Ever since I first came to the Washington area in 1966 I have been hearing how terrible the weather is here. Each summer when the humidity rises and the Capitol dome dances in the heat waves above the Mall, highly paid columnists and newspersons trot out their new versions of the traditional lament: Oh, why didn't the Founding Fathers locate the nation's government somewhere else?
This is a peculiarly Washington point of view, initiated and fostered no doubt by transplanted northerners before the days of air conditioning. There is also the ancient tradition that before factory air became widespread, the British diplomats used to get hardship pay to suffer through our "tropical" summers. The whole ritual is a gross libel on one of America's most beautiful cities, whose climate is in reality among the most enjoyable anywhere.
I love Washington's weather! There is tremendous suspense on July afternoons as the thunderheads build up and the weathermen herald the great sweeps of clouds across the piedmont. How cozy to be tucked inside as the lightning crashes and the suddenly cool air flows through the house. Will Pepco get us through this one, or will we spend another evening playing cards with the children by candlelight? Our summer thunderstorms have fostered more family togetherness than any well-intentioned PTA bulletin.
Sure it gets hot in the summer. This is so we can enjoy watermelon, iced tea and standing under sprinklers. And after a few days of increasing heat, Canada blesses us with cool dry air so that we can again imagine ourselves in alpine meadows. Canadian air is a better commercial for our friendly neighbor than any "come on up" jingle could ever be.
In mid-September, the humidity retreats, and we begin to see the first signs of autumn. For three months each tree, each bush goes through its subtle yet dramatic changes; there is no real "peak," no one-weekend stand, but a slow kaleidoscope of beauty, grading insensibly into winter.
As each cold front comes in colder, the children become more excited with the possibility of snow. Sometimes Canada manages to bless us once again with the traditional dusting before the holidays. After New Year's there is the fun of feeding the birds and anticipating the first really big snowfall. Periods of gray days regularly yield to winter storms and the excitement of wondering whether Pepco is going to get us through it once again.
The Washington spring needs no praise, except to marvel at its length. From the first crocuses in February it is fully five months until the last magnolias bloom in June. It is the turn of our South and the Gulf of Mexico to send us their commercials of warm humid air. Self-discipline is fostered as we resist the urge to remove shoes and overcoats and wiggle our toes in the sunshine.
So, please, retire the cliche's about Washington's weather. Celebrate the variety as each day, each hour brings its changes. Kipling wrote that American weather is composed of "hot and cold ferocities." Indeed, we live in a climate of change, of the meeting of extremes, and of the not-so-occasional benign mean. Isn't this an appropriate milieu for the nation's capital? -- Janet W. Reid