Growing up, we used to have a big linden tree right by our gate. It sometimes interfered with the perpendicularity of the fence, or with the flatness of the sidewalk around it, but I loved that tree.
I was reminded of it this week every time I was cycling in and out of our neighbourhood. The stretch of bike lane leading into and out of our wijk, as we call it here, has smallish linden trees on either side. And with the trademark wind of The Netherlands, the smell of the flowers is everywhere. A few days ago I biked just after a rain shower and it felt like going through linden tea. And just like clockwork, I realised it was mid June.
For me it’s not madeleines, it’s definitely linden tea. The smell of linden is forever linked to the baccalaureate exam. Every year, the blooming of the linden flowers coincided with this exam, and the beginning of summer holidays. I looked forward to it every time, except for the year when I was supposed to take the baccalaureate myself. That year, the smell of linden brought panic.
Ever since I’ve left my home country I have been complaining about the weather. Too much rain, too much wind, not enough sun, too little warmth, ridiculously low quantities of snow. Everything was wrong! I remember the four seasons of my childhood, proper winter with enough snow to make igloos in our garden; springs with an abundance of flowers and lush green; sunny summers with all its aromatic fruit, and the St Ilie storm; colourful autumns with mild afternoons and the smell of apples, pears and quinces. There was a natural milestone for everything, moments that marked the passing of time, the beginning of seasons, the arrival of harvests, and each and every such moment was correlated with a milestone in the human life too: school, holidays, canning & jamming, preparations for different celebrations, the celebrations themselves, and so many more. Everything made sense, and I was always aware of where I was in time. It is not just that I have moved up north within Europe, and westwards, making the weather different than the one I grew up with. It is not just that people here have different milestones that I have yet to get accustomed to. But the weather where I grew up is no longer the same either. And I fear it never will be again.
I am truly lost in time. In my head not only am I still in my early twenties, but it is also continuously the blurred time between winter and spring. That’s the time when you’re not sure whether you should take your winter coat and boots, or summer jacket and a cap. You choose the wrong one many times. Or it turns out you actually need both in the same day, so you’re ill prepared whatever you have chosen. That’s a confusing time to be stuck in.
I am not sure who else is stuck there with me, or how many people realise that they are. But you may find one the following somewhat familiar: holidays like Christmas and the rest creep up on you almost with no notice whatsoever, despite (or maybe because of?) the months and months of commercial bombardments; you missed your chance to spend the day outside in the sun and now it’s cold and miserable again; you have no idea what fruit and vegetables are in season; you look outside and can’t tell whether it is summer or winter; you look at the calendar and wonder how you got there.
Us nostalgic people talking about what it was like when we were small are both delusional and right at the same time. The past is always distorted by the way we remember it, for better or worse. It is also a lot more idyllic when it refers to our childhood. But the disappearance of spring and autumn is a sad reality. The fact that we have stopped eating with the seasons (and working our buts off to preserve for the unfruitful seasons) is true. We pay a very high price for our current food expectations: overabundant, taste-enhanced, close to no preparation time, freshly-ripened no matter what month it is. This is not just about nostalgia anymore, it’s a scary perspective for the future. If so much has changed since I was a kid, how much more will change before I reach middle age?
Probably much, much more. To say that I am worried is an understatement. I won’t go into all the apocalypse scenarios I have been reading about (seriously though, read “The Uninhabitable Earth”, it brings nightmares to life, and puts a well-deserved black mirror in front of us), I don’t think I am ready to truly face them yet. But I have realised that my linden-moments may very well become rarer in the future. Will linden trees still bloom every mid June in 30 years? You have no idea how much I hope they will…