By Michele Thomas

The other day I told a co-worker how much I enjoyed Thanksgiving this year. It was absolutely wonderful to be able to walk on the beach with my family under blue skies with the warm sun shining down on us. andquot;I really miss the seasons,andquot; she sighed. andquot;Seasons as in snow?andquot; I asked. andquot;Yeah, I miss the snow this time of year, andquot;she said in her melancholy Michigan voice.

andquot;Yuck!andquot; I thought as I shook my head and walked away. How could anyone be so crabby about a sunny Thanksgiving Day? Born and raised in southern California with a few years in Hawaii under my belt, I have zero tolerance for snow. I won't even buy a Christmas card with snow or a snowman on it.

The first time I saw snow I was a freshman in high school. Our class had won some school competition and the reward was a trip to the mountains near Big Bear. I could have thought of a better prize. The next time I saw snow I was in college visiting a friend in Connecticut. Both times I found snow highly overrated. It's deceivingly lovely at a distance, up on a mountain or cascading down a slope, but up close it's really rather unattractive, I think. It's dirty, sloshy and very difficult to walk in. It's also very cold.

Seasons don't have to be about deciduous trees and tiny crocuses forging through a frozen landscape or heat waves and snowfall. These aren't the only signs of the passing of time.

Seasons reveal themselves in the nature surrounding us. Here we have whale migrations, sunrises awash with Aleutian geese, Coho and Chinook runs, lily blossoms in July instead of at Easter and the sights, sounds and smells of crab on the docks of Crescent City's harbor. These are the seasons of Del Norte.

For me, crab season is the official holiday opener. I have had as many as 16 people at my dinner table for the first crab of the season. The ritual is always the same: the table covered with newsprint, bowls for shells, cups of melted butter and cocktail sauce, lemon slices, a big green salad, loaves of French bread and every crab-cracking implement and seafood pick we can find. Each diner has a plate with a freshly caught and boiled crab and a stack of napkins. Ready, set, go.

Have you noticed that there are basically three kinds of crab eaters? Novices, usually transplants who have never seen a Dungeness crab, are timid and suspicious. They manage to pry a few strands of crabmeat out of the larger legs and wonder why anyone would spend so much time and effort on a meal like this. They fill up on salad and bread. The pilers or stock-pilers (my sons fall into this category) start on their crab and won't eat one single morsel until the entire crab is picked clean. With a mountain of meat piled on their plate, they eat it all at once, usually as everyone else is nearly done with dinner. The third type, of which I am one, likes to crack, pick, clean and eat; crack, pick, clean and eat. There's a rhythm to it. You don't care if you have any salad or bread. You're cracking, picking, sucking, slurping, eating craball in one continuous motion.

Whether your winter preference is snow or crab, both involve anticipation, excitement and the right gear. Tonight it's crab for dinner! 'Tis the season. Crack, pick, clean, eat! I can hardly wait.