When in doubt, you can always talk about the weather in polite Minnesota conversation. Days like today, when we are expected to have yet another big winter storm and the potential for Olympic Ice Dancing on the roads, it’s a topic you can count on. It’s not controversial but it provides a nearly endless supply of entertainment much like driving a flaming bus through a wall of televisions, at least in the sense that it’s likely to be lethal.
Many of us learn to be fascinated by the weather in ways that seek awkward and geeky to people in other parts of the nation. That’s a shame because a hard study of weather is a form of meditation that can clear your mind like no other form. Plus, it’s on teevee. Here in the middle of a vast continent we are at the mercy of whatever blows our way. It’s something that everyone can talk about – even if no one does anything about it.
(The Sage) knows he makes no fine display,
and wears rough clothes, not finery.
It is not in his expectancy of men
that they should understand his ways,
for he carries his jade within his heart.
– Tao Te Ching 70 (Rosenthal)
The short, hunched figure appeared in front of me loaded with purpose. The weather bent us both down, compelled our gaze towards cautious feet and the treacherous lack of grip underneath them. It was only a casual glance that saw the short red coat and hood approaching as I wondered who else might be out making their own time down the sidewalk. A child? A friend? Anyone I knew?
When we approached a few plodding paces apart a quick glance up saw her as an old woman. I could not make out many details about her presence rendered trivial as we both concentrated on our chilling task, the path from here to there. I smiled a quick “Hello!” and she said as much back as we passed, still a stranger though also a comrade in purpose. We were both anonymous in our shields against the cold that might catch up if we had stopped for any more than a word. The weather itself had rendered us equal, distant, and humble.
It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up. The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and mild December that developed late in the month. Here in Minnesota the sky has been grey and the snow has gone, heralding a brown Christmas with muddy dog prints on the floor with every outing.
But today is the first full day of Winter all the same, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it. The dark tells us so.
This is the end of the year traditionally. The new year should begin at Solstice, as is the ancient European tradition, just as the day begins at midnight. The only reason it doesn’t is that the Romans used a calendar, the Julian, that was off a bit by the time Pope Gregory XIII got around to revising it and everything moved ten days. No matter. The world since the Renaissance has increasingly been what we decree, not what we see.
Winter is supposed to be cold up here in the frozen North. November? Not so much. But the patterns that have brought unbelievably cold air directly from the Arctic and lifted Lake Erie into a frozen cloud that buried Buffalo are abating. Next week should be warmer, and the weeks after that perhaps better as well.
The reason? The Jet Stream, which has been hardly functioning for many years, appears to be re-forming. There is always a lot of speculation as to why, without a lot of solid assurances, but the trend is our friend. Let’s hope that what we see coming next week becomes the pattern.
It was a glorious Independence Day in Minnesota. A high of 84F and a decent breeze to take the edge off the sun made the perfect backdrop to pick up the aroma of grilling meat. It’s all any of us could ever hope for. But it was in blinding contrast to the soggy wet June that made a mud puddle out of huge swatches of southern Minnesota and brought nasty storms that at one point had over a million people without power. What is up with this weather?
The same strange patterns that brought us a drought last year have been equally unkind in the opposite way this year, meaning we are in a kind of long-term trend towards more extreme weather in every and all direction. Exactly why is unclear, but we can expect this to continue. At least when everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything we can call it a reasonable response, yes?