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Anno Domini: Tracking the seasons on my Paperberry
October 13, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
A recent story arc in the comic strip Funky Winkerbean had the new kid at the pizza shop arriving for a staff meeting. The owner (in his 60s) told him the meeting was the next day and the kid said he must have inputted it wrong in his Blackberry. The owner, holding up his calendar, said he had the right date on his Paperberry.

Well, the kid couldn’t believe the owner would still use a paper calendar. After all, paper documents can get lost so easily. But the owner asked who had the right date for the staff meeting.

I’m more in agreement with the pizza shop owner. I track things on my Paperberry. The change of the seasons, the cycles of the moon, the observance of special days – all notated on pieces of paper that can actually be handled and filed for future reference. And it’s from my Paperberry files that I get many of the ideas for Anno Domini.

I consider those notations as signposts strewn along the shoulders of the highway that runs from yesterday to today to tomorrow. They tell how far we’ve come and where we’re going.

It’s easy to lose sight of those signposts, especially when it appears the seasons are slowing to a crawl. This past summer was one of those, as we endured a seemingly endless parade of oven-like temperatures for weeks on end. But such is the nature of weather in western Nebraska.

Every so often, the change of seasons announces itself with a grand spectacle. Most times, not so much. Like this past Sept. 23 when the sun crossed the equator to mark the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of autumn. It still felt like summer and not a leaf had changed color for the annual pageant. That will come later, maybe on some day without a notation for a special observance – what the western liturgical calendar would call an “ordinary day.”

While a calendar helps me make some sense of time passing, the real milestones aren’t found in printed form at all. Those are in the traditions, both new and ancient, that mark the seasons and years during our time here on this earth.

For me, a sure sign fall is here is when the Lady Huskers are off on another charge through the volleyball season. It’s also the season when all our local high school football teams start their campaigns to improve on their previous season records.

Another sign, totally unrelated to sports, is when stores begin stocking those mediocre tasting pieces of peanut butter taffy wrapped in orange and black paper. I’m not sure why I keep buying the stuff, but it’ll be gone soon after Halloween.

If it’s a clear night, I’ll try to take some time just to watch the September full moon, called Harvest Moon by the Lakota. It marks one of those times when the seasons change hands. While spring eases into summer, the arrival of fall is often more bombastic. Colors change. The wind blows colder. A hint of snow is in the air. And we’re reminded of how quickly time is passing. So again we mark our calendars … a certain number of days until Christmas.

I also remember a time, not that long ago, when one of the season’s calling cards was the acrid smell of smoke from burning leaves. It was usually on some night in late October when neighbors would gather to visit, drink coffee and warm themselves against the chill of the encroaching late autumn darkness.

Not long ago, but a seeming eternity ago. Neighbors no longer gather to visit. Many people don’t even know who their neighbors are. And trying to actually burn leaves would only earn you a visit from the fire department with a citation for belching an EPA-banned pollutant into the atmosphere. Today, all that remains of that ritual is the rustling sound of leaves as they scurry down the street at the behest of an invisible cold wind.

And yet, autumn remains my favorite season of the year. Robert Browning caught that feeling in his words “God’s in his Heaven – All’s right with the world!” At times, it seems the season is slowing down to enjoy the show that is autumn. At other times, the days seem to be speeding up in their inexorable march toward the end of the year – because more days are behind us than in front of us.
So I’ll make a mental image of the watercolor blue skies and the color of the leaves scattering on the wind. I’ll replay that image on those dark days of winter when the trees reach their skeletal fingers to an unforgiving, steel gray sky.

“The days dwindle down to a precious few. September … November.” Just a few lines from “September Song,” one of my favorites from the big band era.

I enjoy the passing of the seasons. But like all things temporal, they’re a “now you see it, now you don’t” kind of proposition. So as time continues its march toward an unknown future, I also think all of us are really searching for something more permanent. Or as I would put it, eternal. That’s part and parcel to the nature of man.
G. Tracy Mehan III, an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law, made a poignant observation about autumn that I truly appreciate: “It is hard to feign indifference to the loveliness of fall, but the point is well taken that our lives, like the seasons, inexorably change. But unlike the seasons, our lives seek a destination, not just another return.”
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