Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Weather Obsessed

We live in a weather-obsessed culture, which has been fueled by our ever-increasing access to weather data—we can check our local radar at any given moment and can find current weather conditions anywhere on the globe. The Weather Channel provides constant local updates and goes into crisis mode during any type of storm. But there's another factor that has contributed to our weather obsession—our mobility. Once we've actually lived in another place, with a different climate, we think about ourselves differently in relation to our local weather.

Long before I lived in northern California, I knew it had a warmer and dryer climate than Long Island, where I grew up, but it wasn't something I cared about. During my childhood, I regarded New York's climate as a given. My mind and body accepted the rhythm of the four seasons. I loved the changing weather. Summer seemed special in part because it had to end. During fall, I enjoyed walks home from school, with the crisp red, orange, and yellow leaves crunching underfoot. Winter meant skating at outdoor ice rinks and on local ponds, the quiet after a snowstorm, and soft mohair sweaters. And I couldn't imagine life without the miracle of spring, a time of rebirth and renewal, of love and longing.

At college, I became enchanted with the climate of western Massachusetts. There, the seasons were more sharply delineated—summer sultry and green, fall magnificent with mountains dressed in brilliant autumn hues, winter majestic and awe-inspiring. Spring fever never seemed so poignant and wonderful as during those college years, when the yearnings of adolescence were fed by the soft greens of budding trees and the scent of lilacs in the air.

When I was 23, I moved to northern California. At first, I found the climate bland and boring. The leaves never really fell off the trees, though the oak leaves turned brownish and a few of them drifted to the ground during December and January. Other plants stayed in bloom year-round, so when "spring" arrived in February, it passed largely unnoticed. There was a dry season and a wet season, which didn't feel natural to me. My body rhythms weren't attuned to them. And the air seemed harsh and dry. When I sat in the California sun, I developed a rash.

After a year, I returned to the East Coast for a year, then came back to California. This time, I felt more comfortable with the climate. I loved the smell of the eucalyptus trees and the sight of the fog bank looming over the Coastal Range. I still missed the four seasons, but I began to find compensations—no snow and ice to contend with while driving, the clarity of the dry air and the beauty of the sky after a rainstorm. In short, I began to feel at home in California. My mind and body adapted.

After about five years, I moved back east, with a two-year stopover in Chicago, where I experienced a return to winter with a vengeance. My stay in the windy city coincided with the most severe winter in Chicago's recorded history, which set records for both snow and cold. From there, I settled in Boston, which seemed balmy by comparison. I still loved the New England summers, the gorgeous falls, the delicate and beautiful spring, and even the cold and snowy winters. But I didn't regard them as inevitable anymore. I knew viscerally that I had options.

Over the years, this awareness, coupled with the length of New England winters, made me receptive to spending winter in a warmer place. Now I live in Florida during the coldest months and have adapted yet again. I love the softness of the air here and the lushness of the foliage. But I still look forward to returning to Massachusetts in time to see the daffodils bloom.

I haven't done a scientific study, but it's my impression that those who haven't ever lived in a climate without winter accept and savor winter more than those of us who have experienced the alternative. So, the more mobile we are as a society, the more people will object to climate conditions they once would have embraced. Add to that the availability of instant information to remind us that when it's inclement where we are, it's beautiful somewhere else, and it's easy to see why so many of us become obsessed with the weather.

1 comment:

  1. When my brother-in-law was transferred to Nasa at White Sands, NM, I visited my sister, and was enchanted with the Land of Enchantment. I was divorced with two small boys, and a friend and I moved to Las Cruces thinking it would be wonderful to live in a drier climate for a change. Imagine my surprise, when after a few months some kind of allergy rendered me nearly helpless with both eyes swollen shut. I had to take antihistamines the whole time I lived there. I think my mold spores must have been starting a revolution inside me. We moved there in December, and by May, we were literally captive inside with the air conditioners a constant roar. I burnt the back of my thighs on the seat while sliding into an overheated car. I hated the tarantulas that came floating down the arroyas after a flood, and rattlesnakes, and scorpions, and frightening storms with hailstones the size of golf balls.... I was never so thrilled in my life to get back to the Pacific Northwest with the tall trees, cool rain, the Olympic Mountains on one side the Pacific Ocean on the other. I do love visits to other locales, other climates, but I like to come back home when the visit ends.