Waiting for gray (bochorno)

IMG_7086.JPGDear E.,

The longer I live in places where you can wear flip-flops 12 months a year, the more obsessed I become with seasons.

It’s not as simple as missing them. If I could choose right now, I’m not sure I’d wish the seasons of my childhood back into my current life. But I’m fascinated by the way those memories find us at odd moments, and how we reconfigure them among the smells, sounds and sensations of entirely different climes.

Last week I was telling you your favorite bedtime story, the same one you ask for every night. In it, you discover a set of keys that unlocks little doors hidden in the nooks and crannies of our house, doors that go unnoticed until you discover them one rainy day. There is one key and one door for every color of the rainbow, and each door reveals a different landscape: an orange grove, a blue Maine lake, green hills that we run across and roll down.

I was telling you about the white door, which, of course, opens onto a snowy day, when all of a sudden I had to stop talking. I had been transported to a very specific scene. I was in high school, standing in the yard of our old family home in New Hampshire, ankle-deep in snow, at the edge of dusk. The snow rolled in a gentle sweep across our yard, wrinkled over the stone wall at the edge of it, and curved away down the field beyond toward the dark woods that stood silently, ushering in the night.

It was so clear to me. I could hear the soft shuffles of our dog, Max, my companion on a late-afternoon walk, taking a final pee somewhere nearby. I could feel the warm condensation of my breath against my scarf, snow melting unpleasantly in one of my boots. I could sense the warm light from our kitchen just behind me, spilling out onto the snow.

“Mom! What happened to the story?” you asked, and your voice pulled me back with an almost physical jolt to the dim light from your Peppa Pig lamp and the chirping of Costa Rican crickets. I had a lump in my throat, not because I wished I were standing in the snow, but because the memory had been so vivid, those dark woods as familiar as if I’d never left them. I had traveled 20 years and 4,000 miles in an instant, as easily as if I’d simply opened a door.

You’ve never experienced that kind of cold – you may never experience it, day after day. At this time of year in Costa Rica, it’s hot as hell, that deep bochorno that leads up to Holy Week, the long, sweaty afternoons when the yigüirros gasp for rain and when, four years ago, I dreamed of breeze in a small house with a restless baby who wanted to feed nonstop. I don’t like the heat, but I love the word bochorno, so effective at conveying the frustration and desperation of extended heat: the hotter it gets, the longer you draw out sound of the “r.” I love it also because to me, the word is inseparable from the relief of a nice cool rain after the heat, the same way I associate sub-zero temperatures with the bliss of walking into a warm house afterwards.

In “The Gilmore Girls,” Lorelai loves nothing more than the first snow of the year. She craves it, watches out for it, smells it in the air before it descends. My first snow is now the first proper rain of the rainy season. When the bochorno de Semana Santa intensifies to the point that signals an impending downpour, the clouds draw together and darken overhead, the air changes, the birds argue that much louder in anticipation, I want to run outside. I want to grab my umbrella and boots just the way I might once have grabbed my hat and mittens for that first snow. And after that sweet downpour, when we go outside and breathe in that unmistakable smell of parched earth now refreshed, I want to bottle it up.

I guess what’s extraordinary is that I can bottle it up. Wherever I roam, it will be stored within me. No matter how long I go without hanging wet wool mittens in front of a wood stove, I will never forget that precise set of scents and sounds. We carry our favorite – and least favorite – past seasons within us, ready to be activated at the oddest of moments.

And we carry our weather personalities as well, finding within our current climate the moods and sensations that fit us best. Some of us are happiest when the sun comes out, the snow melts or the rain dries, and extravagant well-being spreads out upon the landscape. Others are at our cozy best when we are at the edge of gray. We are happiest when something comfortably dark is coming, when precipitation of one kind or another is bearing down, when a hot beverage and a book are about to become mandatory.

We are happiest, not when all has been fulfilled, but when we are waiting for a release we know will come. We happiest at dusk; under rainclouds; standing between the dark wood and the warm kitchen; watching a gathering gloom.

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