On New Year’s Eve, as friends and I gathered around waiting for the ball to drop, I was obsessing over my phone. More specifically, I was obsessing over my weather app. In the eastern plains of Colorado, under the shadow of Pikes Peak the temperatures were in the teens, and the wind chill was itself rather unpleasant, but it was nothing that I hadn’t grown unaccustomed to in Colorado. In Appleton, though, the wind chill was violent: -30 degrees. I had never felt -30, nor had I ever gotten close, aside from an awry ice fishing trip that I only remember with remorse and regret. It was dread inducing… -30 degrees… in Appleton… where I would be back for school in just another day… great.
So I was going to suffer back at Lawrence. I had wool socks and nice jacket and a beanie. I was going to survive, wasn’t I? Perhaps even worse though was that ushering the holidays into the past and moving forward was essentially burying one season of good cheer with another where everyone tells you what temperature it is outside. Cold temps meant contentless small talk. I was not going to be one of them. Call it a New Year’s resolution, but I wasn’t going to be the one who pointed out how cold it was outside.
I just couldn’t help it. The instant I got to back to Wisconsin, the first thing I did was talk about the weather. I texted my mom, just landed, you will not believe the temperatures here right now. When my Uber driver took me from the airport to the bus station, I observantly commented on how cold it was outside. When my Uber driver took me from the bus station back to campus, I again reminded him that it was not just cold outside, but it was so cold outside. I couldn’t help but to complain back to my friends at home—who were enjoying 40 and 50 degree weather— how miserable the weather in Appleton seemed to be, I sent them little snapchats with the temperature sticker, single digits, warm greeting from Wisconsin, look at me suffering, don’t you miss me? When I needed an excuse to send a message to an old crush, what better than to document my eternal suffering in the bitter windchill?
The more and more I talked about the weather in Appleton, the more and more I started to fall in love with it. It was strikingly consistent and predictable, something I had never been used to. In Colorado, where I’m from, the weather was so much different. It was dry and erratic, and in its actions it was intense and deliberate. When it rained, it rained with clear authority, dark clouds that billowed like smoke and flexed their muscles, strong thunder, and then a cascade of rain coming down from the sky, linear and uniform. When it snowed, it snowed with vigor, with thick, soft flakes, from a authoritative clouds overhead. From the sky, and straight down. The sun would come out, and in one series of moments the world would be an apocalyptic blizzard, in the next a mushy-muddy spring day. The weather experienced tremendous mood swings, which was sometimes exhausting and sometimes wonderful, but never a constant.
Here in Appleton it is so much different. The rain doesn’t seem like it falls from the sky with the same deliberateness. It moves slower; in the humidity, the rain seeps from the air mores than it comes from the sky, and in the wetter weather it’s like being blanketed in a globe of water where the rain drops are materializing in the air around me as I walk through it. The snow is much the same, where it doesn’t blizzard from an angry sky, but instead floats in the water in the air, like a snow globe. The wind and the cold is, admittedly, trying and difficult, but what a better way to cerebrate the Viking mascot than with Viking weather? The weather offers some sense of gradual, and admirable, consistency. It is a steady and predictable, doesn’t swing in wild moods, but marches on with a steadiness that is sometimes unbearably daunting, but also sometimes a comfort. Life at Lawrence is busy, and with grades and essays and assigned readings and all the other stresses of life for a college student, perhaps there is some comfort in the steadiness of the natural world, the way in which it rises with each morning and marches on; no different from the last, and no different from the next. The term is grind, and the weather is merely a reminder that the world goes on unchanging.
I can’t help but talk about the weather. I loved talking about the weather; it had become one of my favorite things to talk about. And it’s easy, which is as important as anything. Lawrence is sometimes a difficult place to be at because of the very thing it prides itself on, the open discussion and exchange of different ideas. Opinions are often very emotionally charged, and are often wielded like weapons, and it’s as exhausting as the school itself is.
Lawrence can be a pretty divided place, athletes and their teams, fraternities and sorties, clubs, the Conservatory, and so one. While all are good things, undoubtedly, they separate all of campus into different groups and sectors of different experiences. The weather is a shared experience though. We can all appreciate, and complain, about the bitter cold, or the bizarre January rain, the swampy sidewalks, the salt on our shoes. Small talk is boring, and easy, and yes, I am aware of the cold outside and of the subzero windchill. But yes, please continue to tell me its cold outside. Tell me the temperature, even though I likely already know it, and tell me how bad the breeze makes the tip of your nose feel, because I too feel that way. The term isn’t easy, and this school isn’t easy, but how great is it that underneath everything the university throws at us, we still have the weather to talk about, in all her beauty and all her wrath.