I have just been invited to an end-of-season sale. That, in itself, is not surprising. After all, spring ended on Thursday.
But the season that has gone on sale in my local department store is not spring. It is summer. I have been invited to an end-of-summer sale.
Now here I am, a woman who has not yet burned a strap mark onto her shoulder, and they are selling out the last sun dresses. A woman who has not been in the water, but is warned to get my red-hot bathing suit before they're all gone. A woman who has barely turned on an air conditioner and is told that "summer must go" to make room for the fall. The fall, mind you.
My personal dismay at this invitation (it does not require an RSVP) is not the result of some profound desire to rush out to the nearest dressing room, stand in front of a three-way mirror basking in blue fluorescent light and buy a bikini. Frankly, I prefer candlelight and hand mirrors and hand-me-downs.
But it seemed to me that this end- of-season sale was the ultimate markdown of the entire concept of seasons. Today, seasons have themselves gone entirely out of season.
It's bad enough that we uprooted assorted holidays from their rightful place on the calendar and dropped them onto Monday. Imagine what Mother Washington would say if she knew she had given birth to George on a third Monday. But we now manipulate whole seasons out of their sequence without even a thought of Mother Nature.
The most blatant example of this is in sports, where the schedules are about as natural as Astroturf. The Boys of Summer start playing with the snow and end in the frost. Hockey teams were still skating after the ice had melted in northern Manitoba.
As for football, I suppose it's become the tomato of sports. You can get it all year round now, but it's lost its flavor.
In fact, it is food that has been altered the most by our unseasonable way of life. When I was a kid, we used to wait for the strawberries to ripen. Now we wait for the plane to arrive. It's possible to get almost anything at any time of year. But it's impossible to get it to taste like anything.
I have a Vermont friend who flunked a blind tasting of berries one January. They were not blue or black, she maintained; they were a species known as "Made in California."
Not only do we alter seasons, we invent some. Tell me, for example, what our ancestors would make of the "cruise season"? Or the holiday season as we have come to know and love it. The Plastic Man of the modern commercial world can stretch its arms into the most distant calendars and pocketbooks.
Once I read that Eleanor Roosevelt had all her Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving. Today she'd be running late. The Christmas catalogues have all arrived by Columbus Day. They are decking the commercial halls with imported holly before Halloween. The 12 days of Christmas have extended to 120.
Where did all the seasons go? What happened to the dictionary definition of season as "one of the four natural divisions of the year"? It seems that the more we are divided from nature, the less the seasons are divided from each other.
Nature plays a much smaller role in the life of the average urban American than it once did. Fewer and fewer of us actually work outdoors. From Monday to Friday we may only encounter the outdoors between the car and the door. Weather has become a weekend event.
Increasingly, the air we breathe and the water we use are heated and cooled to a monolithic comfort zone. If you don't love winter, you can leave it on the next super-saver. If you can't stand the heat, you can get out of the kitchen and into an air-conditioned movie theater.
It's hard to know whether the ability to protect ourselves from nature is worth the price of alienation. But it's part of the Western desire to master nature instead of living with it. We consider it progress that when we get up in the morning we have to turn on the radio to know what the temperature is.
Indeed, if the Bible were being written today, it wouldn't say, "To everything there is a season." The psalm of modern life reads: "One season fits all."
c1985, The Boston Globe Newspaper Company