Weather Watching and Seasonal Change

My (not so) daily weather log for February 1991.

As a social anthropologist I am acutely aware of the myriad of ways humans cultivate and understand their surroundings through the material changes and attunements they make to their homes and immediate surroundings over a lifetime. These temporal and material changes can be both reassuring and distressing. Reassuring when your home reinforces your sense of who you are and your belonging in the world and utterly distressing when one’s home and surroundings are fundamentally changed, destroyed, taken away, leaving an existential vacuum that brings into question people’s lives, identity and future possibilities.  Similarly, through my academic research with the bereaved and terminally ill, I have become very aware of the necessary sorting and sifting through of memories, artefacts, administration and emotions that a death of something close requires. The never ending cycles of life and death.

But seasons change in other ways too. Over the last year my family have been dealing with the myriad of ways their lives have registered the changing of the seasons so to speak; my brother has just moved into a new home for his expanding family, my father has sold his home to downsize for retirement and my mum is having to leave the family home out of necessity. I have been helping her sift through 35 years of memories, paperwork and objects that reflected a once active woman with a myriad of community roles and creative talents, who now takes up to three hours just to get out of bed each morning. Childhood toys and schoolwork have all been sequestered to a skip at the bottom of the garden or into storage boxes that might never be opened again. More symbolically, to our family at least, the tiny caravan we used to all go on holiday in as kids, including the family cat, dogs and budgie, has been broken up for a scrap metal merchant to come and collect. It has been rusting away for years, gradually eroding into the driveway through years of exposure to northerly winds and peaty rain, but always reassuringly there. That is, until the day that the scrap metal merchants turned up to take it away.

A former shell of a beloved caravan that mum rather incredibly managed to take herself and 3 kids away on holiday in, complete with family pets.
Almost gone. Family holidays rather swiftly and efficiently dismantled into the back of a van.

The spaces we occupy in our lives become enmeshed in our everyday lives in so many ways; not just the house or flat, but the adjoining spaces too: a shed, a garden, a yard, a basement, a vehicle, driveway or street….it’s taking me and my mum considerable time to physically and emotionally go through these spaces and sift, sort, discard and sometimes, re-purpose. Very occasionally this activity has served up a long-forgotten memory or reveals a long-lost treasured item, but most of the time it just hurts (more for mum I admit). Whilst I am currently observing a fundamental change in the seasons for my mother and siblings, I used to (as a bit of serious kid), patiently record the micro-weather systems and seasons through my daily observations, measurements and encounters with nonhuman life in the same bit of drive-way where the rusting, rotting caravan stood until very recently. Of course, I had forgotten all this until sorting through mum’s dresser with her a few weekends ago yielded the re-discovery of my (formerly) beloved ‘complete weather fun kit’ (as the packaging declares).

Within the box my spidery, handwritten recordings still reside, complete with all my terrible misspellings. The ones that make me laugh as a 41-year-old woman today are my handwritten notes to my former kid self, to remember to check the ‘rain gage’ and to refer to the ‘bofort scale’ when recording wind speed. I also smile when I see that under ‘special features’ on the weather entry for February 1991, I have written ‘white snow’! Such recordings of the seemingly obvious and mundane by a 13-year-old me, I now figure were one of the formative ways I registered changes in my immediate environment, the seasonal calendar year and ultimately, my advancement through life. Mum would encourage me and my siblings to also keep nature journals during the school holidays (we always groaned at this, but I appreciate it now), encouraging us to develop our engagements with the plants, animals and sounds of our immediate environment, as well as the atmosphere and local weather. So in a way, the meteorological register that sailing requires is a process of attentive watching, listening and feeling that began many years ago for me, as a 13-year-old girl stood in the driveway of our family home, clutching my compass, notepad and pen, looking up to gauge visibility and identify cloud formations. Even today, living in a very urban, polluted city environment with just a concrete yard for access to outdoor space, I nonetheless find myself each night stepping into the back yard to look up and observe the moon and stars before going to bed and each morning, as I wait for my coffee to percolate, I stand by the back door listening and watching. When I step aboard Punta del Este in just over 6 months’ time, I will be similarly attentive to my immediate environment by observing wind direction and speed, cloud formations and sea states. I will also have to learn to trust my instincts more, especially when helming and trimming sails. I have an awful lot yet to learn and understand, but in some tiny way I acknowledge that this process began when I was a child with my clumsy driveway weather recordings.

In the midst of serious concerns about irreversible climate change and global weather extremes, my daily weather recordings may be understood as one minor register in understanding weather encounters. Of course, I write this fully aware that a key register in collectively understanding weather and climate encounters begins today; an international rebellion organised by Extinction Rebellion. My husband will be in London to participate by playing his beloved sport, cricket. He and some of his friends have set up an Extinction Rebellion Cricket Club; look out for them if you are in London this coming weekend.