Weather

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By: 
Matt Geiger

My dad recently stopped watching the weather. When a retired farmer and avid gardener decides he’s done with these daily prognostications, it’s noteworthy.

He didn’t do it for the reason I initially guessed (that they are almost always wrong). Instead, he did it because of their relentless negativity.

Anytime there will be any rain, they inject their “report” with a splash of mopey personal opinion: “It’s going to be another dreary day out there,” they warn.

My dad, who is not one to go around picking fights on social media, even went so far as to contact a Madison meteorologist and explain to him that for farmers, gardeners, and anyone who cares about plant and animal life, rain is a gift. Throughout nearly all of human history, rain is something people literally prayed for. Not that long ago, they sacrificed people and animals to the gods whose fickle moods might bring them life-giving water from above.

To those who understand the world, rain is a blessing, not a curse.

The meteorologist responded to my dad, claiming that the terms he used were accurate. Perhaps he has never tried to grow a tomato and bases his understanding of the weather on whether or not it provides good lighting for Instagram selfies. Sigh.

My dad told me this while puttering around in his garden, checking on various constructions, contraptions and avenues that he and my daughter created there together when the winter faded into memory. Even as humans remain largely cooped up, life around us is returning, as green shoots surge and twist upward, fueled by water and their thirst for the sun.

I’d never really noticed the weather report trend before. I’m only 40, so I’m too young (and sane) to have ever really watched the television news–but when I tried to recollect the various times I had seen weather reports, I was struck by the issue my dad noticed. If it’s going to be cold in the winter, they say it will be “miserable.” They never say, “You are going to get to build a snow fort with your daughter today!” Instead, they tell you the commute to work will be horrendous.

If it’s going to rain, as already illustrated, they lament it like Edgar Alan Poe writing about a girlfriend who has fallen off a ship while suffering the effects of typhoid, or something.

Even if it’s going to be nice and sunny, they fret and warn about the heat. Instead of saying, “You only get to live once, and for a brief moment on this earth, and today you will feel the sun shining down on your shoulders,” they will warn you that it’s going to be “a scorcher” and suggest you stay inside and crank up the air conditioning.

I haven’t had much face-to-face interaction with meteorologists in my life. The only conversation I can remember was a short one. I was standing next to one, and he leaned over to me and introduced himself. I said who I was, and he replied, “Ah! A fellow journalist!”

I’m pretty sure I’m just barely a journalist, if I even am one at all. I’m also not entirely confident that he was one in any real sense of the word. Journalists are people who tell you what has happened, free from their own opinions and value judgements. Meteorologists are people who tell you what might happen in the future, and they make sure to add a dollop of their own opinions to the mix.

As we continue to be primarily at home these days, I often toss an obligatory “How’s it going?” to people who walk by. It’s purely rhetorical, and it translates roughly to, “I am alive, you are alive, we mean each other no harm, we’ve come to close physically for me to completely ignore you, but I don’t have anything interesting to say and strongly suspect you don’t either.” 

Yet increasingly, people will stop, throw up their hands, and say, “Uuugh. As well as can be expected, am I right?”

What, exactly do people expect from life? What do they require to be fine? Unfathomable riches and infinitely pristine health?

As if the state of the world–a world where you can do pretty much anything you want with your time, and life expectancy and access to food have both skyrocketed so rapidly that they are unprecedented and too many people eating too much food and therefore living way too long and causing overpopulation is literally a problem–prevents any joy.

These people are on leisurely walks when they do this. Like, are things really that rough? Is a little rain really that bad? 

What I hear from them, is that they cannot be happy unless everything is just the way they want it to be. And with eight billion people walking around, I don’t think it’s possible for every day to dawn as a personally designed utopia for each individual person.

If you cannot be happy unless the sun is shining, you are guaranteed to be miserable for more than half of your life, at the very least.

I once went to Ireland. It rained all the time there. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Everything was blasted with verdancy, and the drippy weather had spurred people to create ancient, cozy pubs across the countryside, each with an iron stove or stone hearth by which to sip a black beer and listen to a tale or a song. They were often stories of tragedy that brimmed with mirth. It’s like when we are watching a movie and something scary or sad happens, and my daughter turns to bury her face in my side.

“It’s okay, Hadley,” I say. “All good stories are scary or sad in the middle. Even the happy ones. That’s what makes them good stories.”

You see, there is always weather. And if we are lucky, there will always be rain. Just like there will always be war and death and loss, and births and birthdays and weddings and graduations and reunions (even if they are virtual ones). It is just part of the universal minutiae of being human.

We can never make it stop raining. We cannot halt a snowstorm that might prevent us from getting to work. We cannot stop the sun or the moon from shining. But we can decide what we do in the rain, in the snow, in the sun, and under the gentle glow of the moon.

I’ve quoted Anton Chekhov before in this column. He advised writers: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I know what a meteorologist will say if the moon is expected to shine tonight: “Make sure you wear your moonglasses, and your moonscreen, or just stay inside entirely. If you do have to go out, please be advised there is a moon warning in effect and try not to step on any broken glass.” 

I know very little of the cosmos. But I do know where the light of the moon comes from. The moon is not its original source. It’s merely the light of the sun, bounding off the surface of that dark nocturnal orb and falling gently on our shoulders, and on the beautiful broken glass through which we weave, as we make our way through the one life we are lucky enough to have, rich or poor, sick or healthy, happy or sad.

Perhaps that is why some of us like Chekhov, and Poe, and all of the storytellers who know that the light of the moon is really the light of the sun, and without it, we would not get to be here at all, no matter how short our time is.

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