Normal Reactions

In the years when I lived and worked in a cold climate, there was some sort of

Snow tree from

drive to master the weather. No matter how much snow or ice piled up and coated your windshield, you got to work on time. (I was not a surgeon or a firefighter, I worked in marketing departments.) There were pre-dawns I shoveled snow, panicky that I could not overcome nature. That I might be late for work. It wasn’t that many years ago that I walked to work in three feet of snow, to prove I was not afraid of weather. That I was not a slacker.

When we arrived at work, it was in 3-inch leather heels and stockings, wool-blend suits and other materials that were easily ruined by salt and water.

A certain level of success and wealth was implied by striding into work without an umbrella, without a canvas tote of boots and gloves. There were executives who had heated garages and even heated driveways. Proof that you were above the weather.

Arizona wildfire. Credit: AP Photo/ The Arizona Republic, Carlos Chavez

I think of those days when I hear about the wildfires in Colorado. The fires have no concern for wealth or status. One person’s house stands, another burns. Reconstruction will take years, souls will knit their cracks only with time and love–neither on sale at Walmart.  Or Barneys.

One of the reasons I love my new home state of Arizona is that the citizens (wild, strange, loving, caring and occasionally gun-totin’) pay attention to the weather. I wear sandals to teaching jobs. I wear linen and cotton clothing. Neat, pressed, but lightweight in deference to our 113-degree heat.

Dust storm (haboob) rolling over Phoenix from

In the evening, I’m in the pool. Not swimming laps, not using exercise tools. I’m in the pool because the weather is hot and the water is cooling. It’s sensible and sane.

I like living in step with nature. I like being realistic. It gives me a sensible outlook on life. And in a way, when our wildfires sweep across our Ponderosa pines (as they did just a few weeks ago), I might feel sorrow, or empathy, or even fear, but I don’t feel outrage. I don’t feel entitled to perfect weather. It feels like a real life.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who keeps her house at 83 degrees during the day. Because that’s still 20 degrees cooler than outside.

17 thoughts on “Normal Reactions

  1. I’m not part of the work force anymore, but I well remember walking to work through drifts of snow that made traveling more than a little treacherous. My employer back then could not understand why the buses had been pulled off their routes and the delivery service would not be picking up at the flower shop. I was young and felt that I needed to show up to prove that my job meant the world to me and it did. But, as the years progressed, I realized that Mother Nature called the shots and it was foolish to push myself beyond what was sensible. By the time I was working in an office, I had accepted that sick days were necessary and if there was an occasional snow day, then I was able to make a pot of tea and sit down with a good book. My conscience had evolved to the point that it recognized being a loyal employee did not necessitate my trying to push beyond reasonable limitations, both health-wise and weather related.

    Now, that I am “retired” due to my health, I still watch the weather reports and plan my shopping trips accordingly. I have a pantry that is kept stocked in the event of my not being able to get out to get the necessities of life –> kitty kibble, kitty treats, almond milk for my coffee/tea, soup and basic art supplies. I no longer dress to impress. My basic wardrobe consists of track pants and t-shirts. I do have a couple of dressier items should the occasion require that I dress a tad more formally. I even have a few tubes of lipstick should I need to really ramp up my efforts to fit into the gathered group.

    Like you Quinn, I don’t have the a/c on depsite the warm temperatures. My apartment is over 80 degrees as I type this, but the fans are sufficient to keep me comfortable. The weather experts are predicting several consecutive days of this “heat wave.” I remember, as a child, taking for granted that summer months just brought along the hot, humid and hazy days. This made the perfect excuse to get out of bed and quietly sit at my window and listen to the soft ball game in the park aross the street. Even now, I still think of those nights spent at the window and can hear the announcer’s voice in my head. Good memories to attach to summer or at least I think so.

    Weather is something that we cannot control, but we can control how we react to it. So much better to find ways to enjoy whatever comes our way rather than rail at how warm we are. Take each day as it comes, make the most of it and try to accomplish something. So, today I am working on kumihimo braids, prepping some canvases and hopefully, making time to vacuum the apartment. I’ll have to see where that third item land on my list of priorities. LOL

    • This sounds like a life in tune with the outside and interior (soul-level) world. It sounds lovely. I must confess, though, that I do have the air conditioning on. It’s set at 83 degrees because that is still 20 degrees colder than outside. In the desert summer heat, I’d die without air conditioning. I do love my pool, though!

  2. In my many visits to Finland I found the Finns to have a good approach to the weather they experience, which is more extreme in some ways than anything in the US (other than northern Alaska). It’s a very outdoors-oriented country, the size of New England but with the population of Boston, and dotted with lakes. When you want to go for a hike, bike ride, a swim in the lake, camping, fishing, etc. you check the weather, suit up accordingly, and just go.

    Some surprising results:
    • year-round commuting by bicycle and motorcycle (yes, even in the snow; I don’t understand how they do it)
    • year-round swimming, whether you have to chip ice first or not (this helps explain the saunas present in every house and office)
    • everybody has several pairs of shoes in their office or cubicle. The indoor ones and sometimes several versions of outdoor footwear
    • it affects their architecture too. Every building I visited had a fairly large “coat room” area

    • Thank you for your kind words! We Finns do pride ourselves on our attitude towards the weather. Though it is awfully difficult for a Finn to admit anything like that about being good at something… But I personally would never swim in avanto. Yes, we do have a name especially for a hole in ice. Says a lot about its importance in our culture.

      It’s always interesting to hear what people from other cultures have noticed in ours. It gives a fresh perspective about everyday things. I never realised that we do have a large area for coats and other outside stuff in our houses. And we do have a special name for that too: either eteinen meaning simply entryway or in modern houses (either residential or any others) tuulikaappi, windcloset, which is a really small room between the front door and the actual entryway and separated by a door from the actual living space. It is, as the name says, meant to keep the weather at bay. It’s also very convenient for drying coats and shoes as its easier to keep it a bit warmer as it is such a small space. Many contemporary houses have floor heating in tuulikaappi which helps to dry out shoes, and many houses today have an unusually large floor drain in their eteinen so that all the snow/mud/water that comes in with shoes stops there (one can wipe your shoes on the grid above the drain).

      That’s one thing I have always wondered about North American houses. That you walk right into your living room! Feels such a strange thing to do, even invading. The Finland eteinen is a semipublic space, kind of a liminal space that allows a gradual approach towards the private. You may ask a cookie-selling girl scout (wait, no, scouts here sell advent calendars, not cookies) to enter the eteinen while you go to get the money, but you would never ask her to enter the actual house.

      Interestingly, not being a farmer, I could easily live without weather forecasts. I can see what the weather is like by looking though the window. There’s nothing I can do about it but to put on the proper gear.

      • What an interesting view of entryways! In New England, we have mudrooms (where you hang coats and leave boots) and we have airlocks (entryways that protect the indoor door from the cold outside air. Here in the desert Southwest, we have an entryway outdoors–which is a just fine place for people to wait. It’s covered but it’s not in the house. It’s outside the front door. Often, there is a fence or gate that you cross first. In Native American culture, you call out and wait before you are invited through the gate. What we do here is offer water to anyone who comes to the door–stranger or friend. You say hello and then ask if they would like some water. Since it’s 110 or above from now till September, it’s a practical and kind offer.

        • So we do have similar kinds of entryways! And we quite often have a small porch in front of the front door too! They can be quite elaborately decorated, especially in old houses (100 years and so) and about half of them have windows so that they are a bit like conservatories and are used as such. They are often not heated but the temperature stays usually close to 0 degrees Celsius during the winter. Good for wintering plants that can’t survive -20 C but still need a winter. Many new houses have cold window porches too: the idea is that during winter the excess heat escaping from the front door is not completely lost and in summer the porch helps to keep the indoors cooler. They pay a lot of attention to energy efficiency these days.

          Google kuisti and you’ll find lots of good pictures of old houses with porches. And quite many indoors pictures too. Worth the trouble, I promise! I have recently thought a lot about entryways and thresholds for my PhD. That’s why this whole thing intrigues me now 🙂

          • There are many similarities in the kiuli in America–of course, I had to look it up. Sometimes we put them in the back of the house and then they are called sunporch, sunroom, Florida room, or screen porch, if there is no glass. Here in Arizona, we call a screen porch an Arizona room, and if it has windows, it’s a Florida room. We have a lot of words for shaded spaces because we need them. We also have ramadas in the front or back of a house. These are sort of semi-shade areas. Often, the elaborateness of the entryway depends on the cost of the house. The more expensive the house, the more private and elaborate the entryway. In my house, we have the protected front porch, but when you come in, you are standing in a small area that’s tiled, but part of the living room. The rest of the room is carpeted. And like you, I deal with people outside the home if I don’t know them. I have to ask what your PhD is going to be in. I love the idea of studying thresholds and entries. It sounds fascinating.

  3. I love this. Sometimes I feel the only way to keep moving onward is by deeply connecting with the natural world wrapped around your place on the earth.

  4. I have always loved harsh weather. Especially storms and rains which makes the autumn my favourite season in that respect. When it rains I’ll put on my woolen jumper and other warm things, and over them my waterproofs and wellies. Then I’ll head out. I love to feel the might of the wind pushing me and past me. It makes me feel both mighty and comfortably small at the same time: the nature is powerful and there is nothing I can do about it, but just like the traveler in the story I can put on proper clothing and stand up to it if need be. And in doing so I do recognise its might and so come that much into a closer contact with it. The same applies to subzero temperatures: the colder the better. And to heat waves too.

    This doesn’t mean that I enjoy opposing the weather and nature but from experiencing that I am mindful and skilled enough to recognise the character of the weather. A bit like a zebra staring at a lion to say ‘I have seen you and I know that you have seen me see you.’ Its kind of being aware and respectful of the mutual strength.

  5. Interesting. I nearly killed myself driving in heavy snow the winter before last because I “had” to go to work. And I often wonder at the clothes people wear to work in hot weather. The longer away from the corporate world, the easier to plough your own furrow.

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