Stepping outside, I am greeted by the warm sunshine. Ninety-three million miles separates me from the source of that light, but I can still feel the heat carried with it through the frozen emptiness of space.
The snow is melting and spring is right around the corner. I can sense it in the air, but it’s not here yet. For now the wind is light, but it still carries with it enough of winter’s chill to remind me to pull my hat down over my ears. Leaving the warm shelter behind and moving any distance outside brings with it a certain risk; what if there is no shelter at the end of my small trip? It’s not dangerously cold but what if it was? I find myself on spinning ball, with nothing but a bubble of moving air above me, walking from shelter to shelter to avoid the harshness of the untamed. In a world where mastery is commonplace, mankind has encountered a force that it is subject to; something it cannot control: the weather.
Being a native of North Dakota has given me a strong sense of weather. Constant exposure to the four seasons puts me into my place and grows in me an appreciation for them. Summer tastes sweeter after the harsh winter, and fall all the more solemn as the warm months wane. There is beauty in each of them; a fierce beauty that is humbling to observe and experience. The definition of weather is interesting: the noun form is “the state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc.” The verb form is “to discolor, disintegrate, or effect injuriously, as by the effects of weather.” Both of these types of weather are a fixed thing; a truth that stands alone and causes all other things to submit to it. We can observe the weather or be subject to it, but cannot manipulate it as we try to with everything else.
I pass through the glass doors of Harrington Hall and make my way through the connected engineering department to my dingy office in the corner of Upson I. This windowless excuse for a place to work is filled with computer carcasses and artificial entrails. The fluorescent lights buzz on after I flip the switch and settle into my chair. It is cold, so I turn up the thermostat and proceed to inspect the latest patient; a tired out and dusty piece of junk that has reached the end of its life cycle and will soon be cast away. I wish I had a window. I may as well be in a cave. Our worlds are designed to protect us from the weather; with lights that shine around the clock and heating and air conditioning that does not wait for the right time of year. Doesn’t this typify human existence; to subject everything to itself? But if it cannot be made tame, then it must be avoided. From insurance to dikes, one of the struggles of mankind is to protect itself from the weather.
While typing my password I think more about how depressing my office is. The air doesn’t move, and the brightness is of such a cold kind. A little natural light would probably work a wonder on my state of mind- my desire for a window burns hotter. It is kind of a goofy idea; if you want a wall to separate yourself from the outside, why would we desire to be able to see it still? A transparent wall? Nonetheless, we are convinced that they are amenities. We value them.
No matter how much effort I put into it, I will never be able to change the weather. On the contrary, weather changes things, despite our best efforts. Little by little it wears down and chips away, deepening gorges and flattening mountains. Repetitive blows eat away at bricks and cement, sparing no rock or building. Psychologically, weather takes a toll on us. Don’t you feel that oppressive weight lifted with the triumphant arrival of spring? A dazzling summer day can raise your spirit instantaneously. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recognized type of depression that is caused directly by the weather. Treatable by light therapy, long walks in the daytime, and antidepressants (Rohan), this disorder shows that weather has an ‘injurious’ affect on our mental state. Brushing up against the coarseness of weather subjects our minds to something we are unfamiliar with: lack of control. When venturing into a violent blizzard or witnessing a midsummer tempest, we are humbled to the point of fear. Weather is a reality check. We hide from weather for survival, but why are we so proud of ourselves? We do not hold dominion over the weather, we run from it, and in our arrogance we have forgotten about it.
Weather does not discriminate against anyone, either. Nearly two thousand flights were cancelled on January 11, 2011, due to a “weather bomb” that struck the southern and eastern United States (Mayerowitz). If, theoretically, one hundred fifty people are on each flight, there would be about three hundred thousand displaced persons whose plans were ruined due to the weather. There would be missed connections and refunded tickets, frustrated families and unforeseen expenses . How many times have your plans been disrupted by the weather?
Why do I want a window so badly? Seeing the weather is not experiencing the weather. I desire to experience the beauty of the World without actually braving exposure to it. Sometimes Mother Nature is not content to stay on her side of the window, does something unexpected. We will be hearing about catastrophic weather for the rest of our lives. Every hurricane season, coasts around the globe are bombarded relentlessly with tropical storm after tropical storm, all named and numerous enough to fill a small elementary school. The United States reports $30 billion dollars in weather-related losses each year (Kaiser). We experience the bitter cold each winter here in North Dakota and are exposed to perilous blizzards regularly that disrupt plans and drive us into our centrally heated homes. The realization of something so independent and more powerful than us is staggering.
The weather is a truth that we are affected by daily, but we pay no heed. We make jokes about it and consider it a terrible conversation starter. We would all be singing a different tune if we were thrown out of our homes and left to survive the North Dakota cold. It is fortunate that humans are intelligent, and that we have learned to make use of our opposable thumbs. We build for ourselves shelters and concoct ways to control our climate. By fleeing from the weather we have lost touch with its real-ness. We aren’t really safe from it, but held at what we deem is a safe distance. There may be a day when everything is protected from the weather. But no matter how many layers of brick and cement we have between us and the world, it will still be there, a deep reality ignored.
After locking the door I throw on my coat and shove my hands deep into my pockets. The frozen wind greets me with a reminder of the reality I find myself in; a world that is unpredictable and powerful. It is a reality that I could indeed escape from if I wanted to, but I just wouldn’t be living in reality.
- Dictionary.com entry. Weather. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/weather?s=t. visited 18 March 2011
- Kaiser, Manfred. “Weather Damage”. http://www.manfredkaiser.com/dangerous_weather.html visited 18 March 2011
- Mayerowitz, Scott. “Massive Flight Cancellations Thanks to ‘Weather Bomb’”. 11 January 2011. http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/massive-flight-cancellations-weather-bomb/story?id=12590444 visited 18 March 2011.
- Rohan KJ, Roecklein KA, Tierney Lindsey K, et al. A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy, light therapy, and their combination for seasonal affective disorder. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2007;75:489-500.