When I attended the University of Virginia, I loved to sit outside on a clear spring day. The University has thousands of gorgeous old, huge trees lining walkways across huge expanses of grassy lawns. The new green leaves set against the brilliant blue sky with bright white clouds .... oh, I could lie on the soft green grass and stare through the tree boughs to the blue sky beyond and daydream for hours there.
Spring was all the more beautiful because it followed what was generally a long, cold, and dreary winter. Those of you who live in places such as Minnesota (or even Connecticut) will scoff at me for thinking it is cold in Virginia, but those of us who were born and raised in Florida find Virginia to be intolerably damp and frigid in January and February.
Spring in Virginia meant we could enjoy warmer weather, sunnier skies, bright flowers and green trees, and, best of all, summer vacation within a few short weeks. I loved it!
Then I moved to Arizona, where the winters are warm-ish and sunny and not very long at all. I still loved Spring. But it lost some of its cachet.
Spring, here, means that Summer is just around the corner. Summer. With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees day after day.... and sometimes even night after night in July before the monsoon season brings some cooling rain. Trees and grass turn crispy and brown from the heat and lack of rain. Car door handles and steering wheels are too hot to touch, ironically requiring the use of "driving gloves." (I never wear gloves while driving here in the winter. They are quite handy, however, in the summer.) Every summer, the local news crews find it amusing to pick a particularly hot day and show how one can fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Don't take all this the wrong way. I do not mean to complain. I live here for the simple reason that I prefer those 100-plus super hot days every year to the cold and wet Winters in Virginia. But that doesn't mean I have to love the heat. There is, after all, the concept of "too much of a good thing."
In Arizona, Autumn** is wonderful, coming, as it does, after the seemingly interminable blazing hot summer, and being the harbinger of cooler days and nights to come. Finally along about Halloween you can count on evening temperatures below 80 degrees. November and December are generally delightful, weather-wise. January is sometimes a bit chilly for my liking, but February perks right up again. Yes, Autumn, leading as it does straight to the beautiful Winter season, quickly became my favorite time of year here.
But the beauty of an Arizona Autumn differs substantially from the beauty of a Virginia Spring. Instead of spending hours outside staring at the new green leaves on the trees in April, thanking the heavens and Mother Nature for the beauty that is Spring, I focused more on the newly re-discovered Autumn wonders of warm (not hot!) evening walks, colorful sunsets, moonlit clouds, and cool night breezes.
None of these amazing experiences particularly requires eagle-sharp eyesight to enjoy them, and so I did not immediately notice that my eyesight had diminished.
In fact, it took at least a year before I noticed that I couldn't read street signs from very far away while driving on the freeway. Then another season or two so before I realized that I was having a bit of trouble reading street signs at all while driving.
So I had my eyes checked. Sure enough, I needed corrective lenses. My eyes aren't terribly bad; I am not even required to wear corrective lenses while driving. In fact, I can see cars, people, animals, lane lines, traffic lights -- everything that is necessary to avoid crashing my car. But I much prefer to see well, not merely adequately, while I drive, since it makes it so much easier to find the correct exit on the freeway.
And so I faced the reality that my eyes were no longer perfect, and it was time to remedy that problem.
I first tried wearing contact lenses, but I never could learn to put the darn things in my eyes efficiently. It took me 45 minutes every morning -- time I knew I would rather spend doing something else. Sleeping, for example, is always a good thing to do early in the morning. I had no problem at all taking the contact lenses out of my eyes in the evening; it seemed somehow normal to me to *remove* an item from my eye. But every reflex and fiber of my being resisted my attempts to place those foreign objects (er, I mean, "contact lenses") into my eyes each morning. And once I had them in, I spent most of the day squinting and blinking and applying eye drops, trying to keep my eyes moist enough so they didn't hurt. (Did I mention the average summer humidity here ranges from 12% to 50%? Compare that with Northern Virginia's range of 55% to 90%, and you can see how my eyes might have had a bit of trouble adjusting...)
I am a persistent person. I do not give up easily. But after several months of this ridiculous 45 minute ritual every morning and the subsequent all-day squinting and squirting marathon, I conceded defeat. I would have to wear glasses.
I fretted about wearing glasses. I was vain enough to wonder whether I would look older, less "cool" (my kids would probably question whether I was ever really "cool," but I sure thought I was), or less pretty (a fellow in college once said I had "eyes a guy could lose his soul in"; I didn't want to cover them up!). More importanly, I hadn't the foggiest idea how to go about picking frames that "matched" my face and looked stylish. I scoured magazines for photos of celebrities or models wearing glasses, looking for fashion guidance, but such photos were few and far between.
Eventually, I swallowed my pride and vanity, took along my husband and a friend for fashion advice, and picked out some frames for my corrective lenses. I found some that looked cute, and I bought them. I loved them immediately because I could read street signs and I did not have to squint.
And then Spring rolled around. All I could say was, Wow! I could see every leaf on every tree for the first time in years! They were so green, and so distinctly individual, and so... beautiful.
I love Spring again. It is once more the most beautiful of all the seasons. I can see the bees as they buzz around the flowers. I can see the individual petals on the flowers, rather than just a blur of color. I can see the difference between the new bright green needles on our pine tree and the older dark green needles left over from last season. I can see the stamens peeking from the cactus flowers. I can see the pouffy cloud shapes and the wispy hazy clouds and the feathers on the birds, and the hummingbird beaks (we have lots of hummingbirds here in Arizona) and the patterns on the butterfly wings. In short, I can see the wonder and the beauty and the fantastic bounty of nature that I missed for years!
Maybe it wasn't the heat, after all, that caused me to lose my enthusiasm for Spring. Maybe it was the fact that I just couldn't see it very well. Because here it is, more than 15 years after I got my first pair of glasses, and I still love Spring in Arizona.
** In Virginia, we used to call it "Fall," presumably because the leaves would fall from the trees (and I loved the Fall, too, in Virginia. It had its own rather melancholy beauty, but I'll write about that some other time). Here, the word Autumn seems more fitting. There are some deciduous trees, of course, but they are outnumbered by the evergreen trees and cacti, so that one barely notices that some of the trees are missing their leaves. We have a plum tree, an apple tree, and a pear tree in our yard that lose their leaves about mid-winter, but they are surrounded by the pine trees, the eucalyptus tree, the orange tree, and the various desert shrubs (like the Mexican Red Bird of Paradise) which keep their leaves. There is no noticeable leaf-falling here in the valley of the sun.