Eclectic Threads – Aligning with Nature: The Weather Edition
By Sue Caulfield
My last article focused on the realignment of my yard from a haven for Bel cat to a haven for birds. As I noted in that article, Bel was a great role model for getting outside no matter what type of weather would greet her. She went out in rain, snow, ice, sleet and certainly sunshine. She often helped me reflect on the necessity to spend time outside.
That need to be outside took an interesting turn for me about 16 months ago. I attended a conference in Colorado, at the YMCA of the Rockies and got to hike the Rocky Mountains for each of the five days I was there. I have walked outside for at least 30 minutes (often 2-3 hours) for 482 days in a row (as of December 13, 2015) and reflected on the importance of walking in my September 2015 article. As I noted in that article, my walking raises eyebrows and queries, as many folks are genuinely surprised at the extent to which I walk.
So, what does this have to do with aligning with nature as it relates to weather? Now that we have seen cooler days, very high winds, and our first substantial snowfall, people have begun to ask me if I will continue to walk. I respond with a resounding “yes”! If all goes well, I will extend my consecutive days of walking into the 1,000s, for it has become central to how I engage each day.
These questions have brought me back to a day on the national seashore in 1987. It was Christmas day and I was with my maternal grandmother, Elsie Foley. It was my first Christmas without my parents, as they had moved back to Germany, so I flew from Indiana to Massachusetts to spend some time with Nana Foley. As often happened on my visits, we spent time at the beach, visiting lighthouses, inhaling as much sea air as possible, and listening to the water. On this particular day the sky was filled with clouds and I remarked about gray clouds making for an ugly sky. I was instantly brought to task by Nana, who let me know that there was no such thing as an ugly color. Nana was a painter and talked to me about color palettes and how there were a variety of grays, each beautiful in its own way. From that day forward, I had a different viewpoint of color and of clouds. On many occasions, I have shared this story with others, emphasizing the importance of seeing beauty, not ugliness, in nature.
A few weeks ago I traveled to northern Michigan so that I could hike for a few days. The first day was sunny and I hiked in what remained of the previous weekend’s snowfall. The second day I walked over 21 miles and all of it in the rain. I put on my rain pants and raincoat, and I walked. I had the trails to myself, save for a few deer, navigated a few muddy patches, and mostly just enjoyed being in the woods, on the hills – just being outside.
On the third day, as I prepared for another hike, I looked out the window and saw that it was snowing. So I hiked in the snow, watching it begin to gather on the ground, coating the flora like confectioner’s sugar. In three days of hiking, the third day was the only day I encountered another person on the trail. For most people, the weather was not conducive to going for a walk. Indeed, at the lodge where I had my meals, people commented on how the weather was “bad.”
I am troubled by what I observe as a negative attitude toward nature. It shows up in the language, when people remark that it is “ugly outside” or “bad weather is on its way.” I used to let the comments pass, but more recently find myself challenging these claims. First of all, I note, weather does not have a disposition, nor can it be classified as good or bad. Nature is just nature. Rain is crucial to the cycle of life, yet people talk about it as though the world is out to get them and ruin their day.
It is not surprising to me in this culture how often people seem to take issue with nature, expressing dislike for it, wanting it to be different than what it is, and avoiding it when it becomes, from their perspective, unseemly, distasteful, uninviting. I believe this is partially explained by a perspective that sees weather as just another commodity. Listen to the language people use – “I do not like snow,” “I wish it would stop raining,” or “Why can’t the weather cooperate with my plans?” As though weather were something you could pick out at a big box store. Indeed, where I was staying up north is a ski resort, so if there had been enough snow on the ski runs, people would like the snow, but they did not like snow on the walking paths or on the road. Here is snow as a commodity, as something to be taken off the shelf only in the desired form and only for one’s personal intended use.
In the holistic health courses I teach, students reflect on their own approaches to wellness and by the end of term are remarking on their desire to use their car less and walk more, almost always with the caveat “as long as the weather is nice.” I get it. They have been socialized to believe that walking is an event best done on a day when the skies are clear and the temperature is just right. Living in Michigan, if I did not walk because of cold or snow, I would miss out on at least four months of walking. If I chose to not walk because of rain, I would miss an average of 132 out of 365 days a year.
I am not trying to tell anyone else what he or she should do in terms of walking or weather. However, I do think it worthwhile to reflect on one’s attitude toward nature as it shows itself in various types of weather. The human species in the 21st century continues to exploit the earth, use up its resources and believe that it can control the planet to meet its own needs. In doing so, we are losing our respect for nature and forgetting the importance of its natural cycles.
As I finish writing this piece, we are experiencing unseasonably warm weather, which has many people rejoicing. For me, however, it gives me pause. Will we get the deep frost we need to allow our part of the world its natural hibernation? If we do not get snow, will we have the water we need in the spring?
As Nathan tells his sons in Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter: “Don’t cuss the weather.” I am trying to align myself with nature. If it is wet, I either wear rain gear or get wet. If it is cold, I wear layers or am chilled. More importantly, I strive to align myself with a belief system that does not ascribe malevolence to our natural world or think weather can be ordered up to one’s pleasing. It does not rain to ruin my day and it does not ice over to put me at risk. Nor does the sun shine because I am deserving of it. Nature just is and weather happens.