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Carl Wernicke: Experiencing Seasons In Nature & In Life

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When most people think of Florida, they don’t think in terms of change of seasons. It’s palm trees and summer all the time. But one of the many advantages to living in Northwest Florida is that we get winter as well as summer, but not too much of it. As the latest snowy blizzard blows through the northeast, it’s a comforting thought.

I still remember as a child standing all bundled up in the cold and dark on Bloodworth Lane waiting for the school bus, and then returning home in the sunshine of a warming day with my jacket and sweater slung over my shoulder. That’s winter to me in Florida.

So this week’s return to crisp days under sunny blue skies is like a throwback. Hopefully we’ll see more of this, and less of the gray days we have been plagued with in recent years. If I wanted to live under gray clouds all winter I’d move to Connecticut.

I think one of the worst trends in our modern society, and one that is tied to many of our environmental and even health problems, is how disconnected we have become from the natural world. I have always paid a lot of attention to weather, but that was ramped up another notch when, in building our home over a decade ago, we included a solar water heater and solar electric panels. They made me even more acutely aware of cloudy days and sunny ones; even passing clouds make me wonder how much electricity or hot water I might be missing out on. More importantly, I think we err in forgetting that we are natural beings whose bodies and brains still resonate to the ancient rhythms inherent in nature.

What got me going on all this was an obituary in the New York Times. If you want to learn about life via the printed word, a good obit is one of the best things to read, and the Times has some of the best.

Recently the newspaper wrote about Jane Wilson, a naturalist painter, who died at 90. The article quoted her about her childhood: “Growing up on a farm you were continually made aware of the weather. And the weather was continually changing. Everyone on a farm is observant of nature — though not consciously in an aesthetic sense. On a farm you’re very aware of weather because so much of your life is dependent on it. And in a place like Iowa the weather can be so extreme. You learn to feel the weather coming. The animals do it as well. Weather is not just visual; you can feel it with all your senses. That’s what I’d like to get at in my paintings — that full-body feeling. You sniff the weather, and a complicated rush of feeling runs through you.”

Wilson clearly had been transformed by her embrace of the natural world, and she learned to translate her experience of weather, and how it impacted her as a human being, onto canvas, and thus into our experience.

Her whole life was probably a transformative experience, as she did some of her best work into her 80s. If nothing else, in a society that tends to worship youth, it’s good to see that there’s nothing about growing older that needs to interfere with our appreciation of a sunny winter day.