In the month of June of the year 2000, I moved from the balmy humidity of South Carolina to Cape Town, South Africa — a place so far South of the Mason/Dixon Line that the last thing I considered to be a potential challenge to settling into my new life was the factor of opposite seasons. I was much more concerned about learning to drive on the wrong side of the road.
The week I arrived, Cape Town was experiencing a series of what I would later come to refer to as “a beautiful winter’s day.” That is a day when the sun shines brightly, seducing you to sit outside wrapped in its warmth, living for a few hours in denial that the moment you walk back into the house you will need to put on an extra sweater, a wool cap, and gloves. That’s right. Inside. The. House.
You see, this is the land of no central heating. Houses are built to stay cool in the blistering summer, but they’re not built to be warm in the freezing winter. Why, you ask? (We all ask why.) Typically, someone will mention something about central heating being too expensive to install (and it is) or that electricity costs are just so high (and they are). But still, we are cold. Very cold.
And then, it rains.
For days. Sometimes, for weeks.
Without ceasing. . .
But it is not just a case of heat-jealously that makes winter in summer so challenging for me. Seeing the pictures and Facebook posts of my American friends boasting about beach holidays or general summertime merriment causes me to feel disconnected in some deeper, more subtle way. And this feeling has nothing to do with my resentment at having to worry that the skin of my thighs might one day stick to the icy seat of the toilet the way the skin of my tongue used to stick to frozen, banana-flavored popsicles.
I noticed this feeling my first spring in Cape Town. It was late-September. I walked out one morning to a beautiful sunny day and felt a familiar mix of chill and warmth, and my body responded with the innate knowledge that soon the leaves would be turning brilliant shades of yellow and orange. There would be pumpkins to pick and Thanksgiving next, and. . . No. There would be none of that.
I wasn’t feeling that first sharp bite of cool air that announces the end to summer. I was feeling the first rush of warmth that promises the arrival of spring. Leaves were not turning; flowers were budding. And actually, there would be no Thanksgiving.
And that’s when I realized that it was not the heat that I was missing from those summer months of June, July, and August, but rather the holidays and family events that define the cold weather months. Short days and cold, dark nights seem to give meaning and substance to the experiences of wrapping up, huddling around a fire, and becoming quiet and reflective, setting the perfect scene for special occasions and rituals involving preparation, decorating, and gathering together.
June, July, and August are bereft of those types of holidays, except, of course, the 4th of July. But here in South Africa, no one seems too keen on celebrating American Independence. Naturally.
Instead, I have learned to find solace in embracing the innate energy of winter: hibernation, getting quiet, and moving slowly; contemplation, rummaging through ideas, and making plans; and, inebriation, drinking more red wine than usual (If you are over 21 and not driving).
Allison Tipton Milner, a native of South Carolina, lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with her divine husband, exceptionally witty 9-year-old son, and 3 troublesome dogs. While she still defines herself as a dancer, these days she combines her love of movement and performing by teaching yoga and cracking jokes. . . simultaneously.