The Weather Aboveground

Weather predictions are an old New Hampshire joke. Start talking about weather predictions, and everyone has a story. The time when we were kids that the weather channel, for weeks, ran a picture of a sun with a raincloud over it and snow falling (this was in August). The time the weather station accidentally predicted tornadoes for a week of what turned out to be sunshine (no one was even the slightest bit alarmed and the locals generally went about their daily business undisturbed). My dad says that when they were kids, every other state finally got its own weather channel, while New Hampshire got an old grumpy man on the television who kept insisting that, “if you want to know the weather, look outside.” And – my father adds – he was right.

If the weather channel is stubborn and obstinate in the face of New Hampshire, it is hopeless in the face of Kentucky in a way that verges on tragic. It wants so badly to help here, you see. It is so sure that it can help, and it is here, every day, clipboards and utterly useless advice at the ready. It insists it will rain for a week straight, whereupon it is ceaselessly, relentlessly sunny, and there I am carrying around a bright yellow umbrella. It predicts sun, and my day by the pool is ruined by intermittent rain. The best course of action on any given day is to plan to stay inside, while being simultaneously prepared at any moment to dash into the great outdoors and enjoy the good weather while it lasts, in increments ranging from 30 seconds to 4 days at a time, generally, before the next unpredictable shift.

I thought of this last night particularly because the predictions called for thunderstorms. I love sleeping to the sound of rain, and have always loved night storms. As a kid, they downed trees and sometimes took out the power, but they were gentle giants, scary in the same delicious way as reading a ghost story with friends in the tent you made in the living room out of blankets and pillows. Here, less so. That storm a few weeks ago that shook the entire building is a good metric for the experiential shift along the coast. Storms rage here. They threaten. They shake their fists violently not at the sky, but from it; not with human fragility and futility, but with a scope and scale that successfully reminds us how small we are. At home in New England, when a big storm was coming, we stocked up on candles. Here, I simply make sure to be home long before it may start, and wait by the phone in case Ben should still be driving.

Yesterday, the predictions were fantastically wrong, as is their wont. I went grocery shopping early so I could get home, and overhead, the sky was mostly blue, and the clouds were huge and wet and stacked atop one another, creating oblong shapes with no geometric name, and would have been white, but where the sun was setting, and the light shining through, they were pink in some places, peach and orange in others. And those clouds – those big, bizarre, bumbling, oversized structures – those clouds contained lightning.

As soon as I realized what was happening, I froze in the parking lot, gaping. Every few seconds the clouds would light up from within, flashing and burning, and then fade out just as quickly. No lightning ever emerged, none ever touched down, and the clouds moved on and with them, the threat of the storm. As a researcher, I’m tempted to learn all about them – what clouds like that are called, whether it is really possible for the One Cloud to Rule Them All to contain, within itself, an entire storm, and how or why such a thing would work – but between tornadoes and flash floods and other threats that suggest to me, for the first time, that I am out in the middle and very much at the mercy of nature, I am opting for now to just remain, respectfully, in awe.

“The Marriage Dispute”

The front page of the Courier-Journal today had an article, above the fold, on “the marriage dispute” and the well-regarded lawyers on both sides who have taken it upon themselves to argue the case. “The marriage dispute” – cute little title for a fight for marriage equality that will have seismic impacts on people’s lives, health, well-being, families. Pithy. A Noel-Coward-esque way of referencing one of the greatest civil rights movements our nation has ever seen. Cute, Louisville. Cute.

Welcome to Kentucky; Here There Be Dragons.

Saturday night there was a storm so violent the entire building shook and woke us all. The humidity had been terrible, and when we woke to sunshine the next day and stepped out of the air-conditioning people here keep running seven months out of the year, it was no better. It finally broke today for no apparent reason. I was informed it had no correlation to the previous rain.

Too much humidity in New England means a storm is coming; too much humidity in Kentucky means you are here between the months of March and October. A cool day in a New England summer is nature’s way of reminding you that the season is short, and fall is coming, and winter is long and full of terrors. A cool summer day in Kentucky is confusing and unnatural. The poor locals. They seem offended.

There is so much space in the midwest and the south. While there are long and unpopulated stretches of Massachusetts, New York, and the east coast, they are stretches, outliers and aberrations, disruptions in otherwise crowded landscapes, deliberate room to breath. Here, there just is space, as though everyone simply has enough room, and if you don’t, move a few minutes out of town; space, and plenty more where that came from. The grocery stores are enormous, the size of several city blocks in Manhattan, every one of them. For less than what I paid in New York City for a bedroom and shared bath, we have a two bedroom condo with two bathrooms, a living room, an office, and a kitchen big enough to hold a full-size table. The greater complex has a two pools and a tennis court. I can’t make sense of it. I have been here since October and every time I sit on my balcony – balcony! are you kidding me! – I can’t help but think I’m on vacation, travelling from Point A to Point B and staying at one of those nondescript motels between, a Best Western or a Holiday Inn. But no. People really live like this. I – I – I really live like this.

To most people who grew up North of the Mason-Dixon Line – to me, even now, if I’m being honest – everything in the middle of the map, those fly-over states ranging ruggedly and mysteriously from West Virginia to Tennessee to Arkansas to Kansas, might as well be labelled, “Here There Be Dragons.” And even if people are about the same everywhere – rude, if on different topics; loving, if having different socially ingrained ways of expressing it; considerate and difficult and grouchy before their coffee and sometimes after their coffee by turns – even if people really are pretty much the same everywhere, and even if the busy road running by my place here isn’t terribly unlike Route 1 through Dedham, Mass, even if Target and Walmart and Starbucks and McDonald’s have the same menu in every state in the Union, yes, still, it’s true; everything is different and Here There Be Dragons. I will study them at length and send detailed notes. It will not be difficult. In addition to steady internet access and the services of the United States Postal Service, both FedEx and UPS, as well as Amazon and eBay, call Kentucky home for their largest shipping centers. Did you know it is fastest to get anywhere in the US from Kentucky? Now you know. It’s travel by dragon. Fastest way to fly.