A Brief Meditation on Seasonal Identity


Mendocino, CA

Living in northern California for nearly eight years was similar to what I would imagine it would feel like to be an expat. Being back on the East Coast has made me realize just how culturally, socially, and geographically  different  California, and northern California specifically, is from the rest of the country. Obvious differences aside, there are any number of subtle factors that contribute to “Nor Cal’s” otherworldly feel. Despite the recent hurricane and surprise East Coast earthquake, I never fully realized how much of my time in the Golden State consisted of subconsciously waiting for the earth, the sea, or the forest and grasslands ablaze to swallow me whole. Living in California, in some ways, is what it means to understand the dramatic interplay of some Old Testament fable.  That’s fine, because as much as I love a gentle breeze through a nonthreatening thicket of Birch trees, I’ve always been drawn to a good awe-inspiring landscape that makes me feel small.

Coming back to the East Coast has also meant to return to a temporal reality. Nothing makes you feel like time is static like a lack of distinct seasonal variance. The positive side of living in one long 55-65 degree moment  is that you feel like you’ve beaten aging. You’re the age you were when you moved forever. The down side is that you lose the seasonal ritual of aesthetic identity death and rebirth. This is a major trade-off I found, and since I’m not particularly bothered by aging–in fact I kind of love it–I’m happy to have returned to me a fall, winter, spring, and summer. I’m happy to sit here on Labor Day contemplating whether or not I will throw my mother’s advice about wearing white tomorrow out the window. I’m happy to consider what my fall and winter aesthetic identities will be now that I’m forced to think about how to deal with extremes.

While northern California had a sort of wild, raw, caution-to-the-wind bravado, New England offers a steady, hardy dedication to seasonal tradition. This is something that has always appealed to me, even when I was growing up in the South. It’s a dedication largely without frills and looks a lot like this:

Thomas McBee and I have been talking a lot about the ways in which seasons influence the outwardly-perceived self. Initially, I intended to use this post to talk about fall fashion previews within that context, but finding it nearly impossible to choose anything to feature made me realize how much place influences aesthetic choice–and I am still, on some level, between places. I don’t remember ever having taken note of Labor Day in San Francisco except to be grateful for a day off. Here, it bears weight. I am suddenly aware that I need to think about boots, scarves, sturdy coats, and changing color palates. The years of layering for and against fog and wind and rain that I thought would carry over in usefulness seem insufficient suddenly.  There’s a distant crispness in the air, a shift in light quality, that encourages an exploration of a new self. Will your new self be draped in pelts throughout the fall and winter? Mine might.

About Michael von Braithwaite

Does it look like I'd wear it on a boat, at an eccentric person's estate or accompanied by a peacock on a chain? Yeah, I'll probably buy that.

3 comments

  1. Liz

    Glad you are back!! My life has meaning again😉

    I have never really thought about the seasons in this way…I guess it is becaus I have always lived in Ohio and it was what it was always.

    Yay for the begining of fall! It is the best time of year

  2. Pingback: A Treatise: I Beg of You « Ironing Board Collective

  3. As an East Coaster newly transplanted to SF I am in a perpetual state of confusion. I’m too am coping by layering. My most successful weather-appropriate outfit thus far has been a fall outfit over a summer one with a mix of winter outerwear ie mittens and knit hats. I’ve also realized I need more giant purses for stuffing/extracting my layers when the weather changes. Can we discuss seasonal bag choices next time?

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