Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Local on the Eights

Wind Vane Weather cock

Hurricane Ida may be on her way out to sea but the residual -- spelled r-a-i-n -- that has been falling steadily throughout the day has the stream near my house overflowing the banks tonight. Not to worry -- the water would have to rise at least another fifteen vertical feet to even lap the foundation, but as I walked down to the bridge with umbrella and flashlight to have a look, I couldn't help but think about what a storm like this must have been like before electricity, before television, before The Weather Channel.

The nearest thing we have to a weatherman is Benjamin Franklin and since he's in Philadelphia, holding his dampened finger out the window to determine wind direction isn't much help to us. Besides, the weather vane on the corner of the barn roof works just fine. The Farmer's Almanac won't be published until 1818, so we can forget that as well. Looks like it's by guess and by golly and yours is as good as mine.

The clouds have formed a long grey bank to the south for the past two days and this morning was a drizzly dawn. We're glad we got the last of this season's hay into the barn and the firewood box filled. As the day deepens into an increasingly early dark, we've watched the downpour at a rate our great, great, great grandchildren will call a half inch per hour. Holding a candle-lit lantern at the door does precious little to cut through the dim, so we head for bed -- having done all we could, we're at the mercy of the elements and in the hands of the Almighty.

It's easy to think of life back then as terribly insecure in the light of what we're able to accomplish today. But I wonder if that's how it seemed to them. Maybe the absence of predictability rendered people more inclined to take things as they came. I think it's fair to say farmers would have liked anticipating the onset of bad weather whenever they could, but the idea that they felt a sort of chronic insecurity may be projection on our part. We imagine what it would be like for us to live under those conditions and presume it reflects the feelings of the time. In reality, it depicts how dependent we've become on the tools we hope enable us to minimize risk and keep chance at bay.

It's difficult to know, really, and you'll forgive me, I hope, because I need to close now -- it's nearly time for the Local on the Eights. You know, the local forecast every eight minutes on The Weather Channel?


(Image via Wikipedia)

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