Rankophilia: My Favourite Months

30 Apr

While browsing the Borders in Concord, NH last month, I came across a book entitled “The Twelve Seasons of Vermont,” which had some wonderful photos. But I was mostly intrigued by the general idea of the book — that each month in New England constitutes its own season, that each is entirely unique and that the natural seasonal changes there are just so dynamic. This is something that I’ve written about before, and is one of the things I miss most about home.

The book also appealed to my inherent penchant for categorization, or perhaps “rankophilia,” if you will. I began to ask myself, “Which months are my favourites?” It’s not an easy question to answer, and I usually have difficulty ranking things like this. Sometimes the results just depend on my mood. But I thought it would be a fun topic to write about. And so I present to you my personal ranking of the 12 months of the year (beginning with my least favourite) — feel free to share your own.

12. March

It’s difficult to pick a least favourite month, especially since I think they all have something special to offer. March offers us the beauty of a landscape covered by several feet of snow, which is only really nice if you haven’t been there to witness the winter-long accumulation. It’s been a few years since I’ve spent an entire winter in New Hampshire, but one thing I don’t forget is the collective sense of fatigue in March. People are tired of winter.

Whether you’re tired of shovelling snow, the short days, or having “cabin fever”, March is just generally one of the less pleasant times of year. The snow that provided a pristine white blanket over the roads in early winter has transformed into mounds of “snirt” (snow + dirt). The “official” start of Spring in the end of the month is little more than a slap in the face to New Englanders, since the warming trend really only means more freezing rain.

11. November

Yes, those are turkeys in my backyard. No, we did not cook them for Thanksgiving. This holiday, however, is one of the few redeeming aspects of November. The bright fall foliage becomes dull, leaves are blown off their trees, creating a truly barren, blandly brown landscape. Moreover, November is the overall cloudiest month across most of New Hampshire, with roughly 40% sunshine. Quite a dreary time.

I could be tempted to place November below March, the latter of which offers more in the way of natural beauty, but there is a somewhat pleasant side to November as well. The cold, windy days remind us that winter’s on its way, which (for some of us) brings a sense of excitement. And there’s always the option of bundling up indoors, drinking the last of the apple cider and eating a warm apple pie. Mmm mmm.

10. April

(Thanks to LB for allowing me to steal this photo of his. 🙂 April is the only month I don’t seem to have a photo from.)

April, like November, is one of the least aesthetically pleasing months in New Hampshire, and in fact is often considered its own season by New Englanders – “Mud Season.” The rapid melting of snow leads to lots of muddiness (although not nearly as muddy as England in the winter) and overflowing rivers and brooks. Sure, the first spring flowers start to bloom in April, but that’s a small consolation.

“If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute” — this adage is perhaps truer in April than in any other month. The beginning of the month is typically marked by a few freak snowstorms, followed by a period of rapid thaw — my father’s workplace even has a betting pool for “Ice Out,” the day when the ice on the lakes melts completely. The end of April has seen some freakish temperature swings, including highs in the 80s and low 90s in recent years.

It may seem odd, then, that I would choose April over March and November, but it’s precisely the month’s dynamic weather that makes New England’s seasons so special. And there’s nothing better than the realization that comes at the end of April — that Spring has finally arrived.

9. February

I never thought I would rank the month of my birth so low. February will always have a special place in my heart, but the truth is that, by February, the novelty of winter usually begins to wear off. As the snow begins to really pile up, it becomes difficult to do a lot of outdoor activities unless you’re a skiier (and I happen to be one of the few New Hampshirites who isn’t). The result is the worst part of New England winters: cabin fever.

It’s not the cold that I mind (I can handle it much better than the heat), or the snow (which I adore), but simply the fact that winter requires you to spend so much time indoors. It gets a bit tedious, lonely, and sometimes, depressing. That said, there is an important distinction to be made between February and the previous three months on this list — the February landscape in New England is quite beautiful (albeit in a stark way). Also, February 2nd happens to be the best day of the year.

8. January

In January, the winter is still fresh and exciting. Kids are outside riding sleds, building snowmen, etc. When I was younger, I really loved winter, but I suppose I’ve become more of a wussy in my “old” age (or I’ve just begun to appreciate everything about summer). However, before the cabin fever sets in, January does offer us the chance to spend a lot of time with our friends and family by virtue of the fact that we’re forced to stay indoors with them. It’s a great time of year to have a powwow.

January is also quite cold. As I’ve said, I don’t mind the cold itself very much, but it does present a slight inconvenience when you’re forced to don a dozen different types of garments and have the mobility of an astronaut in a spacesuit. However, nothing compares to the feeling of coming into a warm home, taking off your hat, scarf, gloves, jacket, sweater, snowpants, boots, etc. and having some hot chocolate as you watch the snow keep falling outside.

7. September

Angel enjoys September. The weather’s just right. In fact, I feel guilty putting September as low as #7 because it really is a pleasant time of year – but then again, every month in New England is pleasant (with the exception of perhaps 12-10). The warm summer days give way to cool autumn ones, the cool breeze carrying all the nostalgic emotions that seem to be attached to the season. Unfortunately, September is also associated with the return to school in New England.

Nevertheless, September is a wonderful time of year — a brief respite for New Hampshirites between the official end of summer tourism (Labor Day) and the beginning of leaf-peeping season at the end of the month for us to enjoy the beauty of our state all to ourselves. The morning mist on the lakes, the first patches of red and golden leaves… It’s been a few years since I’ve actually spent a September in New Hampshire, but I suspect that it could be significantly higher on the list after I’ve experienced it again.

6. July

July is one of those months that could easily be surpassed by September. It’s hot, it’s humid. Granted, it’s not as hot as a lot of places in the country, but some mid-summer days are just unpleasant. However, July also has its fair share of beautiful, high-pressure, sunny, blue sky days when the breeze blows down from Canada and the temperatures are perfectly in the 70s. We live for those days. Trust me — they’re ten times more pleasant in New Hampshire than they are in California. The feeling of getting up early on a warm summer morning and hearing the birds chirping away… ahh, I’m such a softie.

Despite the heat, July succeeds in getting a higher ranking than September precisely because of all the stuff you can do to escape the heat. Swimming in the lakes, going to the beach, taking a drive in the mountains and enjoying the cool, pine-scented air… not to mention those warm mid-summer rains. I adore taking walks in the woods in July, taking in all the smells of the forest and enjoying the shade. Unfortunately, I also have to deal with possibly the worst part of July — all the sodding mosquitoes.

5. August

August is primarily higher ranked than July because it is not quite as hot, although the differences are fairly negligible. But while I’m no meterologist, it seems like the cooling weather in late summer produces some of the most spectacular sunsets of the year. And of all the places I’ve been, I’ve never seen sunsets as mind-bogglingly beautiful as those in New Hampshire.

Signaling the inevitable end of summer, August does seem to have a certain melancholy attached to it for me. But the important thing is to enjoy it while it lasts — perhaps with a bonfire in the backyard on one of those cool, cricket-serenaded summer nights. It’s typically the time of year to have friends over for an end-of-summer party, or for a trip to the beach (when the water’s at its warmest, a balmy 63 degrees in the beginning of August at the NH coast). August also paints the New England landscape with goldenrod and purple loosestrife, like this. The month makes you truly appreciate all the wonders of summer before it’s gone.

4. December

I’m not quite sure if I feel justified in putting December above August, July, and September. The weather isn’t nearly as pleasant, and the beginning of the month is often characterized by the late autumn blandness of November. However, there’s something truly magical about the first snowfall — seeing the New England landscape covered in snow for the first time since March or April never fails to move me. December possesses all of the excitement of early winter, and even downtown Bristol looks beautiful at night with all the Christmas lights.

Christmas, of course, probably contributes to a lot of the magic associated with December. The dark evenings spent near the brightly lit Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music… frankly, I couldn’t imagine spending the holiday anywhere else. We’ve got sleighs, snowmen, little old wooden houses… what more could you ask for? Another thing that always surprises me when I go back home for the holidays is how quiet the winter is. December is just a sublimely tranquil and peaceful time of year.

3. June

The beginning of summer is a wonderful time of year. It may not be as magical as Christmastime, but New Englanders do have a tendency to worship warm weather. Granted, June does bring with it the negative sides of summer, notably humidity and mosquitoes, but who cares? It’s summer! The excitement is profound, and even the arrival of heavy June rains and thunderstorms is welcomed. I love being outside in the warm summer rains.

The bright green foliage that bloomed in May darkens to a rich green in June, and I can’t help but feel the urge to embark on some adventures in the woods (i.e. geocaching). June is always characterized by a feeling that summer is just beginning and that perhaps it’ll never end – a feeling that is met with sudden disillusionment come late August. Nevertheless, it’s impossible *not* to enjoy June. All the pungent smells of summer in New Hampshire fill the air, the lupines are blooming…

2. May

The end of Mud Season frequently involves heavy rain and sometimes flooding, but, natural disasters aside, May is definitely one of my favourite times of year. Some people complain about those pesky Mayflies, but they ain’t got nothin’ on mosquitoes. All in all, it’s almost the perfect time of year — the weather’s not hot, not cold, and the landscape undergoes a rapid and marvellous transformation, one that is perhaps more remarkable in New England than in other, less heavily-forested areas. As the forests begin to overflow with bright yellow-green, you can’t help but feel overjoyed.

When I think of May, I frequently think back to the first May I spent in New Hampshire, when I was 11 years old. More specifically, I think of the time spent outside during recess on those beautiful spring days, and that one time when I picked a bunch of dandelions or buttercups and used them to paint my face yellow. I remember our “Field Day” and running around in Kelley Park playing various games (the giant parachute thing was always the best). If I could relive those times for the rest of my life, I think I’d be pretty happy. May is great.

1. October

Number one: are you really surprised? If you’ve ever been to New England in October before, you shouldn’t be. The brilliant fall foliage not only makes October easily the most beautiful time of year in New England, it also makes the area one of the most beautiful places in the world to see. The kaleidoscope of colour is unrivalled elsewhere in the world, except perhaps in parts of Japan. No matter how many autumns I’ve seen in New England, they never fail to amaze me.

To top it off, October gives us pleasantly cool weather, with that incredible autumn breeze and its unforgettable smell. There’s nothing more sublime than a sunny October day when the sky is that perfect, crisp shade of blue… contrasting all the bright reds, oranges, yellows, and greens below. Throw in a Blue Spruce and a Crimson King Maple and you’ve got the whole rainbow. Apple cider and pumpkins only sweeten the deal (no pun intended).

Fall was always my favourite season, even as a kid, and Halloween was (and I suppose still is) my favourite holiday of the year. Dressing up, going trick-or-treating on a dark, cold, spooky, windy night in an old New England town… nothing compares, especially Halloween in California, in which children seem to go trick-or-treating in broad daylight like a week before the day itself. WTF.

To conclude, this ranking is more a general outline of my preferences than an absolute rule. I love every month for what it has to offer, and the important thing is that no month would be special if it weren’t different from all the others. The diversity of sights, smells, sensations, and all the emotions that go along with them are what make the seasons in New England so wonderful.

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2 Responses to “Rankophilia: My Favourite Months”

  1. Joe Theriault 1 May 2008 at 06:54 #

    Stumbled upon your website a while back while Googling for New England/français sites.

    IMHO, that you were born in February can be the only explanation as to why it is #9 and not #12. That is time, and not the changing thaw of March, when I always become sick of winter, and especially the intensely cold and dry variety of that month. None of the snow is fit for snowballs or snowmen and the air will crack your skin after long enough.

    I have begun taking to escaping to a cabin in Maine with family for a February “Thanksgiving” turkey deep-fry just to be able to look forward to something.

    Thanks for sharing the “Twelve Seasons” concept and keep up the good writing.

  2. SquamLoon 6 May 2008 at 02:53 #

    I enjoyed that. And great photos, especially February and the amazing September one.

    Here’s mine, least favorite first.

    12. November: Nothing redeemable save Thanksgiving.
    11. January: I hate New Year’s, and the winter’s already dragging.
    10. February: If its vacation takes me somewhere warmer, it’s higher.
    9. May: Ho hum. Anticipation I suppose. Otherwise not necessarily so merry, and always busy.
    8. March: Birthday (and best friend’s birthday a week before) move it up a few notches.
    7. July: I enjoy summer, but Squam’s complicated these days.
    6. April: I like April for the same reasons you do. Plus it means France every few years.
    5. October: Yup. October’s cool.
    4. December: I love Christmas.
    3. June: Best solitude-at-Squam time. Anticipation of summer. Closure on the year.
    2. September: Good Squamtime. Anticipation of new beginnings. Best-kept-secret weather.
    1. August: I love summer, and by the beginning of August, I’m a whole human being.

    Thanks for the mental exercise. :^)

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