Washington is famous for its shared passions. Politics and the Redskins quickly come to mind but there is a third pervasive passion in Washington. Those of us who share it usually go unrecognized. "Weather watchers" is too dry a term for us; we are "weather sensitives."
Weather sensitives experience joy bordering on ecstasy in the change of seasons and the daily nuances of weather. Many of us feel slight palpitations when the weatherman promises substantial snows or an uncharacteristically cool summer day. In Washington we have found a weather paradise. There are no tall buildings to get in the way, and we are privileged to live in a climate with four distinct seasons. Within these seasons we can count on weather surprises. Weather sensitives thrive in such a climate, in which the novel occurs within a cycle of certainty.
Many weather sensitives have related passions: gardening, hiking, birding or botany. We love to travel and what excites us most are the changes in climate and topography. You will find us en route in the window seat of the plane, studying a wad of cloud. On boats we are at the bow in any weather, stubborn and wind-whipped, remaining past reason.
In Washington it is not generally known what august company we share. While choosing a permanent site for the nation's capital and then supervising its design and construction, George Washington took every occasion to visit his beloved Mount Vernon. During a summer visit in 1792 he wrote: "The day and night we reached home, there fell a most delightful and refreshing rain, and the weather since has been as seasonable as the most sanguine farmer could wish . . . ."
Washington was weather sensitive, a passion shared by Thomas Jefferson. Both were accomplished experimental horticulturists. Jefferson was fascinated by differences in climate from one region to the next and he kept elaborate meteorologic records when time permitted. He was very pleased with his part of the world. "On the whole," he wrote, "I find nothing anywhere else in point of climate which Virginia need envy to any part of the world." April in Monticello was a particular delight with its "soft genial temperature . . . just above the want of fire, enlivened by the reanimation of birds, the fields, forests and gardens."
For weather sensitives, memories are wrapped in weather: the particulars of the season and the day on which we fell in love, got jilted, were married, and our babies were born. Career triumphs are celebrated with a walk, and we will always remember that the ginkgo leaves were falling that day.
In my own circle of weather sensitives we know each other by our preferences. We all nod knowingly when it snows. Laura will be happy. Oh, the ice is melting. Anne will be able to walk her puppy Molly all the way to the little creek today. We know that Dalis loves those misty November mornings with wet, black bare trees as well as the fullness of June. Bev will be worried about the drought, and furious with weather forecasters who are exclaiming about another gorgeous day when the farmers' crops are withering. (Weather sensitives love most any weather, but not droughts.)
Just as we are easily recognized by our rain-soaked hair and muddy shoes, I am sorry to have to say that we weather sensitives can spot the nonsensitive all too easily. Some years ago my husband and I drove up to Frederick County's Gambrill State Park on a winter afternoon. From a rocky overlook on Catoctin Mountain there is a panoramic view of a rural valley with South Mountain rising behind it. When we reached the overlook we gasped for the beauty. Ethereal layers of winter mist hung over the fields and wreathed South Mountain. A setting sun glowed through the mist, infusing the scene with a delicate orange. We stood there in awe, arms wrapped around each other. Our reverie was unbroken by the approach of another couple. They took one look, turned and headed back to the car. "Eh, nothing to see today," one said to the other. We were stunned.
Most weather sensitives are not serious farmers who have genuine weather concerns. In fact, we are probably dilettantes, dabbling in the elements and then returning to the comfort of our homes. But perhaps in the past society would have had a use for our sensitivity. In pre-electronic days we may have been the ones to divine the best times to sow and harvest, the most auspicious day for the journey. Surely a knowledge of storm patterns and seasonal fluctuations would have been key to the survival of early peoples.
Instead, we'll have to content ourselves with our own simple pleasures. We'll stay tuned to the wind: the soft spring winds from the south that hold the mystery of Spanish moss-draped trees; the cool Canadian breezes that occasionally chase the humidity off in the summer; the east winds that bring all the moodiness of the Atlantic. When the violent storms come, and the droughts, and the floods, we'll wonder, like everyone else, about global warming.
Ours is a simple avocation, available to everyone. All you need is the weather itself, and here in Washington you've got it. Perhaps you will even grow to be like Thomas Jefferson who found "interest or affection in every bud that opens, in every breath that blows."