Air-Tasting

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We hear the best things in life are free–how many of us actually believe it?  But it’s true that the most vital things in life are free, such as blood, oxygen, and grace.  The five senses are free, too: how often do you pause to appreciate them?  Especially at the turn of the seasons, when the air can be as rich as wine . . .

The best time comes at dusk.  That’s when the essence of day rises to the top, to be poured off over the cusp of nightfall.  That’s the time to open a window or grab a chair on the porch: clear your head, close your mouth, and breathe.

Each season has its particular character, tone, and finish.

In spite of its reputation for softness and its penchant for pastel colors, I find the Spring vintages to be least subtle.  Spring has a full-bodied, even rowdy character, given drama and depth by rising sap and the mellow dollops of spring peeper.  The damp, earthy tones of spring can overbalance the concert—an embarrassment of riches that may cloy.  It’s an immature vintage, but at least it’s lively.

Summer is more complex than any other season and, in its way, more insinuating.  It owes much of its appeal to the uprush of coolness after a hot day: the sort of dramatic, built-in contrast that could make even cream soda taste riveting.  But even without the drama,  summer has enough singular virtues to shine: the fresh-cut grass varieties are ravishing; the post-rains deeply satisfying.  The dew-at-nightfall labels can be a tad overdone, except for those who enjoy sweet.  Of course, those sticky, clinging vintages that don’t lighten up at the end of the day should be outlawed.  Fortunately, those are few (at least where I live).  More than any other season, summer air links us to childhood–common to all varieties is the lingering aftertaste of chasing fireflies in the field.  This reminiscence  is the virtue that covers a multitude of sins.

Autumn is smoke and frost and nostalgia: a sudden chill that links youth with age, new beginnings with old melancholy.  It’s far more suggestive than the other seasons, yet after all these years I find it a bit of a tease; a complex blend that may appear to mean more than it actually does.  The dusty finish can be a bit too dry, for those of us who have many more autumns behind them than ahead.

But to my taste, the finest and purest vintages are the Winters.  Remarkably consistent, yet never repetitive, best enjoyed through a window raised a couple of inches in a slightly overheated room.  The draft created by a well-stoked wood stove draws it in like a steely stream.  Like the summer varieties, winter owes some of its appeal to contrast.  After the palate has been stifled in wood and artificial heat all day, winter air sweeps in fresher than fresh, cleaner than clean, an exaggerated, sparkly essence with no hypocrisy whatsoever.  Here at the end of the yearly cycle, the master of the banquet gases through the glass and murmurs in awe, “Truly, you have saved the best until last.”

Love surrounds us, not only in objects but in spaces.  Air: what could be cheaper or more abundant than fresh air?  We’d find out if it were ever cut off; then there would be nothing so dear.  But even poured out lavishly from the storehouse of heaven, how rich it is, how sweet, and how divine.

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