At the grocery store earlier today the woman ringing up my things asked me about the weather out there. She wanted to know if it was raining or not (again). Without much enthusiasm or interest I said, “Ah, nah, it’s just sprinkling a little.”
“Sprinkling,” she repeated and smiled as she took her time bagging my things, “That’s such a nice way to put it. Around here we always say it’s spitting.”
When we talk about the weather in the States it’s small talk, filler, a way to gap the awkward lulls and silences. It’s meant to be polite. Here, living on an island, not a continent, people are dead-pan serious about the weather. It’s not about being casual, friendly or polite. Here, weather is meaningful conversation. Slowly, I’m starting to begin to understand why.
A few nights ago it didn’t spit and it didn’t sprinkle. It poured. It rained and rained and rained and continued to rain so hard that if I’d been back home in Texas, in Oklahoma or in Mississippi I would have turned the television on to check for a weather watch. Perfectly still, all ears, I listened. It was more than a nice pitter-patter on the rooftop, it was gushing, torrential rain. There was definitely no thunder, no lightening, just sheets of falling water showing no signs of relenting. The relentlessness of the water is what frightened me. Half asleep, I had panicked visions of being swept away down a river in the dark night, a coddled baby in bible times.
It occurred to me then, lying there listening to the night’s rain, why people feel the need to talk about the weather. It’s because they are vulnerable to it. We all are. We are tiny, we are helpless and we are totally and completely subject to Mother Nature’s ambiguous whim; potential victims to her moods. We cannot escape it or out run it or change it, not matter how hard we try. It both represents and reminds us of what we work so terribly hard to pretend we are: invincible, almighty and powerful. Weather, in all its unpredictability, mocks us and our inability to control and safeguard ourselves.
Aren’t we all sort of like little baby Moses floating down a river?
The weather is like many of the things we cannot control, fix or cure. Just like we cannot fix the common cold, we cannot cure cancer, the only thing we have devised to protect ourselves against the weather is a roof and that too is subject to the weather, easily blown away in a storm, ripped off by a fierce, unforgiving wind. We are utterly and hopelessly helpless against such forces and so therefore yes, I suppose the Kiwis are right, weather does deserve daily mentioning.
Today I walked on a beach so big that I felt the smallness of not only myself but of humanity as a whole. Mere ants we were, miniscule dots speckling the sandy shore of that magnificent, roaring coast.
Ocean Beach crouches and crashes behind rolling green hills spattered with white, fluffy sheep, grazing cattle and frisky horses. When the green hills stop suddenly, you feel suspended the moment you glimpse the flat lined horizon of the ocean. The road dips then drops out of sight. Your stomach bottoms out, your breath involuntarily escapes the confines of your lungs. You want to grasp hold someone’s hand—it’s that beautifully heart stopping.
If you drive to Ocean beach right now, you would get a flurry of butterflies in your throat when you reach the part of the road where the asphalt has slipped away, buried then washed out in one of the enormous recent landslides caused by treeless, water-logged land. You would see the waves of hillsides dotted with livestock of the lowing or bleating kind but not only. Those hillsides are also dotted with scars. One year ago last May it rained for so long and so hard that huge chunks of those treeless, rootless hillsides began to loosen. Cubic ton by cubic ton of dirt shifted away from itself and crumbled down towards the ocean, taking and claiming anything and everything in its path. Farms washed away and entire homes fell into rushing rivers and were gone, swept out to sea. Power like that is hard to conceive of in anything, much less in the form of weather.
Walking along that beach today, pressing my small feet into the vast and ever-changing shore reminded me of nature’s greatness. We build dams and bridges and walls and snug, little or big homes that fit comfortably around us. We have structured our neighborhoods, villages, cities and lives to size; we create, buy into and perpetuate the illusion that we have the power to control our built-to-size worlds. Then weather happens. It goes to show us, everyday, that we are wrong if we think we have some sort of say in all this. It is proof that we can be delusional, we have no real leverage. A fact: we are not in charge here. A humbling thought for a wild, roaring beach; as consoling as it is devastating.
Like those water-washed hills, nature has a way of reclaiming what is hers. She rips away hillsides and churns dirt into the sea until it dissolves, until it becomes something else. We are always and forever small yet like the land we are constantly shifting, changing, growing, learning. Unpredictably evolving; formed, shaped and processed by things greater than we’ll ever be. And lest we forget, we have the weather, Mother Nature’s reminder that we are all hers.