The best part about waking up early and taking a deep breath of fresh air is the feeling that anything is possible. It’s that crisp, early morning tingle that runs up my spine every time I drag myself out of bed at dawn. It’s the way the sunshine seeps into every crevice, gaining strength as it rises, almost like a tidal wave crashing down on me. I’ve always had a one-sided relationship with Nature. It has always tried to convince me of its powerful beauty, but I’ve just seen it as Cape Town’s intense northeaster trying to blow me into oncoming traffic. Because of this, I’ve never been a big fan of spending too much time in Nature’s presence. I always irritated when sand is still stuck to my leg two days after a trip to the beach and I’ve never really explored any of the beautiful parks outside my doorstep. But after witnessing the miracle of northern Virginia’s seasons, I’ve been in awe of Nature’s ambiguous role in my life.
After graduating university, I arrived in the United States as a South African Au Pair in the middle of February 2012. I was excited to experience everything the US had to offer during my one and a half year stay. I was repeatedly assured that it had been a dry winter, and that I would have to wait for next winter before I saw any flurries. But Nature surprised me. Early one morning a few weeks after I arrived, I glanced out the window, and saw my first snow fall. I had never seen anything as wonderful and had only ever seen snow in movies. It only lasted a few minutes and the flakes weren’t strong enough to “stick,” but it was enough; I was addicted to the magical feeling of standing under the falling white flecks. I tried catching the melting specks on my tongue, but I was only rewarded with a mouth full of air so cold, it made my eyes tear up and my nose turn bright red.
| After dinner, I would grab my small tub of ice cream and sit on the deck in the dark, listening to the cicadas, until I became food for the mosquitos or ran inside because I spotted a bullfrog sitting too close for comfort. |
It didn’t snow again until the next year, and although I thought this meant life would be boring until then, unbeknownst to me, it was just the beginning of my newfound kinship with Nature and her wonders. As the mornings grew lighter, I enjoyed the dew sparkling in the golden sunshine and the smell of coffee on the wet porch. I saw the forest in the back yard growing fuller and greener each day, until I could no longer see our neighbors’ house. With the warmer weather, we saw the deer return to our backyard each night. We could hear the frogs in the river returning to their normal routine and, finally, the cherry blossoms made their appearance! Rows and rows of sweet, fragrant pink blossoms framed Washington DC’s famous monuments and historic sites.
One morning, as I headed out of the house, a wave of humidity hit me and took my breath away. I was soaked by the time I got to the park and I realised why the houses had central cooling. It was a luxury I had never before needed, but appreciated nonetheless. Although I stayed indoors whenever I could (having always preferred cooler weather), I discovered my favourite time of the year was summer at night. After dinner, I would grab my small tub of ice cream and sit on the deck in the dark, listening to the cicadas, until I became food for the mosquitos or ran inside because I spotted a bullfrog sitting too close for comfort. The smell of citronella candles and crabmeat still brings a smile to my face because it reminds me of evenings spent smoking cigars in Virginia’s summer muggy air and of the waning pink and purple light.
Then, as quickly as the heat had appeared, it gave way to those crisp mornings I so cherish. Autumn, or fall as I learnt to say, turned the greenery of northern Virginia into a fiery display of orange, red, and yellow hues. That fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy tore through the east coast like I devour a slab of chocolate during movie night. She was fierce and unrelenting. We were stuck inside for a few days, but it was nothing compared to the hammering New York City received. When we visited a few weeks later, parts of the subway were still down and we could see the full extent of Nature’s power on a city, even one as resilient and headstrong as the Big Apple.
I grew increasingly excited as winter approached. The signs that colder weather was on its way, filled me with hope that I might get to experience a real snowfall. It started with the realisation that I had to take a scarf or jacket with me when I left the house, because it might get cold later. Then I jumped on any chance to order hot chocolate because it was a “bit nippy” outside. But, mostly, I enjoyed seeing shops fill with festive decorations and fairy lights everywhere, signaling that the holidays were on their way.
| The power comes from reflecting on the tiny space you take up in this world, thanks to a force of Nature much more powerful. |
“Winter in northern Virginia” became my four favourite words. No longer a novice to east coast weather, the beauty of winter mornings in a small town still surprised me. I learnt to go through the motions of living in sub-zero weather: having to get bundled up to walk to the car, needing to take my coat off in the car because of the seat warmers and heater, then putting my coat back on to get out at the shops and taking my coat off once again because of the heating inside. It’s quite a process coming from a country where houses rarely have indoor heating or cooling (let alone the shops). But I was happy to comply when I was rewarded with a blanket of white snow on the deck on Christmas Eve! I used any excuse I could to experience this new phenomenon in my life. I took the dog for a walk three times that day. And that feeling never gets old. Visiting Washington DC a few years later, my sister and I rushed out of our hotel at 5:00am in our pyjamas (and coats) so we could make snow angels. The city’s rush hour traffic just stared at us and hotel staff gave us sideways glances. Yet, had we chosen to sleep in, our only memory of snow would have been the sludge we dragged our wheely bags through to get to the metro.
The power behind Nature’s effects doesn’t lie in the fact that it’s able to bring an entire city to its knees because there’s no electricity. The power comes from reflecting on the tiny space you take up in this world, thanks to a force of Nature much more powerful. A power that’s able to bring cherry blossoms to bloom at just the right time. When you make your first snow angel or witness something as simple as an early morning sunrise, that’s when you really understand the role Nature plays in our lives
Photos by Author
A love of travel, food and music, I can't wait to see what this adventure we call life has in store for me. So many places to visit, so few months in a year! You can find her on instagram here.