There comes a moment in your life, in these parts, when you realize that the transition from fall to winter is not just a matter of putting on a coat.

It’s hard to describe accurately. You realize, maybe in your 20s or 30s, that winter is as much a state of mind as a state of newly fallen snow. One October or November, you notice yourself getting mentally prepared for what’s coming. It’s getting dark, for one thing, and cold, for another. And even if the first snow or sleet doesn’t fall until December, still you have to shift mental gears until afternoons return sometime in March.

These thoughts arise imperfectly here in June because just as there’s a transition from fall to winter, there’s a transition from spring to summer. And this year it somehow stalled. Even this month, when the temperature has returned pretty regularly to the 70s, my mind of winter has not gone away. A weekend or two ago when it got into the 80s, I walked around in the mornings with a flannel shirt on. I could not quite believe, one blustery morning last week, that the sunshine wasn’t camouflage for a biting April gale. On Monday I grabbed my jacket to go out.

It seems like the relentless cold of this past winter maintained a residual presence even outside the space between my ears. At the end of May the lilacs had not yet in the dooryard bloomed. My little impromptu starflower grove off the deck was two and a half weeks late. The dandelions, which always pop up beside our garage exactly on May 1 (or 2), did not appear until May 17.

In May and into June, I circumspectly related to a few people my compulsion to keep wearing a jacket. It turned out newsroom personnel, medical secretaries, teachers and Tim Hortons waitresses almost all admitted they were unable to shake the lurking sense that winter has not yet vacated Vacationland.

Even though, of course, for all climatic intents and purposes, it has. The lupines showed up on time a couple of weeks ago. Wasp construction projects got going in the garage as usual. The fantastic yellow cheerfulness of the hawkweed bubbled out of the grass, the purple vetch and supernatural star-tangles of stitchwort all arose again from the other world. Buttercups lacing tassling grass. A parson spider darting around the walk. Swallowtails bouncing around the yard. Dragonflies on sunlight sorties against mosquitoes.

But somehow, it’s not really summer until you think it is. Reality, a wise man once said, is that which, when you stop thinking about it, doesn’t go away. Seasonal summer and seasonal winter have to come into synch with mental summer and mental winter. The only problem is that, when the shift is still in process at the summer solstice, the fall equinox arrives that much quicker.

“Turn, turn, turn, change or fade, adjust or die; adjust,” I wrote in a poem of our climate during my lost youth. That was my first articulation of the fact that November is a state of mind – but before I discovered my inner ear doesn’t have the musical range to compose poetry. Thirtysomething years later, it turns out the same variations obtain on a summer day. Flawed words, stubborn sounds. Late summer, early fall.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. His writings on Maine’s natural world are collected in “The Other End of the Driveway,” available from Booklocker.com. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month. You can contact him at [email protected].


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