Word of the day

Last week, the air quality index (AQI) was higher in Portland, Oregon than anywhere else in the world. This is not a good thing. What should have been cool autumn fog was hot summer smoke; the product of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.

So on Friday, when the rains descended like a curtain, closing the long second act of Portland summer, I was not alone in my enthusiasm.

Don’t get me wrong, in this dim cold corner of the country any clutch of sunlight is treasured. After a sloshy spring and a sponge-damp June, summer bust into our backyards unfashionably late. She came in hot, wearing a flower-painted romper and swinging a basket of stone fruit. Her peaches glistened. Her plums were soft. You forgot about the rain as she uncorked the rivers and swimming holes. She’d jump on the bed at the crack of dawn and dance you out late. Sure, she drank too much White Claw and sometimes scorched us like a 10-year-old sociopath with a magnifying glass. And yes, she lingered, long after the kids went back to school and your out-of-towners hit the airport.

On Friday morning summer slunk out and her curly-haired step-brother moved in. His dark grey duffle holds the dreaded rain, the miserable cold, the palliative darkness. Blessed is the society that learns to long for death for they have tasted the fruit of an invincible summer.

OK that’s a stretch. We just need a break. A time for sleep, to slumber, perchance to dream. A rootscape regeneration. Gestation, hibernation, fermentation. An epoch of the inside. And for longing. And for patience. For the clockwork of nature to tick-tick-tick its way into balance.

It was in the context of a group video chat when a latecomer to the conversation chided us for talking about the weather. “I didn’t think we were those people,” she complained.

Weather, noun.

  1. The state of the air or atmosphere.
  2. Vicissitude of season.
  3. Storm, tempest.

But of course we are those people, because there is no “those people.” Forget us and them. There is only we and our collective struggle is the weather. The reason we talk about weather the noun, is because it’s something we all must weather, as verb:

Weather, verb.

  1. To expose to the air.
  2. Hence, to sustain the trying effect of; to bear up against and overcome.

How could we talk about anything else? In my city, weather is both the flame of hope and its merciful extinguisher. It’s the struggle that seasons us. It’s a narrative prompt.

And today, an existential one too. The adjective “unseasonably” lurks in the corner of our conversations, a harbinger of our closest doom. The weather is more than mere small talk.

I don’t look forward to the group video chat in which I tell my best friends’ grandchildren about long forgotten trees, or animals, or even Florida: the erstwhile punchline turned invisible coastline.

Rather than roll their eyes, the youngsters will rapt-eyes wonder about a life before permanent air conditioning, and unscheduled rain, and the shoebox-sized parcels of sunlight we ration to stave off madness. We will never know if they work.

Of course that is many years from now. Long after we collectively, unthinkingly, forgot to talk about the weather.