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Kurt Vonnegut: “There Are Six Seasons Instead of Four”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

In 1978, Kurt Vonnegut gave the commencement speech at Fredonia State College in upstate New York. The speech was published under the title “How to Make Money and Find Love!” in a collection of the author’s commencement addresses, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? In the speech, Vonnegut suggested to the graduating class that the traditional four seasons don’t make sense for northern areas of the country.

One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize that there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet, and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time. I mean, spring doesn’t feel like spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for autumn, and so on.

Here is the truth about the seasons: Spring is May and June. What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August. Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves? Next comes the season called Locking. November and December aren’t winter. They’re Locking. Next comes winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold!

What comes next? Not spring. ‘Unlocking’ comes next. What else could cruel March and only slightly less cruel April be? March and April are not spring. They’re Unlocking.

Vermonters know these six seasons all too well, although they give the two extra seasons different names. What’s going on right now and will continue into mid-to-late December is “stick season”. All the beautiful fall foliage has fallen off of the trees and we’re left with not-so-beautiful sticks until the snow flies regularly enough to call it winter. Between winter and spring — what Vonnegut calls “Unlocking” — is called “mud season” here. That’s when the dozens of feet of snow that fell during the winter, rapidly thawing ground, and Vermont’s rainy season collude to wreak havoc on unpaved roads and driveways, turning them into mud pits, some of which are impassable for a month or more.

Neither of these seasons is particularly pleasant here. Outdoor activities are curtailed — it’s too cold or warm or wet or muddy for your sport of choice — and restaurants and other local businesses often take a break, leaving residents even less to do. “This may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time”, indeed.