Spring, Summer, Spring
In elementary school, we learned that the seasons are caused by earth’s tilted axis and its revolutions around the sun. Differing amounts of heat and light strike the northern and southern hemispheres, resulting in distinct seasons dependent, in part, on earth’s position relative to the sun.
I have never lived somewhere void of the four seasons. I don’t know if I ever could.
Growing up in northern Virginia, I feared summers. I spent my free time indoors at the ice rink, occasionally popping outside to swim in our neighbor’s pool, roller skate down our driveway or lose to my grandparents at badminton. I would walk down the forest path snaking behind our backyard with family, after the sun had set just enough for the temperature to cool.
This past summer, our apartment in Boston came without air conditioning. My roommates and I chose not to install window units, trusting in the power of fans. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the windows in my room faced east. Mornings and early afternoons were always the hottest, despite my attempts to block the heat’s entrance into my room with a bath towel hung in front of the blinds.
I brought a fan with me when I moved in — the same one I’ve been using since freshmen fall at Dartmouth. It’s a sturdy fan, small and lightweight, easy to store and surprisingly effective at circulating air.
I soon realized that, if my fan were to win the battle against the summer heat, it would need a companion. I proceeded to buy the cheapest fan I could find on Amazon.
When it finally arrived, I spent half an hour rearranging my two fans to maximize comfort when sleeping. The first sat on my desk directly aimed at my face; the second rested on the ground, angled upward to abate the heat spooled beneath my chin. And for all of June, this was enough.
But then July came.
There were two or three consecutive days of intense heat, when I forced myself to exercise in the mornings because the 20-minute walk to the office would result in another 30 minutes of wiping the perspiration off my body. I woke up repeatedly in the night, sticky with sweat.
September finally arrived, and I was relieved. It brought with it an equal shining of the sun on the northern and southern hemispheres.
In October, I accepted an offer of employment and held a human brain in my hands.
In “Systems Neuroscience,” I learned to localize brain regions that had for too long been thought to be in the middle temporal lobe, parietal lobe or prefrontal cortex. For a few weeks, I cut my own sheep brain, first midsagittally, then horizontally and, finally, coronally. I identified the 12 cranial nerves, felt a bump denoting the head of the caudate, saw an intact septum pellucidum and learned to localize the hippocampus upon recognition of the posterior horn of the lateral ventricle.
At our last brain anatomy laboratory session, we dissected human brains. The dura mater, the outermost membrane, was still intact.
I realized, after peeling off the dura, that in my hands, at the mercy of knives, were someone’s thoughts and creativities and hopes and dreams and, arguably, their consciousness and soul.
I didn’t know who that someone was or what had caused his or her death. I stood too terrified to ask, ashamed that my excitement for the job had overshadowed my respect for humanity.
“Be thankful,” our professor told us.
A few hours after the first midsagittal cut, we threw away our purple gloves and handed in our aprons. Slices of brain remained on our tables. Already, we had learned to adopt a medical gaze.
It’s April now. The sun is shining a bit more on the northern hemisphere than on the south.
Monday felt like the first official day of spring in Hanover. Students and families were sprawled on the Green, Collis was empty for the first time in months and I pulled out my sundress.
Today, I stand hoping that the graduation heat will feel less like summer and more like spring.