Always take the weather with you.

There’s a saying that often gets bandied about, one of those purportedly regional remarks that is claimed by a host of different places: “If you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes.” There are variations, of course, but that’s about how I’ve always heard it, and though I’ve heard it in other locales, to me it was generally cited as a commentary on New England weather. You’d hear it on tours in Boston, being said on the T by a local to a visiting friend — that sort of thing — and though you’d invariably want to roll your eyes at this, the next week you might find yourself, dashing across a puddled street, collar turned up against a sudden rainstorm, commenting drily to your companion: “Well, you know what they say about the weather…”
It’s a cute expression, one that makes you laugh at nature’s fickleness and caprice — presumably that’s why it’s such a popular platitude for the tourist crowd. But while I certainly experienced my share of crappy and somewhat changeable weather while living in Boston (nowhere else but those Northeast coastal cities have I seen slush falling from the sky — I never knew it was possible for slush to form before hitting that filthy margin between sidewalk and street), after a few years in the Midwest I just have to go on the record saying that the weather is an entirely different ballgame out here.
When I woke up yesterday morning, it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit — 40 American degrees! By the time I went to bed, the temperature had dropped to about zero, the wind speed had increased to 40 miles per hour, and the precipitation that had been falling lightly in the morning — a mist, I would have called it, nothing you would even have needed an umbrella or even a rain jacket for — had moved through the entire conceivable spectrum: fog, mist, rain, hail, freezing rain, sleet, snow, and then the phenomenon we are experiencing right now under sunny skies, blowing snow. A wintry mix indeed! I’m usually a very conscientious shoveler, but in weather like yesterday’s shoveling your walk is something akin to spraying your steps with water and letting them freeze, for that is basically what the skies did for us yesterday, except they very nicely left a layer of fine, squnchy snow on top for traction. Don’t even get me started on how long it takes to clear that quarter-inch of ice off one’s car — suffice it to say it makes you think of taking something to your windshield that actually might crack the glass. I’m budgeting a half hour at least.
Today the high is supposed to be 5 (that’s still Fahrenheit), with wind chill values dipping down to minus 31. I’ve heard people who’ve moved here from places without cold winters narrate the error of their ways when it comes to conceptions of temperature: “I figured that once it got below zero, it was all the same: damn cold.” But it’s not. Negative 10 and negative 40 are entirely different beasts, and I’d venture to say that 5 with a wind chill down to negative 31 is it’s own miserable creature. I think I might blow dry my hair today.
In the Midwest, the weather isn’t fickle or capricious so much as it is fast: air masses swoop in from Canada as if pushed by fighter planes, weather patterns seem to gather momentum and ferocity as they move, unleashing all their fury upon you if they happen to settle above. There are real thunderstorms, actual snowstorms, and honest-to-God tornadoes; the lakes in Madison freeze with a suddenness that never ceases to amaze, and they apparently melt again in the spring on that one unseasonably warm day in which the city is enveloped in a cloud of fog from ice literally sublimating into the balmy April air. (When the fog clears, there are blue waves.) I like it because of the cold: because the snow stays white for weeks in the winter, because it squeaks underfoot, because the days are sunny and the air is so clean and clear it is almost like a vacuum; because I own a down parka, warm socks, good boots, and many different weights of long underwear. I like it because, in the summertime, you can sit on your porch and watch the storms roll through; because, if you are out in the country, you can see them move across the open land; because, after they pass, the days are fine and cool.
Tonight I will be doing some of of the things that make me love Madison the most: having dinner at an old supper club up by the Oscar Meyer plant; skating outside on the lagoon at Tenney Park, a few blocks from my house, in the cold, open air, without railings, without Zambonis, with friends; walking home in the winter night to a warm bed. These are the moments when I cannot comprehend the complaints of people who shun the cold, who like winter but only as long as it lasts a month at most, who would trade heat and humidity for the sparkling clarity of a winter morning, who would rather waterski than go tobogganing. When I was a kid, I never understood why so many adults just didn’t like the winter, the snow — for me it was magical, awesome, inspiring joy and reverence. I feared that, when I grew up, I might become like them, lose that wonder, that joy.
But, honestly, I don’t know why I ever worried.

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2 thoughts on “Always take the weather with you.

  1. My mom was just telling me how it was 40 then minus 22. I do remember those weeks when the weather changed by like 100 degrees over the course of 2 days. And yeah, people who complain about Boston weather are whimps. It’s never as cold or as bad as Chicago.

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