Our books today are testaments to hope: Edwin Way Teale’s 1951 North with the Spring and his 1960 Journey into Summer. In both books, Teale and his wife Nellie make an unorthodox and brilliant decision: rather than stay home and experience all the nuances of the seasons on their own immediate area, they follow the season as it swells to life:
The seasons, like greater tides, ebb and flow across the continents. Spring advances up the United States at the average rate of about fifteen miles a day. It ascends mountainsides at the rate of about a hundred feet a day. It sweeps ahead like a flood of water, racing down the long valleys, creeping up hill sides in a rising tide. Most of us, like the man who lives on the bank of a river and watches the stream flow by, see only one phase of the movement of spring. Each year the season advances toward us out of the south, sweeps around us, goes flooding away into the north. We all see phases of a single phase, all variations in this one chapter in the Odyssey of Spring. My wife and I dreamed of knowing something of all phases, of reading all possible chapters, of seeing, firsthand, the long northward flow of the season.
In North with the Spring, they begin in the Florida Everglades and progress steadily north through the American South, journeying through bogs and bayous, experiencing swamps and pine barrens, stopping frequently to admire the local flora and fauna, and writing it all up with practiced, homely, lovely charm. They eventually end up above the tree line on Mount Washington before they begin their melancholy trip back home.
In the 1960 volume, Journey into Summer, they try the same epic, rambling approach to the “second season,” summer, which they’re still free to see through the slightly idyllic lens of a half-century ago:
Between these two events in time and space stretches the season of warmth and sunshine. Summer is vacation time, sweet clover time, swing and see-saw time, watermelon time, swimming and picnic and camping and Fourth-of-July time. This is the season of gardens and flowers, of haying and threshing. Summer is the period when birds have fewer feathers and furbearers have fewer hairs in their pelts. Through it runs the singing of insects, the sweetness of ripened fruit, the perfume of unnumbered blooms. It is a time of lambs and colts, of kittens and puppies, a time to grow in. It is fishing time, canoeing time, baseball time. It is, for millions of Americans, “the good old summertime.”
Journey into Summer starts in the chilly fastness of Smuggler’s Notch and Niagara Falls and loops around the country, through the wilderness variety of the Great Lakes region, through the serene sprawling beauty of the Midwest, along the profuse flowerings of Colorado in summer, and gradually, over a total course of some 17,000 miles, making their way back to New England as the season slowly winds down.
Both books are marvelous portraits of gentle seasons the poor storm-battered New England of 2015 could be forgiven for thinking might never come again. April is upon Boston, but only two days ago, it was freezing cold and blowing snow and hail, and after a record-breaking winter of snow and cold, I’m sure I’m not the only Bostonian who’s adopting an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it skepticism toward the actual existence of any gentler weather. That’s another reason why these wonderful books (I couldn’t quite bring myself to re-visit the autumn and – shudder – winter volumes, but check back with me if the coming summer is particularly brutal) felt so good to re-read: they reassure that season do still change, and that – in Boston, anyway – relief from whatever ails you is never very far away.