring took on a new meaning.
The bare trees of the winter have a beauty of their own. How could there be trees without any leaves, I wondered when I first came. But every year since, my heart has burst at this explosion of beauty when the leaves change colors, when the stark branches stand out, and when the flowers burst forth on the trees all at once, before slowly growing and complementing them with leaves.
I watch wondrous, a child again, as I see my flowering cherry tree, and the apricot tree that flowers a little later.
Looking at the earth fresh and colorful in its spring glory has been marvelous. Does your heart not sing when you see geese flying towards the waters making a perfect landing? The joyous anticipation of seeing mallard babies as they get ready to hatch in a few weeks has me in a tizzy. The blooming of my first daffodils has given me joy beyond measure.
Growing up in the Nilgiris gave me the immeasurable gift of finding pleasure in the simple gifts of nature. It is the reason I persist in passing this on to my children, even though I am given the “who-is-the-little-nature-nutcase?” eye roll and pat on the head by them.
I could not have put it better than Rachel Carson as she comments in her book, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring.”
Spring is here!