Forecast

By CS Austin (Guest Blogger)

The young man from Syria in the camel colored coat noted drily, “Americans always talk about the weather.” We were on the train, seated in fours in the dining car. He had found Portland unappealing, with its flourishing homeless population and only gas station jobs on offer for an electrical engineer, so he was going to try his luck in Sacramento where he had some distant family. When he wanted to know about Minneapolis, I remembered midwest grandparent visits of stifling summers and winter snow blankets.

I live in the maritime west and feel unqualified to judge the general weather-centricness of the entire country, but I’m certain I attend to current conditions so intently because of ten years’ outdoor work. If I am going camping, I plan my wool and polypro layers based on nighttime lows. When precipitation or condensation adorn the ferns and berry bushes, I don rain pants even for an uphill hike. If I leave from the comfort of the house in the morning, temperature and moisture still dictate whether I want chocolate or oranges for snack and the relative importance of frozen water bottles or a thermos. Thus the National Weather Service features prominently at home, as do monitoring data for stream flow and snowpack. And of course it’s a feature of conversation.

But the young man observed this tendency in others too. Who else cares besides Weather Channel junkies? Well, the grocery store clerks and bank attendants I encounter in town, living as we do thirty miles from other civilization, stubbornly cutting firewood and shoveling gravel driveways in winter. At least I think I detect real feeling as I bag my crackers and broccoli in the checkout line and we commiserate over short, dark days, or welcome back the sunshine in spring.

This year, though, there’s been precious little to complain about; the winter has been disconcertingly clear and cold, the hills dark evergreen instead of snow kissed. Everyone seems cheery about it even knowing we’ll rue a summer drought without enough melt water from on high. But it’s not northwest weather making the news right now. Georgia school kids are stranded overnight in snow as the media generates ever more creative names for this winter’s ferocity. Parts of England post record rainfall with the military called out to respond to widespread flooding. California finally recognizes its longstanding drought and declares a state of emergency: farmers and fish advocates start to draw lines in the sand.

All this is the backdrop as the curtain rises on today’s miniseries drama episode: “Woman Walks to Gym.” The lead enters on stage left as rain patters the roof from a pre-dawn sky. I imagine relief is palpable on my face, although I may not, in fact, be that good an actor. I cinch my hood closer and tip my chin down to protect my glasses from cold spatter, grateful, nonetheless, for this deluge. Water streams down the shoulders of the pavement and sluices into the storm drain at the corner – which I happen to know empties at the foot of an ivy-covered slope, which empties into a clay-banked channel of the Sauk, which rejoins the main stem at a sharp corner just above the lumber mill.

This is my place; this is my weather. I’ll go ahead and talk about it, passé as it may seem to others. It’s an unstable world these days, but as I lift my gaze to the droplets pearling at the brim of my hat, this morning of low, dark sky feels refreshingly like normal.

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