Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dance, dance, the changing of the sheets

As you know, I like to mark the changing of the seasons with all sorts of rituals—some traditional, some of my own invention. I celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule in the winter and Easter/Passover/Ostara in the spring, but I also mark my calendar for made-up events like First Washday, First Picking, and my whole series of Gardeners' Holidays. Just recently, however, I realized that I have another seasonal ritual that I've never actually bothered to commemorate: the changing of the sheets.

One of our favorite affordable luxuries, during the winter months, is a set of cozy fleece sheets, so warm and thick they feel more like blankets. They're a little pricier than flannel sheets, but they're well worth it on a cold winter night. Flannel will do a reasonably good job of holding in your body heat, but when you first slide between the sheets, their smooth surface still feels cold to the touch, and it takes several shivery minutes for it to feel really warm. Fleece sheets, by contrast, have a soft, plush surface that feels warm the minute you nestle into it. So these sheets grace our bed pretty much full-time from late December through early March, with only an occasional break of a few hours for a quick spin through the washer and dryer.

A week ago, with the thermometer at 20 degrees and a foot of fresh snow on the ground, these sheets were most welcome. But now, that snow has mostly melted away, and the daytime highs are creeping past fifty and even edging up toward sixty. In the space of a few days, winter has given way to early spring, and the fleece sheets now feel sweaty rather than cozy. So it's time to toss them in the wash and downgrade to flannel, which will still keep out the chill but won't overheat us. Admittedly, it's a bit ironic for the bed to be sporting sheets with a snowflake design when the snowy season has just ended, but since we can't actually see the pattern when we're asleep, it's not nearly as important as having sheets that are a comfy, mid-grade weight.

Around the start of May, when the chill has faded from the air and not only snow but frost has vanished from the ground, these flannel sheets will, in their turn, give way to our regular, summer-weight percale sheets. We've got several sets of those, so we'll actually be able to change them throughout the summer, which is a lot more convenient than rushing to strip the bed first thing in the morning and get the sheets washed and hung so they'll be dry by bedtime. But once summer fades into fall, the flannel sheets will reappear once again, to grace the bed with their snowflake pattern until the actual snow flies and it's time for the fleece to return.

So there it is: the whole cycle of the seasons, outlined in shifting swaths of fabric. It may not be as poetic an image as the great Wheel of the Year or the transformation of a tree from bare branches to blossoms to green leaves to colored leaves and back to bare again, but it's the same story, told through a more homely medium. Winter to summer to winter, a cycle with no beginning and no end, but with stages along the way for us to mark and murmur, "How time flies."

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