Schooled by Summer

Never mind the calendar. On the Texas coast, summer shimmers into being when she will, and when she arrives, the signs are everywhere.

Store shelves begin to be emptied of Gatorade and bottled water. Bandanas and straw hats appear. Yard workers stop more often to wipe their faces, and even the Ladies Who Lunch begin to sweat. They don’t “perspire” or “glow,” as proper Southern ladies should. They sweat right along with the yard crews, and they do it at nine in the morning. 

Soon, it becomes too hot to walk barefooted on a boat deck or dock. The sharp, metallic trill of cicadas replaces birdsong, and rueful humans can’t resist asking one another,”Hot enough for you?” It’s summer for sure, no matter what the calendar says. 

Summer’s the time for boat varnishers to grump and moan, and envy the divers. Brushes come out only in the early morning, as soon as the dew dries, or in the gentler, falling evening light. Afternoons are for sanding, or working in sheds. If a piece of wood can be carried away to the shade of a tree, all the better.

Occasionally, a mallard or two shows up to demand a portion of that grassy shade. Ducks are especially companionable when their natural shyness is overcome by their own need for relief from the heat. With no sweat glands to cool them, the ducks ruffle their feathers, then pant like dogs through opened bills. Eventually, their eyes begin to droop, and they drift into sleep.

While the mallards dream, a great blue heron wades at the water’s edge, spreading its wings, looking for all the world like an impatient mother with her arms akimbo. Smaller green herons skitter along the docks, seeking their own relief on swinging, shadowed lines. Even the mullet seem to be gasping for air, skimming the surface of the water, wide-mouthed and wide-eyed, synchronized teams of fishy swimmers.

For the lucky ones, clinging humidity gives way to seabreeze showers, or the lovely, bubbling clouds of summer that rise as if by magic, gathering, scattering and subsiding as they rain themselves out on the horizon.

Each season heralds its coming with such subtle but readable signs. Long before October’s first frontal passage, whiffs of autumn smoke float and whirl on the wind. Tropical moisture subsides, the sun lowers in the sky, and afternoon light sparkles like newly-blown glass.

The first coot arrives, silent and gray, a token of winter’s monotone days.  Bay waters settle and clear, even as blue-green fingers of Gulf water reach ever more closely toward shore.  Eventually, the great flocks arrive — snow geese and cranes, pelicans, teal, and winter-fleeing folk from the north, all of them settling down onto the coast as easily as autumn’s final leaf. In time, they begin to stir, moved to action by increasing light and warmth, and the spring trek northward begins.

Twenty years ago, I was no more attuned to these seasonal cycles than I was appreciative of weather.  As a new varnisher, I considered weather to be the enemy, and we skirmished constantly. My earliest lessons were unhappy ones: fresh varnish attracts rain like a magnet; smooth, mirror-like coatings turn milky with dew; shifting winds bearing pollen or grit blow away profits as well.

Trying to stay ahead of the next weather crisis, I obsessed over local forecasts like I’d lost good sense.  I knew the name of every reporter on The Weather Channel, and spent hours studying the charts on internet weather sites as though they mapped hidden treasure. All the while, heat, wind, and humidity wreaked havoc with my work.

One day, in a fit of frustration and pique, I thought to myself, “I can do better than this.” I turned off The Weather Channel, left the forecasters to ponder their radars alone, and went out into the world. 

I began to watch clouds rather than television. I listened to the winds, and judged time by the sun.  I learned to recognize the sea breeze, and smell a coming rain. I watched weather systems announce themselves with tendrils of cirrus or a haloed moon, rather than by scrolls across the bottom of a screen.

Winds told their own stories, carrying pollution from the southwest, cedar pollen from the north, the soot of burning cane from Louisiana.    I discovered that even the fog can be read,  its comings and goings predicted with such remarkable accuracy that varnishing in a blowing sea fog isn’t impossible.

Still, knowing what’s possible and what isn’t is tricky. You can’t depend solely on historical averages, statistical probabilities or theoretical constructs in your decision-making. You have to learn weather the same way you learn a person: by living in relationship. Being attentive to shifting moods, cognizant of quirks, and accepting of the occasional surprise is critical.

In certain respects, learning to know the weather resembles learning someone’s heart.  You can discover a good bit by taking blood pressure,  measuring oxygen levels, using a stethescope, or performing EKGs and stress tests. In the process, you can learn almost everything about the physical nature of a given heart.

 But nothing in those lab reports, scans, or physical exams will tell you anything at all about what we call the “heart” of a person: their courage and fears, their joys, their willingness to persevere, sacrifice, fail, and begin again. No machine in the world can measure such things.

If I were to fall victim to a  heart attack, I certainly would want the best machines providing information, just as I’d want someone with the requisite knowledge and skills to interpret the results. But when it came time to talk about those results and decide on a good next step, I wouldn’t want a pile of printouts to study. I’d want to talk to a person: someone who knows my heart, advising me on how to treat my heart.  Two different processes, two kinds of knowing.

Here on the Gulf Coast, the meteorological equivalent of a heart attack is the hurricane.  No matter how many storms the experts predict in a given year, people understand that it takes only one instance of “Rain with a Name” to destroy communities and disrupt lives.

Hurricane Ike Approaches the Galveston Seawall – Photo, Houston Chronicle (Click for front page)

There’s no doubt we know more about the underlying causes of weather phenomena than ever before. The science of forecasting has improved, along with our ability to model future possibilities.  But no matter the quality of our science, no matter how impressive our factual knowledge, we’re often wrong about the final track of a storm. We’ve learned, to our chagrin, that we can’t know everything there is to know about weather by analyzing data.  

Those who depend solely on data to make their predictions often appear fussy and argumentative, comparing notes and dissecting theories in a twenty-first century version of shaking beaded gourds to ward off the storm gods. But the best forecasters, the ones whose predictions I trust, add sense and experience to the mix, understanding that the science of it all never fully contains the mystery and scope of the atmosphere that surrounds us.

Certainly, I’m as interested in weather science as anyone. When this year’s next disturbance swirls up, I’ll be right there, talking steering currents in the café and dropsonde data in gas station parking lots. I’ll refer to buoys by name,  and dissect computer models as though understanding their mysteries confers power to steer the winds.

Even as I do, memories of storms already experienced will be haunting my mind. The strangely-colored sky before Alicia, steel-gray and citron, the slowly rotating edge of Humberto, the silent, implacable, and mostly ignored rising waters in bayous and creeks days before Ike — all point to forces larger than our technologies.

But for now, those forces seem quiet. The coast itself, fragile and lovely, builds and erodes with the tides. In this lull between what has been and what yet may come, we have time to turn off the computer, walk away from the television, and turn our backs on our gadgets. We have the freedom to put away the charts and graphs, forget the models, ignore the ceaseless stream of information that innundates our lives, and go outdoors.  

Wherever you are, whatever your season, take the time. Yield to the wind’s embrace. Rejoice in the humidity. Disappear into the fog. Accept the heat. Describe to yourself the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the weight of the air.

This attentiveness, this engagement, this immersion through the senses allows a different way of knowing, a different path toward understanding our natural world.  Walking that path, we may be granted a glimpse of our world’s heart, a heart still beating steadily and strong, in rhythm with an ages-old song.

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104 thoughts on “Schooled by Summer

  1. So many great lines (must come from pondering clouds and skies).

    “You have to learn weather the same way you learn a person: by living in relationship, being attentive to shifting moods, cognizant of quirks, and accepting of the occasional surprise.”
    “Wherever you are, whatever your season, take the time.”

    Well varnished truths.

    Close observations are so much better than weather guys…(and a skill that could be in much demand when power is out).
    Cheers to boaters and farmers – so much in common.(It’s thundering now – you’d better not be out there!)

    1. Speaking of occasional surprises, Phil, were you around when Humberto came ashore in 2007? It was the single quirkiest weather experience of my life. While the evening news was swearing the system wasn’t going to develop, a bunch of people atop the 146 bridge were watching the edge of the storm rotate over Galveston, placing bets on where it would come ashore. Some hours later, Hurricane Humberto hit the TX/LA line.

      I’m not a weather-guy basher, at all. They do the best they can and honestly, they do very well. But now and then, getting out of the studio’s a good thing. And as you say, when the cell towers go down and the electricity’s gone, being able to read Mother Nature’s signs is even better.

      I will say that NOAA and the NWS have done a terrific job adapting to social media. The only thing that’s even tempted me toward a smart phone are all the cool weather apps. But after so many years of getting along without them, there’s no real reason for me to get them now.


    1. This is one of the areas where I’m very much a both/and kind of gal, Ruth. I can be completely entranced by radar and a good satellite image, and I depend on them when severe weather’s in the offing. If nothing else, a morning browse through the weather sites lets me know what’s out there on the distant horizon.

      But for short-term forecasting? I’ll put myself up against anyone at this point. I’ve not had to redo a coat of varnish because of rain, drizzle or dew for…. a long time. Maybe five years. It certainly does make life easier.

      I was lucky to have grandparents who taught me about moon halos, rain ravens, and other such signs and portents. They had to make use of such things. There wasn’t any Weather Channel in their day.


  2. Before I start my comment, let me ask what does the expression, “Ladies Who Lunch” mean? I know that it has nothing to do with eating. :-)

    Having asked that, I would like to comment that in Panama we have an easier way to anticipate weather, having only two seasons, (e.g., the dry season and the wet season).

    I don’t know how, buy I’m pretty good at predicting what kind of day we will have before it happens. My wife depends on me before she takes out her umbrella or not.

    It’s some kind of intuition, sixth sense or gut feeling which has nothing to do with science, technology or TV weather broadcasts. I agree with you that learning the language of Nature is different than studying charts, computer animations or weather programs.

    I love your narrative. Makes me enjoy the English language much more. Thank you.

    1. To the contrary, Omar. The “ladies who lunch” are just that — ladies with both the time and the means to enjoy extended luncheons in generally high-class establishments. I’m not sure when the expression took hold, but I hear it every now and then. I’m not one, as you probably have figured out. There is another group of women I know who go out for beer and coconut shrimp or oyster poor boys from time to time. They call themselves the Dames Who Dine — and then they laugh!

      Liberia was a two-season place, too. When the transition between seasons was taking place, there could be some fabulous storms. But even then, the rain was tropically predictable. I remember one month when it rained every day at 2 in the afternoon, for about a half-hour. I’d never seen anything like it, but everyone certainly knew when to head for shelter.

      I think many people lose their “sixth sense” about weather because they spend so little time in it. It’s something that worries emergency personnel here on the Gulf Coast, and it worries them a lot. It’s been over five — nearly six — years since Ike, and there are thousands of people here now who don’t understand what a hurricane can do. It’s hard persuading them to take it seriously.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Since I can’t do anything about the weather, I might as well write about it.


  3. I will never forget in 2010, I gazed skyward and saw a line of frigate birds high overhead and soaring north up ecuador’s coast. The line of birds stretched as far as I could see, and I watched for about ten minutes then focused on other things. Later I looked up again, and there were more frigates on that same flight path. I thought, “Uh oh.. there’s some really ugly weather down south…’

    Not long after that I read about the heavy rains and mudslides, helicopter evacuations at Macchu Picchu…

    One should always pay attention to nature!!!

    1. Apart from everything else, Z, I can’t imagine seeing so many frigate birds. What an amazing sight that must have been. But your larger point’s well taken. Nature always is speaking. Whether we listen is up to us.

      My own unforgettable experience was before Ike. On Tuesday morning before the Saturday landfall in Galveston, I noticed the water here was rising — fast. What was so strange was that there was no wind at all, nothing to drive the water. It just kept rising, perfectly silent. It was clear that the system offshore was massive, to be pushing so much water. I went home and told Mom to get her act together. I’d learned my lesson with Rita – no more evacuation gridlock!

      All of which reminds me — how is the coastline doing? I hope the erosion has stopped, or that some measures have been put in place.


      1. the spring tide arrives on the 12th, and i join my friends with a horrific sense of foreboding. they must feel so helpless!

        very large sand bags were placed from one end of the developed area to the other.. the bags remind me of baled cotton! it’s like a great wall, with 1/3 of each bag below the ‘ground level’ and the other 2/3 above.. the height of the bags now is probably between three and four feet.

        my friends said that last weeks strong waves took away most of the beach that had built back. they’ve invited me to spend the night w/them during that two-day vigil, and most likely i will.

        thanks for asking/caring.


  4. Oh my! This is the writing of Classic Linda. So wonderful and brilliant. Are we coming all too dependent on the latest weather ap on our smartphones? Are smart radars making us weather dumb? I would say yes, as is the biggest message I take from your piece.

    Just yesterday morning, as I tied up to the dock at 5:30 a.m. to wait for my fishing customers, the pre-dawn sky was already turning pink in some places, and instantly I heard my mother saying, “red sky at morning, sailors take warning”. Even though I had looked at the Weather Underground radar on my computer screen before leaving home at 5 a.m., there was not one squall in sight. But there’s the rub. I have come to learn that our summer squalls that roll in off the Gulf pop up as big thunderheads, full of rain and lightning, but they do not show up on radar.

    And just as daylight began to break, a lightning strike caught my eyes. Off to the east was a huge thunderhead, and therein the lightning was contained. I’ve never seen that before — just one huge billowy cloud, with an occasional bolt of lightning running through it, never going beyond the clouds or striking the earth. The other 320 degrees of sky were nice and clear, yet, the pink dawn light warned me of potential inclement weather nearby. By 6 a.m. the thunderhead was gone, and we set out surrounded by a gorgeous morning, with blessings of cool temperatures that gave us chill bumps as we slid across the blue-calm lake.

    So, I’m with you on being in touch with the weather, and again, I feel oddly sad for those who don’t have the opportunity to read the weather the way we have learned.

    1. This is really interesting, BW. I was listening to our outdoor show yesterday morning, and a Louisiana charter captain called in to chitchat and give a report. I think it might have been Mike Ellis out of Venice, but I’m not certain. It was early — about 5 a.m.

      In any event, the conversation turned to the point you make here: that the weather can be unpredictable and difficult precisely because some of those thunderstorms don’t show up on radar. I’ve heard the guys talk about that before, and I haven’t quite figured it out, but it’s clearly a common occurrence for them. A week ago, one of those popups left a fellow and his group pinned against a lee shore in 70 mph winds. He had every electronic gadget you could want, an iPhone with apps, and a good, observant eye. He still got caught.

      All of them are pretty serious about the lightning, too. I learned my lesson very early on, when a storm some miles away popped a sailboat mast in a marina where I was working, and fried all the electronics. “A bolt out of the blue” isn’t just a funny saying — you be careful out there, too!


  5. I enjoyed this piece very much. If I hadn’t become a science teacher, weatherman would have been next choice. Uncle Sam played a role in that. The draft was breathing down my neck in ’68-’69.

    Growing up in the midwest gave many opportunities to watch the wx play out. You know all about that. Today, I love having the wide range of resources to help forecast what might happen. In the past, I would watch Melanie in IA roll her eyes as I talked about the likely wx for a day or week. I gave her a forecast url like this one. Now she is a pro and quotes the facts to me.

    I especially liked your first picture of the scattered shower.

    1. That’s a good link, Jim, and a page I haven’t seen. Weather Underground always had been my go-to site, but recent changes have left me discontented for a variety of reasons. I still go there because of a couple of top-notch bloggers, like this fellow. His blog is a gathering place for knowledgeable people with an interest in severe and tropical weather. If there’s something going on, even in your area, you can be sure that beell and friends are talking about it.

      Two of my other go-to pages are the College of DuPage Severe Warnings site and for my daily use, our mesonet site. I like it because I can get current conditions, and figure it out for myself from there.

      When I went over to pick up the URL for DuPage, I saw that Des Moines was under a tornado warning about an hour ago. You may be having a few scattered showers yourself.


      1. That is a good blog. Here is another I like.

        There is a wealth of great resources for wx geeks like us. It is good stuff to have available.

        We had a tornado warning about 50 miles northwest of us headed in our direction. But the storm died out and all is safe now. I hear a bit of thunder between some firecrackers. :-)

  6. Data. Television. Weather reports. All worthless things, in my opinion. Or, near enough to worthless. I like the quote by St. Exupery, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” And the human side of me ascribes to that over science.

    Yet the Christian side of me remembers that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) and the times that my heart has tricked me are long remembered.

    Ultimately, though, I’d rather trust my heart, my instinct, the whisperings of Him, than any weatherman or scientist spouting alleged truth.

    p.s. I can well imagine the frustrations of your early days of varnishing. How long it takes us (me) to acquire necessary learning.

    1. I think, to be fair, we might draw a distinction between meteorologists and tv “weather people.” There was a time when weather reports on the evening news had some substance to them, because the people who were giving those reports had been trained to do their own analysis.

      Today, television depends primarily on the physical attractiveness and comedic talent of their “weather readers” to help with ratings. Whether they have anything of substance to contribute regarding the weather itself is an open question. It’s a sad state of affairs.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t take spiritual counsel from a weatherman, and I’m loathe to trust my heart to keep tabs on the weather. Since we’ve been given minds as well as hearts, it seems reasonable to use both as we make our way through life. While I may consider the clouds and the wind as much as the scientists’ charts when I do my forecasting, both require my mind to be active in their interpretation.

      The photo of Hurricane Ike that I posted above shows the storm surge beating against the seawall behind the memorial to the victims of the Great Storm of 1900. Had even a few of our technological tools been available then, it wouldn’t have been necessary to stand at the shore, wondering about the meaning of the swells and the erratic winds. As it was, over six thousand people died in that storm.

      Have you read Isaac’s Storm?. It’s a truly wonderful book, a gripping read and well worth the time. I’m not sure how it could be fit in with all your other summer projects, but maybe you could at least put it on your list!



      1. I will look into Isaac’s Storm, having neither read nor heard of it before but trusting you implicitly. As for weathermen, and women, and meteorologists, I stand corrected. I guess I’m just a bit jaded on all technology promises (not to mention those who deliver it). xo

        1. Bellezza, I laughed this afternoon when I remembered this. I had to look up the reference (Luke 12:54), but here it is: “He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does.” The old ways of telling weather are, indeed, very old.

  7. You’ve certainly become intimate with the nuances of your skies. Reminds me of the sons of Issachar, men who “understood the times”.

    Being an office dweller and living in an area with very little change (compared with the Texas coast, anyway), my concerns have been mainly about how the office HVAC will respond to the outside weather. Really high temps mean bring a sweater because the AC will be on overdrive.

    1. nikkipolani, that’s so funny and so true. We always laugh about summer being the coldest season in Houston, because everyone over-air-conditions. I suppose what actually happens is that they set it and forget it, and the ambient temperature varies with the number of people in the restaurant, movie and so on. Still, it’s uncomfortable and perhaps a little unnecessary.

      When I first began varnishing, the old man named Varnish John who gave me so much good advice told me to live without air conditioning to the extent possible. His theory was that going from hot to cold to hot messed with our internal thermostats, and left us hotter than we’d otherwise be. I took his advice the first two summers, and I swear it helped. I didn’t go without it completely, because I wanted the dehumidifying effect, but I kept it high – 82, I think – and did just fine.

      Today? No way. For one thing, I don’t do as well in the heat as I did 24 years ago.


  8. Whew….I won’t be complaining about our Northeastern weather for a while after reading this. Well, maybe I will. After all, it is relative to one’s own experiences.

    I also don’t envy your varnishing disasters with wind blown dust and milky finishes. I refinish furniture for my employment, among other things, and once summer’s humidity arrives, I can only spray my lacquer for a short bit of the morning and, even then, have constant battles of the blush.

    I love watching approaching storms but have never quite seen one like your image of the storm cloud. My favorite weather memory comes from childhood….watching the sheet rain cross the street, my yard and eventually soaking me.
    I view all forecasts with a doubtful glance and take them as useful suggestions.

    1. I think everyone complains about the weather, Steve. It’s just so human. All winter long, people here complained about the cold. Now and then, we’d take time out to remind one another that, when summer came, we’d be complaining about the heat. Well, it’s summer, and we’re getting with the program. Complaints abound!

      I’m impressed that you spray lacquer. I’ve never sprayed, and I’ve never used laquer. I brush Epiphanes and Interlux Schooner varnishes by choice, and have given up entirely on two-part finishes like AwlBright or Bristol. Better living through chemistry is a wonderful thing, but unless you can control for temperature and humidity, it’s just not worth trying. Besides, the two-parts are too hard for use on most boats. The flexing cracks them.

      One of my favorite weather photographers is a fellow named Dave Leiker, from Kansas. When I was up there last fall, I couldn’t help myself, and brought back one of his photos as my primary souvenir. You can see one very much like it here. Those midwestern clouds as a gift from the gods.

      “Useful suggestions” is just perfect!


  9. My seafaring forebears knew these things. Why do we assume that we can’t learn also? We rely on graphs, weatherpersons to tell us what we should be able to ascertain.

    You have become so very knowledgeable on so many fronts. You live in an environment that gives a lot and obviously expects a lot from the people who enjoy its beauty. You stand up to the mark!

    1. That’s a good question, Kayti. Perhaps it’s laziness. Perhaps we think we don’t need to know such things. Perhaps we just assume we’ll always be able to turn a dial or swipe a screen to get the information we need. Or it may simply be that our short attention span cripples us.

      My knowledge isn’t always deep, but my curiosity is boundless. Remember the days when there still was such a thing as a liberal education — and “liberal” had nothing to do with politics? I was lucky enough to live very close to one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, Grinnell, and often used their library when I was in high school. I used to have the impulse to start at one end of the stacks and read my way through. I lost that impulse for a while, but it’s coming back.


  10. Growing up on a Kansas plains farm, I learned to read weather at an early age. And still do. It seems automatic once it’s in your life. Last night, as thunder replaced left over fireworks, I went out to the backyard and looked at the sky. Racing clouds in the sky north of our city house. I went back inside. No rain tonight.

    I would, however, like to know how you make those fabulous frames around the photos you post. I can get a frame, but it’s not part of the photo. Tip please?

    1. We did learn it early, didn’t we? For one thing, there was that laundry on the line to be tended to. Once the clothes were hung, it always was one eye to the sky, just in case they had to be pulled in. Such a simple task, and so many lessons.

      I have to thank you for asking about the frames. If you hadn’t… Well, here’s the story.

      These photos have been in my files for some time. They were processed with a program called Picnik. It was a Google program, and eventually, in their Google-wisdom, they eliminated it to try and sell something else they’d created.

      There was moaning and gnashing of teeth among my blogging friends, because it had been easy and intuitive. AND — it was the only program we could find that had that mirror frame. We looked and looked, and finally a nice replacement called PicMonkey came along. But it didn’t have a mirrored frame.

      I found one online program from Korea (!?) that provided a mirrored frame, but it wasn’t as easy to use. It was slow, and the effect wasn’t as nice. So, after your question, I went looking again, to see if I could find something. I even spent an hour messing with my Photoshop program, but gave that up. I think you must be able to get the effect with layers, but I wasn’t going to teach myself the program to find out.

      Then, I decided to do a search for “online photo editors.” Lo and behold, Picnik is back! It’s now called Ribbet, and it’s built on the same Google platform, but it isn’t a Google program. You can find it here – and it has the very same mirrored frame effect as I used in these photos.

      If you hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known it was around again – so thank you. It’s fairly intuitive – have fun!


  11. Linda, Texas weather is as temperamental as it can be.

    Just yesterday we left the house to go eat lunch just around the corner. Before we left I checked the radar to see if any more showers were headed our way and nothing was showing on the screen. Before we even started eating the rain was coming down and the thunder was rolling across the city…By the time we were finished eating it was pouring down the ditches were filling up and the wind was blowing.

    Driving home we got to the house next door in time to watch a large limb come down across the road in front of our house. Backing up and going around the block (a 2 mile trip) in the horizontal rain got us back to our drive. By the time it was all over power was out all over town and trees were down across roads in at least three places that we know of.

    And it was just a summer thunderstorm.

    1. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Today, we went from blue skies to pouring down rain in less than ten minutes — and hardly a lick of wind to go with it. On the other hand, while you were losing tree limbs, we didn’t have a drop. Every now and then I’ll get a call from my aunt in Kansas City. She’ll see footage on TWC of flooded underpasses in Houston, and call to make sure I’m all right. I keep explaining that thirty miles can make quite a difference, and what’s reported from the official weather station at Intercontinental often has nothing at all to do with what we’re experiencing.

      Summer thunderstorms and mention of “rain with a name” always make me think of Randy Newman. Here’s to broken limbs and power outages — and nothing more!


      1. It reminds me of a few years back when almost every river in Texas was out of it’s banks. All of the national news programs kept reporting about “Texas Flooding”. Our out of state friends and relatives were calling and checking on us. I had to tell them that we hadn’t seen a drop of rain in weeks and the closest river was 20 some miles away…

  12. I enjoy all of your posts and look forward to each new one, but I’ve enjoyed this one perhaps the most yet.

    Weather is important to me too, at least in the sense of knowing a little about what to prepare for in the outdoors in any given day or week. I do check the weather on the NOAA site and sometimes a forecast through the TV, but it suits me best to go outside, walk down the drive and look to the south and a little west, through the gap between the Cherry Peak Roadless Area and the Patricks Knob – North Cutoff Roadless Area from where our weather comes, study the sky, feel the breeze and see what the mountainsides seem to be doing.

    1. I thought you might enjoy it,Terry. What I enjoyed was your comment about going out to “see what the mountainsides seem to be doing.” Before I lived in Salt Lake City and spent time in the Wasatch, I never thought of mountains “doing” anything. I thought they just sat there and hosted some nice trees and flowers, and skiers in the wintertime. Not so!

      I always enjoy the hints of your intimate knowledge of your surroundings, too – like looking south and west through that gap, and knowing that’s where your weather comes from. That reminds me of the variety of ways sailors relate to weather: going to weather, weather helm, being weathered-in, calling foul weather gear by the shortened name, “weathers.”

      Weather certainly is more than a five-minute segment on the evening news!


  13. I think determining the weather by watching, listening, or smelling, is quickly becoming a lost art, although varnishers such as yourself, or farmers in my neck of the woods do. Storm spotting is still popular, at least around here, so maybe there’s still hope yet! maybe I should amend my earlier comment to observing the weather when it’s not threatening as a lost art!

    I know you don’t brag on your photography, but I think you do an excellent job!

    1. The art of smelling weather is the one that fascinates me most, Wiley. We’ve had a few snows since I’ve lived in Houston, and it’s a fact – if you’ve had the experience, you can smell snow coming. Rain, too, of course, but also humidity, especially with a strong, salty seabreeze.

      As a matter of fact, after being offshore for a few days, you can smell the land long before you see it. That’s not precisely weather, but it’s just as much fun.

      The best storm spotters are amazing. My hunch is that they tend to rely more on the techie tools of the trade, especially if they’re zippping around in those armored vehicles. That’s probably appropriate. No one’s going to be standing around in a field pondering windshifts with an EF whatever roaming around.

      Thanks for the kind words about the photos. Speaking of snow, here’s my favorite view of the sculpture shown up above with Hurricane Ike.


  14. What caught my attention, naturally, are the birds you’ve mentioned. How I admire that you’re living in an avian rich environ. I will never see so many kinds of waterfowls as you in your neck of the woods. And… love those pictures you’ve posted. The first one looks more or less what I can see in our downtown. I always feel that Calgary and Houston have close ties due to the oil industry.

    1. Believe it or not, Arti, that first photo was taken off my balcony. It’s the Hilton Hotel across the lake from me. There’s a certain time of year when the sunrise hits it just right, and it’s really pretty. But yes — it does look much like many of our downtown buildings. Here’s a nice shot of the Houston skyline.

      I was thinking about you today, and also thinking I must start carrying my camera with me. I had a group of green herons running up and dock the dock next to the boat I was working on. And, there’s a white egret who’s getting used to me. I’ll try and get some photos of them for you. The pair of seagulls I called Romeo and Juliet have disappeared, but if they come back, they’d make a good photo, too. I’ve never seen two birds who appeared to have such affection for one another.


  15. So true about observing nature – the skies, the wind, moon, the smells. Love every word of this post. You have such a way with words. I am so envious but very pleased to “know” you through your blog.

    1. You know who had a way with words, Yvonne? Sam Houston. Somehow, I’ve missed reading the whole text of his speech at the Battle of San Jacinto. I just came across it today. If I’d read it, I certainly would have remembered this passage, which made me think of you.

      “Before we step up to battle, I want to remind you of one more example of the gallantry witnessed at the Alamo.

      There was a fellow there who so loved his spotted doggie that he held it close to his bosom to protect it. Each night that those bold militiamen and volunteers withstood the cannon fodder of the Mexican army, this man would gather that scared doggie into his arms and hug it closer than you might hug a woman.

      I can’t help but imagine that that little spotted doggie represented the great nation of Texas and that lonely animal-loving man was trying to calm its fears and brand it with hot, comforting welfare. And so, I would like to ensure that each of you remembers those stouthearted defenders of the Alamo in this way: cover your heads with a unique lid, shave only the chin hairs from your faces, and I need at least one man to hug a doggie close whilst we trounce the armies of Santa Anna.”

      Isn’t that wonderful? It’s really pretty neat to think about those early Texans enjoying the same moon and skies that we enjoy. I have no doubt coping with the rain, wind and storms was far less pleasant, but cope they did — to our benefit!


  16. I like the border on your photos!

    Sometimes I spend way too much time indoors. A blogger just mentioned the 90 degree weather we had last week in Seattle. I had no idea it was that hot! Yikes, how could I miss that?

    1. Thanks, re: the borders, Rosemary. See my comment up above to Janet, where I’ve linked the program that allows you to do that and explained a little of the history.

      Here’s my opinion: days when it’s 90 degrees are exactly the days to spend indoors. Of course, it might not be so bad up there — do you have high humidity? I know so little about your city, although I’ll know more shortly. I’ve got those wonderful posts still to read, about your circumambulation. I hope it wasn’t 90 when you were doing that!


  17. As usual your words go straight to the heart of things. I listen to radio forecasts with half an ear, watch the old barometer, and watch the sky. Twice in recent weeks, I would have deprived myself of wonderful excursions if I had been a slave to the weather report.

    Having said that, it seems that each day, we have people who venture out to sea or into the mountains and underestimate the weather which results either in costly rescue efforts or death.

    1. I don’t know much about mountain-climbing, Gallivanta, but I know a little about sailing. The most successful sailors and cruisers I know are those who live by the rule, “When in doubt, sit it out.” Waiting in port for weather before making a crossing can be frustrating, but that’s the time for repairs, projects, reading and research about the next port.

      Racers and vacationers with a tight schedule are especially prone to trouble. The racers want to win, the vacationers have been looking forward to their cruise for a year, and both groups can be lured toward the rocks of poor judgment.

      Your mention of the barometer reminded me of another old weather gauge you may have seen. My grandmother had something like a postcard, bearing the image of a Victorian gentleman and lady. The lady’s dress was fuzzy, and it changed from pink to blue, depending on the weather.

      A couple of years ago, a friend who lives in England sent me a Whitby Weatherwise Lucky Duck . It’s the famous Whitby duck with the same coating as my grandmother’s postcard. It sits on my desk and changes from blue to pink, depending on the weather. It’s near the bottom of the page I linked.

      I did some research and decided the fuzzy stuff must have been soaked in cobalt chloride. It is a fun way to follow weather changes.


      1. When in doubt, sit it out! Wise advice. Someone, possibly my grandparents, gave me a little ornament with a man and lady and their clothing changed colour according to the weather. Only it wasn’t very reliable! I think we eventually decided that it wasn’t designed to cope with the tropical conditions of Fiji. Your weatherwise Lucky Duck does look like fun. Hopefully, it is lucky too. I also find the weather stone or weather rock a lot of fun.

  18. Artful, informative, and inspiring: all in one blog! Since I have begun sailing, I have learned to attend to the weather. My wife and I are pretty much fair weather sailors, and mostly stick to our little bay. But if we are at the far end, and have to return against a head wind with gusts, it is not a pleasant experience.

    I am learning, bit by bit, to feel the air, to see the colour changes in the sky, to look at the shape of the clouds, to note the subtle shifts in clouds building. I have a long way to go, but the whole process has me a tad closer to my farmer relatives who chatted pretty regularly with the weather, as well as the weather man.

    1. You’re right that sailing to windward isn’t necessarily pleasant. But sometimes, it’s the only way to get home. One of the longest slogs I ever made was up the Texas coast, from Padre Island to Galveston. It was August, as I recall, but we’d gotten a really early norther, and the wind was right on the nose. We had to make long tacks the whole way. It was a long trip.

      Along with the sky and clouds, my first instructor taught me early to use the water to determine wind speed and direction. As he liked to say, “Anyone can bash into 30 knots – it’s the one who can make way through the doldrums with a puff here and a puff there who’s the good sailor.” Can you believe the Beaufort Scale goes back to 1805?

      You must be back in the water now — have you been out yet this year? I just don’t have much sense at all of what your season is.


      1. Yes, we painted our hull and deck this spring so Santa Marie wasn’t in the water until early June. Usually we have our first sail before the end of May. This year it was late in the first week of June. The weather has been a bit weird this year, and it has been unusually cool. All the same, for the last month we get down to the harbour once, if not twice, during the week.

  19. Hi, shore,

    My favorite weather moment of every day is that first 30 seconds out the front door in the early morning dark, where that first scent of the day communicates my weather in a way that no amount of data, models, or graphs can ever replace. And usually, it smells better than last night’s fish.

    Thanks for the wonderful breath of fresh air (and the honorable mention!)

    1. I’m glad you said “usually,” beell. With all the dead shad we had around here in May and June, that moment of morning enjoyment depended entirely on wind direction. My, goodness, it was bad.

      But I take your point. The only thing better than that first 30 seconds out the door is waking up during Open Window Season and getting a whiff of cool and dry. That’s fresh air worth cherishing.

      Of course, hot and humid does provide a nice sunset from time to time.


  20. Your second sentence reminds me of a song by Jackson Browne called “Rock Me on the Water,” which begins:

    “Oh, people, look around you,
    The signs are everywhere.
    You’ve left it for somebody other than you
    To be the one to care….”

    Your link to the Randy Newman song reminds me that I saw him live in Austin in the late 1980s.

    In a third bit of remembering, your mention of various hurricanes reminds me that when I was doing a story about Nicholas Joseph Clayton, the architect responsible for some of the main buildings in Galveston at the end of the 19th century, I went to the American History Center at the University of Texas and read through parts of the book where Clayton kept copies of the letters he sent. There in Clayton’s own hand I read a copy of the letter in which he accepted the job of building inspector after the disastrous hurricane of 1900. Following that letter were others in which he reported on buildings that were so badly damaged they constituted a danger and would have to be cordoned off until they could be destroyed.

    The entire city of Galveston was raised after that hurricane in order to make it safer, but I think it’s still at great risk.

    1. I don’t know where to start. So, I’ll start with Clayton. After Hurricane Ike, one of my posts, called “Galveston Rising: The Trees,” focused on the chainsaw carvings made from the city’s destroyed oaks. The other was called “Galveston Rising: The Light.”

      Now, I’m casually pulling together a third, called “Galveston Rising: The Buildings.” Some of the major restoration projects, such as St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart, have been completed. (Clayton was the architect for Sacred Heart’s second dome, constructed after the 1900 hurricane.) The Gresham house, aka the Bishop’s Palace, helped to fund both restorations and new construction, thanks to its sale to The Galveston Historical Foundation, and of course that’s a Clayton gem, too.

      Another Clayton church, St. Patrick’s in Galveston, is pictured in a post I titled “Raise High the Floor Beam, Islanders.” In the photo, the church already has been jacked up and is awaiting its new base of slurry. One of the books I mention in the post, Cornelia Dean’s “Against the Tide,” is a great read.

      It’s always seemed so sad to me that the trees planted after the 1900 storm were taken out by Ike. On the other hand, Galveston is looking good now, with all of her new trees and plantings. With luck, it will be another hundred years before the next storm takes those out.

      I haven’t thought of Jackson Browne in some time. When I went over to YouTube to have a listen, there were several old favorites in the sidebar, including his “Running on Empty” — one of the best road songs ever.


    2. I was so excited to find someone else who knows about Clayton, I forgot to ask the first question that crossed my mind. What piqued your interest about him? Was there a connection to mathmatics? I’ve read that his work, especially on the Bishop’s Palace, was remarkably intricate and precise.

      1. I did my research seven years ago for an article in Texas Highways, but I can’t remember now how I first got interested in Clayton. I’m pretty sure there was nothing mathematical about my interest in him. Clayton designed St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin and also the main building for St. Edward’s University here.

  21. This beautiful post made me feel nostalgic, Linda. Although a city dweller of many years’ standing ( fortunate to live overlooking a river and park) I grew up in the wild North-Western islands of Scotland, where weather dominated one’s life. I recall childhood nights, tucked up cosy in bed, listening to the wind tearing the world apart outside, wondering where the Power came from which generated such wild and often destructive energy.

    So, every year, I need my ‘fix’ of Northern seas and skies. We are off to the beautiful west coast, near the town of Fort William, at the end of this month. It will probably rain much of the time. I’ll stand on the shore, look to sea, and think of you!

    1. Isn’t it amazing, how those memories stay with us? I had nothing so dramatic as your islands, but our winters could be memorable, with wailing winds and snow piling up and up against the windows.

      What a treat to look forward to, your trip to Fort William. I looked it up, and see that there’s some good hiking in the area. Now I know about Ben Nevis and shinty — what an amazing world and culture that would be to explore.

      I did laugh at the Wiki. How they calculate such things is hard to say, but there was a note that 726 people in Fort William speak Gaelic. I also noticed that the proposed development of a touristy area has been abandoned, due to lack of support from townspeople. Wise, those Scots!


  22. What a superb piece of writing this is, Linda. I suspect it’s the best I will read all day today, and it’s only breakfast time over here in the UK. Thank you so much for starting my day so well.

    1. How kind you are, Andy. Clearly, you’re one who pays attention to light, shadow, and the patterns of the world, as well as loving the sea. I’m glad you found something here to nourish your creativity — along with that necessary breakfast!


  23. Unlike your boats, your posts are unvarnished, which is how I like them.

    I remember when weather meant large, painted wall maps with magnetic symbols and numbers stuck on, and men in short sleeved shirts with ties and buzz cut hair solemnly pronouncing over them. We became so enamored of these new fangled scientific guys that we ignored the old folks, the ones who had 70 and 80 years of experience to draw on, who could look at the sky and feel the wind and who were often more accurate than the science guys because they weren’t looking at gages and models, but the actual sources of the weather, the sky, the earth, and who could smell dust on the wind, and the strength of the gusts, and the color of the sky, and knew what those high mackerel clouds meant or a brilliant, dust-illuminated sunset meant because they’d lived through it for years.

    They could smell hail, and knew when to head for the cellar. They knew when to plant by the feel of the soil and the phase of the moon. We’re losing these people to time, and the subsequent generations of gage watchers are not replacing them. It’s an irreparable loss.

    1. Your mention of those buzz cuts and short sleeved shirts reminded me not of weathermen, but of NASA in the good old days. Both sorts, weather guys and flight controllers, had an air of comforting earnestness, a kind of “just the facts, ma’am” approach that isn’t as common as it used to be.

      You mentioned the color of the sky, and I just realized no one has yet mentioned the green sky before a good midwestern storm. Do you get green skies up there, too? We always assumed they were the calling card of a tornado, and made sure the path to the storm cellar was clear.

      I agree that technology is running a little roughshod over the old ways. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much to flush out people who’ll admit (even with a tinge of embarassment, sometimes) that they do enjoy the weather for its own sake, and have their own, entirely non-scientific ways of determining what’s coming down the road.

      Me? I keep an eye on the fireant mounds. ;)


        1. I read through the whole thing. It was a bit of a slog at times, but I like that line you pointed out, and a good number of other lines, too. There’s very little more delightful than having that experience of coming across a phrase or a description, and recognizing it immediately.

  24. Wonderful! I’ve always worked and played outside, and with animals — and learned long ago to look to them both for the signs. It’s when I miss those outings, is when I’m caught off-guard! :) The animals are the best barometers, though; always have been. I almost feel sorry for the poor weather people, attempting to make sense of Mama Nature!

    1. Of course you’d mention the animals, FeyGirl. I just mentioned fireants to WOL, in the preceeding comment. For predicting big rain, they can’t be beat. And when a strong norther is on the way, Dixie Rose will prowl for hours before it arrives. It’s really interesting to watch her. Sometimes, she carries her tail straight up and completely fluffed out as she goes from window to window, watching and waiting.

      I suspect you’ve experienced the quiet before a tropical storm or hurricane, too. The birds, fish and other creatures know, and head for the hills (or deeper water.) It’s like having a two-year old in the house. When it suddenly and inexplicably becomes very, very quiet, it’s time to start paying attention!


      1. You’re absolutely right! It’s fascinating… Working in the stables (as a horse trainer), I was taught to always observe them first, for approaching storms. (I kept dry, and saved time tacking up, with this in mid!) And growing up on a tiny island in the South Pacific, we were taught about tsunamis from an early age. If the critters run away from the water, no matter what the skies may appear… You do the same. It’s just a matter of working with *all* of nature, really.

  25. For me, there is nothing like contemplating the deep blue sky, or the vast expanse of the ocean. Nowadays, however, we are so distracted by our devices and gadgets, so much so that we fail to appreciate the beauty of nature. Our senses have been stunted by too much exposure to technology. You’re right. We have to re-learn again to slow down and cherish the wonders of the natural world to recover our humanity.

    “Wherever you are, whatever your season, take the time. Yield to the wind’s embrace. Rejoice in the humidity. Disappear into the fog. Accept the heat. Describe to yourself the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the weight of the air.”

    Beautiful piece! Thanks for sharing…


    1. Matt, I was greatly amused to discover a new phenomenon called a “Digital Detox Weekend.” For the first time in my life, I may have been ahead of the curve. (On the other hand, I may be a grumpy old leftover from an unbearably analog time. I suppose opinions could differ on that.)

      In any event, you’re right about the importance of paying attention to the natural world. I’m not about to give up my computer, or the convenience of a cell phone, or even the occasional text. But texting rather than talking — even to people only twenty feet away? Preferring reality shows on television to reality? Sleeping with a smartphone? No, thank you.

      I listen to people whine about how many hours they devote to Facebook, Twitter and texting, and I always wonder: are you not a free person? Can’t you make a decision to turn it off and walk away? Perhaps not.

      In any event, you know we’re on the same wave length here. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s the sort of thing I have to re-read myself, from time to time — just as a reminder.


      1. Heard, too, about the “Digital Detox Weekend,” Linda. If I’m not mistaken, read about it in an article written by Arianna Huffington, founder and chief editor of the Huffington Post. She has recently written a book entitled “Thrive,” through which she advocates people to slow down; stating, among other things, that there’s more to life than working excessively and living a 24/7 life enslaved to our gadgets and devices.

        I, too, Linda am not a Luddite, and wouldn’t advocate that we ignore technology and dump all our gadgets and devices altogether. The 60s and 70s media guru, Marshall McLuhan wrote: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” The question is: What kind of society is being shaped by people who are obsessed with technology? I just hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that there are far more important things in life…


    1. Steve, that caption bubbled up when I still was amused by an early title for this piece: “Partly Attentive, With Scattered Comprehension.” I suspect you may have come across those conditions in your classroom from time to time.


  26. Oh, Linda, this one brings back soooo many memories! I think people who spend a great deal of time outdoors (whether it be through work or recreation) tend to be wiser about Nature’s ways. And more attuned to the nuances.

    Yes, it’s wonderful having the technology to *know* what’s going to happen with the weather (and with our hearts). But you’re so right in saying there’s more to the picture than “book knowledge” — there’s understanding (and it takes a special kind of patience and intuition to develop that).

    How well I recall those hot Texas days, when even 10 o’clock at night sees the temperatures in the 90s! I was fortunate in not experiencing any hurricanes while I lived there (Gulfport, of course, was a far different story!). What I do remember was watching an immense thunderstorm (a “gullywasher,” I believe they called it!) building and making its way across the North Texas prairie — as I stood on about the 30th floor of a Dallas skyscraper!!

    1. How lucky you were that you saw only thunderstorms from your office perch, and not tornadoes. There are some fantastic (read: terrible) videos of the tornado swarm that hit Dallas in 2012 on YouTube. It’s nerve-wracking just to watch them.

      I’m sure you’ve said, but is Dallas named after Dallas? I just made the connection.

      The first time I saw hurricane damage was on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, after Camille. There are some before and after photos here that include the Merry Mansion in Gulfport, and the infamous Richeleau Apartments. I still hear people talking about that hurricane party, usually when they’re trying to convince someone to head inland.

      I’m not sure about this, but I suspect every writer who lives through extreme weather is tempted, at least once, to begin a story with some variation of, “It was a dark and stormy night…”


  27. I particularly liked your reference to weather and heart Linda.

    As with others, I look to the animals to check my thoughts on weather and changes. Dear Sally would always let me know with her ‘witches tail’ flying away if a storm was coming, and Frank refuses to come for a walk if rain is imminent. Locally, the kangaroos come into a certain paddock if high winds are on the way. I also found a tortoise crossing the highway last year, from low ground to slightly higher, two days before a major wet event.

    This winter, I’m luxuriating in comparative warmth, because there’s little need to be out in the worst of it, quite a change from other years. Yet, there is a little part of me that misses feeling the intensity of the Forces……

    1. Eremophila, every time you mention the kangaroos, I just laugh. They seem like such improbable creatures, and to know someone who has them hanging around — well, it’s just wonderful. Apparently they’re not all cute and adorable, though. I saw a news release somewhere recently about a woman being attacked by one, and I had the sense kangaroos can become a bit like our whitetail deer – fine, until they start overrunning the place.

      We have “turtle season” here, when the creatures are out and about and crossing roads everywhere, either looking for a nice place to hibernate or coming out of hibernation. The turtles wouldn’t mind the wet, of course. We only have one native tortoise, and it’s found farther south and west.

      As for those forces of nature – they are compelling. There’s always a certain excitement that accompanies bad weather, even hurricanes. I think one of the best poems about the complexity of storms is Spellbound, by Emily Bronte. I do love it, and it always evokes childhood blizzards for me.


  28. Linda, my life being what it is with a little one, I’m only getting to this now, but I find myself breathless at it’s gorgeous conclusion. I think you should submit this to some journal or magazine. The opening section reminded me immediately of the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird, the wise and steady observations of a woman from the south. And the rest? Pure humanity. What a beautiful, beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it here. My dreams will be full of strong and hot weather tonight.

    1. Emily, I suspect part of the reason this piece resonates with you so deeply has to do with rediscovering the natural world, this time through Elliott’s eyes. Still, I thank you for your generous comments. In a world of flashy and ephemeral, I especially appreciated “wise and steady.”

      I’m going to rework this just slightly this afternoon, and make some inquiries tomorrow. It would be a perfect fit for a magazine here that’s published some of my other pieces, although I suspect it’s too late for this summer. It would belong in the August issue at the latest, so we’ll see.

      But, the nudge is welcome for another reason. There were a couple of pieces I was going to submit for the Christmas season this year, and the time to do it has come. Had you not said something, I would have forgotten it until November, and that would have been entirely too late. I’m not used to looking ahead so far.


  29. The weather gurus at Accuweather announce that this week we can look forward to Return of Son of Polar Vortex. Furthermore they suggest that we may owe this visitation to the action of last week’s West Pacific typhoon, Neoguri. Thus an access of tropical heat on one side of the planet may be balanced, yin-yang fashion, by an effusion of polar coolth on the other.

    That sort of global perspective is made possible by computers, telecommunications and weather satellites. A lone observer is unlikely to achieve that insight no matter how weather-wise and attuned to local conditions she may grow.

    I certainly don’t mean to belittle “a grumpy old leftover from an unbearably analog time”. :) Both sorts of truth have their place and their value. In this modern digital age it is our privilege to have a choice. Thanks for the compelling reminder, so that we remain appropriately mindful and properly grateful.

    After reading your piece I plan to be outside sniffing the air when the next front rolls through my location. Will there be hints of East Asia on the wind?

    1. Recently, I mentioned to someone my gentle dislike for the phrase “Super Moon.” The old-fashioned “perigee moon” is both more descriptive and more specific. Super moon sounds like something straight out of an ad agency, or a variation on the super-sizing at certain food chains.

      “Son of Polar Vortex” risks edging into that same territory. Tom Skilling in Chicago “chooses instead to call it a “highly amplified jet stream” that will bring “a pool of unseasonably cool air.” As the linked article says, it’s not as flashy as a forecast, but it’s more accurate.

      WHO in Des Moines demurred, as well, saying, “[Polar vortex] has now been brought back in association with the forecast for next week. While it will be colder than average, this air mass is not necessarily directly related to the actual polar vortex. The pressure will not be as low and the air not as cold. The cooler air will be from the northeast Pacific Ocean and not from the poles. Next week’s weather can be simply and more accurately explained as an unusually deep dip in the jet stream.”

      Of course, this is a bit of a sidebar, and not directly related to your larger point, which is that the computers and satellites and models and such give us access to information and an ability to interpret information we’ve never had before. All of that’s true, and the information is valuable.

      Still, weather as a ratings game or collection of slogans isn’t very useful. Keeping our own observations and experience in the mix is a way of increasing the accuracy of our forecasts. It’s not just that we have a choice, it’s that we can — and should — utilize different ways of knowing. It can be discouraging, sitting in a downpour while looking at a smartphone app that shows nothing on the radar.


      1. Please don’t blame Accuweather for “Return of Son of…”. That was my own jocular contribution, offered in the spirit of Hollywood hype. Accuweather did allude to “polar vortex”, although they qualified the phrase with “summer version” (which I interpret as “rerun”).

        1. You might get a kick out of this piece. Shoot, it’s even got a screen shot of a tweet from Ryan Maue. ;)

          And way down at the bottom, there’s poor old Accuweather, still unrepentant. It’s an old story now, but I did notice that a new bit of shorthand popped up while it was around: PVC. No, not polyvinyl chloride. Polar vortex controversy!

  30. People who depend on the weather always understand it best. The child always knows the parent’s next move because his existence depends on it. We were talking about hurricane season the other day. I hope this year will be kind to us. I enjoyed your descriptions of the emerging seasons in your area. Lovely.

    1. You’re on target with your observation about the children, Bella. People who think children aren’t aware of what’s happening around them often are people who haven’t been around many children.

      One of my gripes with “zero tolerance” policies in schools, and the sort of decisions being made by CPS officials, is that they’ve lost an ability to distinguish between perfectly acceptable parents and those who don’t abide by their one-size-fits-all rules. A daddy or mommy who consistently gets drunk on a Saturday night may be a far better parent than a daddy or mommy who’s utterly unpredictable. (I know, I know. Heretical.)

      I just thought recently, “It’s mid-July. Two and a half more months.” I’m usually hyper-prepared, but I’ve been slacking. At the very least, I should check my batteries and buy extra cat food and litter. Ah, priorities.


    1. Thanks, Pat. I’m almost directly across the lake from the Hilton, at the Moorings at South Shore. There’s only about a week out of the year when the sunrise strikes the Hilton in exactly this way. Needless to say, I was happy to capture it.

      Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay.


  31. Your writing and observations is simply divine! I am in awe of this effortless rumination of how you see life. I am definitely going to follow you :) blessings, Tamara

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, Tamara, and thank you for your comment. I’m pleased to have you as a follower — you’re always welcome here!


  32. Thank you for this post. I read yet another story this weekend about the fact, or at least the perception, that children don’t spend enough time out of doors.

    It happened to be hot and humid that day, and the story reminded me of how differently we experienced summer when I was a kid. Most homes then didn’t have air conditioning and the electronics might or might not include a black-and-white TV with a ten-inch screen and seven channels that did not broadcast 24 hours a day, so there wasn’t much incentive to stay inside. We plunged out in the heat and stayed in it all day.

    One of our pastimes was playing baseball on a lot so arid that it seemed to intensify the heat. We’d get a gallon bleach jug from the basement, wash it thoroughly, wrap it in a couple of jackets to keep the sun off it, and lug it to what passed for a playing field, taking occasional swigs to ward off stroke. By the time we got home the sweat and dirt all over our bodies made us look like a chorus of Al Jolson impersonators. And life was never sweeter.

    1. I wasn’t a baseball player, but bike-riding and pick-up dodgeball served the same purpose. My friends and I were outdoors, we were active, we didn’t get into very much trouble, and best of all, we were free to play our games the way we wanted. There never was a lack of things to do, and no one thought there was anything wrong with parents who said, “Get out of here. Go outdoors and play,” without trailing along to be sure we were “safe.” Today, someone probably would call CPS on my folks.

      I keep hearing that the world’s different, today, that it simply isn’t safe to allow children to walk to school or play unattended. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but I do wonder how many threats are real, and how many are imagined by over-anxious parents.

      In any event, I remember that world you describe, and I remember it fondly. Too bad you didn’t have a nice creek nearby to cool off in!


  33. There is a saying here in Michigan about the weather — if you don’t like it, hold on for a bit; it’s bound to change. Yes, and often! I look at the weather when planning to pack and invariably it’s off a bit. Even last week, they said “cool.” But in the sun it was warm and only the breeze was cool and most welcome, given the sunsitting hours we could enjoy because we weren’t melting into the lawn furniture!

    Our summer so far IS unseasonably cool. But it’s warm enough to not always have to bundle, to weed the garden without discomfort, to do tasks inside and out. Our humidity is lower than usual; the bugs greater, the rain more frequent. But we always manage to do what must be done and find plenty more.

    I’ll certainly follow the weather a bit. But I never rely on it till I see the darkening clouds or feel the chill that comes with an upcoming freeze. And then I’ll add an extra layer and pick up a sweet girl whose natural fur coat and big purr makes me feel warm all over and delight in the next bit of this experience of being alive.

    1. I do miss living in a place with four very distinct seasons, Jeanie, and part of the reason is that the weather has such variety. Yes, winter can drag on, and, as we remember from last year, you’re as likely to live without electricity after a storm as we are. Still, the changes in the sky, the light, the winds, are simply delightful.

      I laughed at your reference to packing, and the trouble it can be to prepare for whatever comes. I refer to brief periods in our spring and fall as “clothes changing seasons.” From 8 in the morning to 6 at night, I may change clothes three or four times. And it’s not always just a matter of taking off a jacket, then a sweatshirt. This spring was so crazy that I’d start in jeans, a tee, a sweatshirt and jacket in the morning, and be in shorts and a teeshirt by afternoon. In the fall, the process is reversed. A good cold front can drop us 40 degrees in no time at all – it’s interesting, and fun to experience.

      I think I’ve told you about my best weather indicator. When Dixie Rose begins spending time curled up in her big china wash basin, I know that spring has truly come. And when she abandons it to begin sleeping in sunny spots on the floor, I know that autumn’s on the way. Our little barometers!


  34. It’s interesting how those name storms become cultural reference points when you live on the Gulf coast. So instead of saying 1986, one might say “the year after Elena.” And certain of the storms will now conjure up cultural references that transcend weather–like Katrina or Andrew.

    I keep an eye on the weather a lot too. The weatherpeople are most helpful for long term and macro-events. But this is the time of year here when we tend to get “scattered thunderstorms.” So I have a friend who got only .1 inches of rain from early June to mid July. Another in the same general community got 3.5 inches in a week. I’ve learned to pay attention to the breeze, and to smell or sense the rain. Sometimes, like yesterday, a big nasty cloud bank was drifting toward us from the west. But I was fairly confident it was going to break up before it reached us and that the heart of it would pass to the north of us. Sure enough, we got only a sprinkle and I didn’t need to stop what I was doing. There was no need to come inside and look up the radar data. Of course I get it wrong sometimes too, but as you know there is a lot we can figure out just by paying attention to what nature is telling us.

    1. You’re right about the precedence of names over dates, Bill. If someone asks me, “What year was Allison?” or “When did Alicia roll through?”, I have to stop and think. The images rise up first, and I have to clear them away to get back to the world of dates and times.

      I think our experiences dictate the lists, too — at least to a great extent. I made a trip down to the Keys in 1993, just over a year after Andrew made landfall. We drove through parts of Homestead, and it truly was awful, even then. And yet, when I think of bad hurricanes, Andrew never makes the list. Neither does Hugo, for that matter, or any of the other east coast storms. I know more about the twin Indianola, Texas hurricanes of the late 1800s than I do of Hugo. I suppose it’s a variant of geography as destiny.

      The kind of variation you mention is so common around here. I have a friend who lives across Clear Lake from me. If it weren’t for the trees and a few buildings, I almost could see her house. Even so, I can sit and watch a downpour at here place, while the sidewalks here stay perfectly dry. Houston floods for days, and I listen to the reports while watering the outdoor plants that are desperate for water. Those are the times when a look at the sky beats radar, hands down.

      Now that I think of it, I use water vapor imagery as much as radar. There’s a phenomenon I call “varnisher’s rain” — precipitation that’s so light 99% of people wouldn’t even notice it. But it can ruin a day’s work.


  35. A beautifully meditative post, Linda. I now think I’ll start relying a little less on my Android weather app, and go out more on the balcony, both in Santiago and when I’m at the coast…

    1. That’s the spirit, Andrew! And just the right approach. There’s no need to toss away the weather apps. Just a glance or two at the clouds and the skies, a little attention to the wind, is a wonderful supplement. You’re already well ahead of some people, just because of your sensitivity to the quality of the light. It’s a practical benefit of your artistic endeavors!


  36. As we’ve seen over the past couple of decades, the interpretation of weather data can lead to very different, and even contradictory, ideas. Often, the resulting analysis is spun one way or the other, depending on the preconceived conclusions that needed to be reached. What you’re talking about is something on another level entirely. We used to call it knowledge. It takes a long time to acquire, and isn’t based solely on measurements. Much harder to spin, too, which makes it somewhat — you know — inconvenient.

    I loved this: “…the lovely, bubbling clouds of summer that rise as if by magic, gathering, scattering and subsiding as they rain themselves out on the horizon.”

    1. You’ve captured the sense of what Andrew Lang once said: “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than for illumination.” As for the usefulness of computer models for prediction, the same holds true for weather as for anything else: the result depends on the input. GIGO, as the programmers used to say, and may still.

      Of course, those who predict weatherby the moon’s halo and the crying of the rain raven have the same issues. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” has centuries of observation behind it. “A bluebird means blue skies” is a friend’s favorite, but as far as I can tell, that’s her conclusion alone, based on only a few observations — if any!

      I suppose that’s part of the reason we’re losing the kind of knowledge that makes non-statistical forecasting possible. A very small percentage of us are out in the world every day, even fewer pay attention, and our generations are fragmenting so badly knowledge doesn’t get passed on as it used to.

      But that doesn’t mean a useful joining of science, experience and intuition can’t be had. We just need to value our own sensitivities as much as the proclamations of self-appointed experts.


  37. This is a beautiful post. I fell in love with weather, and clouds in particular, in 5th grade when we placed cotton on blue paper to approximate certain cloud formations. I love watching the sky. You have captured it perfectly here. Your writing is soooooo good.

    1. Wasn’t grade school great, Teresa Evangeline? There was so much to discover. You made cotton clouds, I churned butter in second grade. Those are the things we never forget. They tie us to the world in ways that words alone never will. Neither of us is opposed to words, of course — but all the senses are needed for a full understanding of this world in which we live, and move, and have our being.

      I know how much you love the sky. I’m’ glad you found some resonance here.


  38. What a very savant blog, Linda ! Your knowledge and writing are fascinating. I need to re-read this blog to fully grasp all you shared with us so beautifully.

    For the moment I look at our sky over the mountains.It is 8.30pm, not quite dark, the sky still clear, a light grey shade. Over the mountains huge dark clouds are crawling like strange beasts or on a smaller scale, large ink stains on a clean notebook. Not a good promise for tomorrow’s weather. When there is a “cap” or small round cloud over the highest mountain, we all know that rain is coming soon. These observations have been proved to be right.

    Observing the weather, be it light, clouds, wind, shades of sunsets as well as feeling the scents around tell you a lot. We use to say in French : “it smells like snow”. Odorless for you maybe but believe me, over here in the mountains we know this feeling.

    Thank you for your blog as well as your responses to your visitors.

    1. I’m fascinated by the “cap” on your mountain, Isa. Your mention of it reminds me of the way montucky “reads” his mountains. It’s our close reading of the world around us — after learning its vocabulary, of course! — that makes prediction possible.

      It sounds so fanciful to say, “Count the number of stars within the ring around the moon, and it will tell how the number of days before rain,” but so it is. More times than I can count, predictions made by the ring and the stars have been exactly right.

      I think perhaps your sense of snow coming may be like our sense of a hurricane brewing. There’s a certain kind of sky that appears beforehand. It’s recognizable, and when it’s combined with a slow, silent water rise, people pay attention.

      Aren’t we lucky to live in relationship with the physical world as we do? It isn’t always comfortable, but no relationship is.

      Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing some of your experiences with weather – so different, and yet not.


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