Out of the Blue
Ode to Weather, or Not
Spring belongs to the poets
By Deborah Salomon
In our righteous concern with climate change, I’m afraid we’ve neglected weather.
Not the extremes, which uproot trees and flood neighborhoods. Those are News, with a capital N. I mean the other kind, perfect days the morning meteorologist dismisses with a sentence unless they connect to something else.
Sept. 11, 2001, was such a day in the Northeast, so beautiful that most documentaries mention the brilliant, cloudless sky, low humidity and slight chill.
I remember it as just that — the perfect autumn morning until . . .
Certain physiologies seem finely tuned to the weather. Humidity makes a hot day feel hotter, a cold day colder. It just makes me cranky. But not all humidity is created equal. The minute I walked out the door that day last month when snow was imminent, I felt a certain damp chill that precedes the white stuff. I remember my mother called the chilly dampness “raw.” Very descriptive, more so than anything from the TV meteorologist wearing a tight red dress and lip gloss.
That’s the thing. Weather is better experienced than described. I lived most of my life far north, where November always meant raw and people, especially skiers, welcomed a Thanksgiving blizzard. If you’re dressed for it, nothing compares to sun bouncing off fresh powder under a brilliant blue sky, no wind, temps in single digits or below, which make ceiling beams creak come night.
I hear the sweaty golfers howling protest. They have a point, I guess, if you skip July through October.
Beach day! Having packed the kids and their water toys in the car and driven a couple of hours, you want a clear sky with just enough breeze to stir the heat. Actually, the most impressive beach weather finds high, massive cloud formations racing from horizon to shore. No worry if they are a fluffy white. Gray merging to black — menacing but just as beautiful.
Beauty exists in even the most destructive weather. An ice storm knocking out power for days inspires photographers to snap ice-encased twigs sparkling in the sun. Hurricanes inspire pilots to fly into their eyes, which remain calm. Similar bravehearts chase twisters, documenting their power.
My grandfather, a bricklayer with a penchant for mathematics, taught me about cloud formations, which determined whether he should water his enormous garden plot. He didn’t know Latin names, only what the clouds foretold. Then, when the thunder commenced, he said nothing, just nodded and smiled, since one man’s rained-out ball game is a farmer’s windfall.
“Windfall” itself is a term coined in the 15th century; landowners gave fruit that blew off the trees during a storm to the serfs.
Weather inspires music. Remember Gene Kelley dancing in Singin’ in the Rain? Etta James and Lena Horn crooning “Stormy Weather”? “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and Sundance? Then, “They Called the Wind Maria,” “Blue Skies,” “Candle in the Wind”? The Beatles’ prediction “Good Day Sunshine” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” from Stevie Wonder, who never saw a single beam.
Technology has heightened our awareness: Get minute-to-minute details on the 24-7 Weather Channel or the weather apps.
Without weather, art would be flat, dull. Van Gogh illuminated his subjects with the almost-tangible sunlight of Provence, but Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel, placed God giving life to Adam over a high, thin cloud cover, while Leonardo da Vinci posed Mona Lisa against what looks like smog.
Spring weather belongs to the poets — soft rain, warm sunshine, aromatic breezes suggest romance, rejuvenation, rebirth of the insects, unfortunately. On the flip side, the Bible relates heaven dumping 40 days and 40 nights of rain, forcing Noah into ship-building. How about the wind that blew Dorothy clear out of Kansas? Who knew the deadly fog that smothered London in 1952 would be immortalized on a raincoat label?
And now April, the cusp of spring. Wordsworth had his turn, as did Shakespeare. Hear it best, from an anthropomorphizing Ogden Nash in “Always Marry an April Girl”:
Praise the spells, bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true —
I love April, I love you.
Just don’t forget the umbrella. PS
Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at email@example.com.