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COLUMNIST: Weather the Weather

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Since I moved to Minnesota two years ago, I've heard the following weather mantra from almost everyone any time of the year: "This isn't normal." Based on the comments of the people who engage in weather conversation, winters are not supposed to be as cold or snowy as they've been. Summers are not supposed to be as cold and gray. Springs are not supposed to be as dry. No matter what the season, a local has informed me that the particular expression of climate I was experiencing was an anomaly.

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Perhaps one of the blessings of being a newcomer is ignorance. I had no expectations about Minnesota weather other than that it was likely to be colder than the east coast. Therefore, when winter lasted till May last year, I felt disappointed, but not betrayed. When the short summer turned out to be absolutely lovely, I was simply thrilled. On the other hand, most of the Minnesotans I encountered last year, were absolutely indignant that the weather could do such things as it had. They took the long winter almost personally, and the lovely summer, which they expected, did not do much to assuage their frustrations.

This past January, my husband started making plans for late April/early May camping trips. I was flummoxed by his timing. Winter doesn't end till the middle of May, I informed him. He pooh-poohed me, "Last year's winter was a fluke," and went right on dreaming about camping trips. When April came around cold and crisp, Chris was disappointed. I had had no illusions about April, so I wasn't upset when camping plans came to naught.

My mother came to visit from Virginia this week. Her main goal was to do some gardening and plant flowers all over my large country property. For this purpose, she timed her visit a full two weeks later than her visit last year in May, when the leaves weren't even on the trees yet. The leaves may be on the trees now, but the temperature has not been very conducive to gardening. However, my mother came here to plant flowers, and plant flowers she would, no matter the weather. In defiance of the November-like temperatures, my mother bundled up in sweaters and coats. She put on gloves to plant flowers and kept herself warm by moving dirt around. She returned indoors a few hours after her departure rubbing frozen fingers. "Does it ever get warm here?" she asked.

My mother had only a few days to complete her assigned task, so she was willing to weather the weather, however it appeared. For her, weathering the weather meant doing what she planned no matter what the outdoors might hold for her. For those of us who live here, weathering the weather means something else entirely. It means adjusting our lives to the weather, rather than trying to force the weather to adjust to our lives.

My previous life was lived much like my mother reacted to the weather--I fulfilled my plans no matter the weather. My Minnesota sojourn has attuned me more to the rhythms of nature. If it is nice outside, I go outside, even if that requires me to bring my work with me. If it is not very nice out, then I will delay the activities I may have planned.

This past winter, nine months of recycling piled up as I waited for the weather to change. I wanted it to warm up enough to make collecting it bearable, rather than a painful chore. As the cans, bottles, and cardboard collected, the task of taking the recycling to town became ever larger, and I became ever more resistant to making the effort on a cold day. Thankfully, last weekend was beautiful, warm, and sunny, and my garage is now clean. Though my garage may have remained messy, I didn't have to suffer, and in the end, the garage was emptied.

I heard Garrison Keillor joke that one of the best things about snow in Minnesota is that it gives Minnesotans an excuse to cancel anything they'd prefer not to do. "Oh I can't walk 10 yards next door to meet your brother-in-law, it's too slippery." The wisdom lurking behind Keillor's joke is that we can shift our lives so that they are in line with our environments. Rural communities have more sympathy for that process than urban ones. There is a connection to the land and surroundings that disappear when humans are separated from natural things by miles of concrete. One of the parts of my life that makes me most happy has been learning to work with weather rather than against it. I have become more relaxed with my plans, allowing for the exigencies of unexpected wind, rain, snow, or temperatures beyond comfort. I weather the weather by adjusting to it, and by so doing I don't let the weather weather me.

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