Monday, December 3, 2007

Weather is Back

One of the things I dreaded returning to was New England weather. Strangely enough, one of the things I missed most while in California was... wait for it... yes. New England weather.

Today the Greater Hartford area was subject to a bit of an ice storm. When I say "a bit", ice buildup was less than an inch. Nonetheless, 2 poor souls lost their lives on I-84 overnight when their car couldn't manage a curve.

I think weather turns out to be a very personal thing - we all experience the same atmospheric conditions, yet no two people will ever describe a thunderstorm the same way. I work with people who can't wait for the first snowfall, who literally vibrate when a storm is forecast. Of course, in the very next cubicle is the sad case who does nothing but whine, moan and sniffle from now until June.

One of my pet theories about why I was never able to "transplant" to California has to do with the weather. More specifically, the lack thereof. Growing up in New England, you learn early on that the seasons dictate the schedule of your life. Summer means swimming at the lake, fireflies in the backyard and picking blueberries from your own bush. Fall means school, sweaters, raincoats, rubber boots and the smell of leaves as you wait for the bus. Then, Winter comes along to remind us all that everything ends, everything one day must die. The crystal clear air so cold that the feeling of it on your face and in your nose almost makes "cold" seem like an unrelated concept. And after slogging through all of that, Spring arrives much later than it should, at the very last moment; the seasonal equivalent of that stupid cousin who shows up at the house after dinner's already started.

Californians, of course, have weather. But, except for the occasional mudslide, it's not life-threatening weather. Sure, there are earthquakes and fires, but these are hit-and-miss. In New England, there is a stretch of months where, if you do not prepare adequately before you leave your house every day, you most certainly may die. Sure, the house is heated, the car is heated, where you work is probably heated. But the point is, you can't just decide to spend 4 or 5 hours outside in your shirtsleeves whenever you want to. You have to realize that your wishes do not necessarily have any impact on the larger world around you - a realization that I found strangely lacking in California. We grew so accustomed to being able to do what we wanted, when we wanted, that the idea of having to follow rules that were not of human origin was a completely alien concept.

For the most part, those people with whom I became friends during my time in California were not originally from California; they were from "Back East". Not that everyone from Back East became my friend - some of us are assholes no matter where we end up moving. But there was something indefinably... "real" about people who have lived in and been affected by the seasons. I can't explain it other than to say that, within 2 minutes of meeting someone, without ever asking where they grew up, I always knew which were the folks from weather and which weren't.

I guess my point is that, for me anyway, the seasons are more than just an excuse to switch my wardrobe from short- to long-sleeve. They are a concrete reminder that time is passing, that entropy goes in one direction and that sooner or later you'll find yourself watching a snowfall for the very last time. A sense of mortality, yes, but also the joy of knowing that things change, that people can evolve, and that any particular day, without rhyme nor reason, may end up being 20 degrees colder (or a whole lot more worthwhile) than it started out.

In a very real sense the seasons in New England are an impersonal, non-self-absorbed impetus which allows me to check in with myself; how am I doing this fall? How was I doing last fall? Are things better? If not, what can I do about it?

And I now realize that 5 years in California have taken their toll; prior to San Diego I never would have used the phrase "check in with myself" unless I were staying in a hotel that I also owned.

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