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A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture
A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture
Michael Kammen
The University of North Carolina Press, 2004
400 pp., $47.50

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by Cindy Crosby


For Everything There Is a Season

Nostalgia for nature's seasons in a climate-controlled world.

Are the Bulls or the Hawks playing on cable TV tonight? It's this sort of touchstone that marks the progression of the seasons in the Chicago suburbs, along with discovering that the Halloween end-caps at Wal-Mart have given way to Thanksgiving themes, or deciding a steaming Macchiato at Starbucks sounds better than a frosty Frappuccino. Seasonal change, for many suburbanites, has little to do with nature.

As a transplant here six years ago, I went looking for more meaningful ways to be in touch with the four seasons. "More" has come in walks on a 100-acre reconstructed tallgrass prairie, just down the road from the subdivision where I live. It's planted to represent the original landscape of "The Prairie State," a state that today seems more comfortable with strip malls and highways than anything to do with tallgrass. Yet, just as Chet Raymo found himself following the change of seasons in Massachusetts on his daily one-mile stroll in The Path, so I find the cycle of the seasons unfolding for me as I walk the prairie trails day after day. Spring into summer is marked by the height of the grasses, the type and variety of the wildflower blooms. Fall submerges me in tallgrass, while loose threads of sandhill cranes arrange and rearrange themselves overhead, moving south. In late winter the prairie is torched, accompanied by the drumming of red-bellied woodpeckers. Emerald shoots rapidly fuzz the charred earth, and the cycle begins again. Each season is enough in itself, yet holds the promise of the next.

Precisely because many of us are out of touch with the rhythms of the natural world, we feel nostalgia for what we have lost. In A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture, Michael Kammen chronicles the evolution of our love affair with the seasons. A professor of American history and culture at Cornell University, Kammen is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins ...

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