“It’s spring fever…And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! It seems to you that mainly what you want is to get away, get away from the same old tedious things you’re so used to seeing and so tired of, and see something new.”
– Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
There’s no better moment to write on the changing of seasons than this: sitting on the picnic table in my front yard, an absolutely brilliant – and warm! – sun shining, iPod in, journal out, a royal blue kite flying across the street, green shoots finding their way out of the hard winter soil, buds and blooms bursting to life. I’m not typically one of those people who take heaps of photographs of flowers, but even I couldn’t resist getting my camera out a few minutes ago to capture the sudden explosion of color around the house. I don’t even know the names of most of my floral friends – except for the massively gorgeous Camilla bush right outside my bedroom. There’s nothing more invigorating than waking up in the morning (okay, okay…afternoon) than to the beautiful rose-like pink Camilla blooms brushing against my window. Pink, purple, fuchsia, white, and – best of all – green; all shades and signs that maybe, just maybe, the worst is over, that the mild breezes blowing are only a taste of the long-awaited summer soon on its way.
The first sign of spring came last month when we started selling little bunches of daffodils in Premier Taste. To me, daffodils are spring – I couldn’t think of a better image to represent the season. As local customers would come down my checkout lane, a bunch of daffodils resting on the top of their full-to-the-brim carts, I’d hold the flowers and ask ever so hopefully, “So is this it? Is winter really over?” Of course there were weeks more of wintry wonderfulness to come, but something about those golden blooms is enough for me to make it through. They also happen to be the face of the Cancer Society of New Zealand, whose logo features a daffodil. The last Friday in August is known as Daffodil Day, when they hold their main fundraising drive for the year. Much like the tradition of selling poppies for ANZAC Day, volunteers stand outside stores and street corners with boxes of fake daffodils to pin to your lapel. [Being a major fan of the paper poppies, I of course promptly purchased a daffodil to sport next to my ever-attractive Premier Taste name badge.]
Daffodil Day then gave way to the First Day of Spring, which here happens to fall on the first of September. I’d expected the twenty-first, given that back home it’s the autumnal equinox and all that, but clearly the Kiwis can’t be bothered with the randomness of lunar occurrences. The first day of each season falls tidily on the first of each corresponding month – September for spring, December for summer, March for autumn, and June for summer. I went on an online investigation to suss out some sort of reasoning behind the differences in dates and was surprised to find that apparently, associating the start of seasons with each appropriate equinox is quite an American thing to do. Who knew? Wikipedia has this to say about it:
“Some cultures, such as those who devised the Celtic and East Asian calendars, call the Spring Equinox mid-spring, but others (especially in the USA and England), regard it as the ‘first day of spring.’ For most temperate regions, signs of spring appear long before the middle of March, but the folklore of March 21 being ‘first day of spring’ persists, and June 21 as the ‘first day of summer’ is common in the USA.”
And to turn to an even more authoritative source, a string of responses on a Yahoo!Answers query includes the following quote:
“The seasons are the same in Australia and New Zealand…No seasons start on the 21st, 22nd, or 23rd. That’s just in America.”
Can’t you just hear their tone of voice as user aussiechik723 typed that out?
Regardless of whatever date a season may or may not begin on, the fact that September means spring in New Zealand is just weird. For me, September has always been Labor Day, the start of a new school year, new lunch boxes and No. 2 pencils, and last-minute trips to the beach before October brings changing leaves and cooler evenings. Those are just sort of the instantaneous connotations that are conjured in my mind when I think “September,” much the same as June means summer break, sun tans, and my birthday, or November and pumpkin pie, Thanksgiving, and cold nights spent at football games or bonfires. As much as a holiday or annual event can represent a month, months in my mind are also inextricably linked to the weather typical of that time of year. So it’s been an adjustment to life on this side of the equator, where all the associations I’ve carried with me no longer apply to each month. When someone says they’re getting married or expecting a baby in January, I have to remind myself that that month is no longer thirty-one long days of grey coldness and post-Christmas boredom, but the glorious height of summer itself.
But my associations with the various months and seasons aren’t the only things that have undergone a little reevaluation since arriving in New Zealand. Just like in London, it’s such a struggle to no longer be able to measure temperature in Fahrenheit – when I hear thirty degrees, my first thought is freezing, but have to remember to switch to Celsius where thirty is actually rather hot. The same goes for distance and speed limits. One hundred kilometers an hour will probably always seem insanely fast to my miles-per-hour mind, until I remember 100km/h is just your average highway driving speed. And I will almost surely have to continue to convert any amount of money back into US dollars to decide whether or not it’s a fair price. I’ve managed to develop my own scale of NZ dollars for some things like rent and food, but for other things, especially flights, I still switch currencies. It’s like you can’t ever just hear something and go, “That’s hot (or cold),” or “That’s fast (or slow).” There are no instant decisions or automatic judgment calls. Even without a language barrier, there’s still that one extra step I have to take in order to understand certain measurements on my own terms.
But either way – whether the 1st or 21st of September – the start of spring in Queenstown is having a visible effect – and I don’t just mean the fact that supermarkets are selling fresh bunches of daffodils. With the new season comes the end of another, the end of winter and the snow season up on the slopes. Even though the slopes don’t officially close until the beginning of October, already the town is quieter, emptying out as the mountain starts melting. I’ve noticed a drastic drop at Premier Taste, where lines no longer stretch back to the frozen section, and at Wattie’s, where I’m making at least a hundred drinks less each night and some nights have apparently been even slower than in summer. Even my flat has shrunk in half – in the span of a couple weeks, five out of the ten of us have left – either for home or to continue traveling. And in one way, I’m starting to get anxious to be on the move again. I’m not used to being the one left behind and all this shifting about is making me restless, ready for the next leg of the journey.
Maybe that’s why they call it spring fever after all…