Set Fire to the Rain

I came to the realization last summer that there is no anger more futile than anger at the weather.

Because there is just absolutely nothing you can do with that sort of anger. You can’t write letters to your representative. You can’t try a different method of communication. You can’t dedicate your life to medical or scientific research. You can’t do anything. All you can do is wait for it to change.

I don’t know what the weather was like in the rest of the world this winter, at least in terms of whether it was “normal” or not. Thanks to facebook and tumblr I see people post of course, but it’s harder to gauge if things are happening the way they are expected to based on one person in Arizona, in Canada, in the UK. Not impossible–I trust my friends and their perceptions, but it’s a lot different than seeing an overwhelming majority of the people you know expressing the same complains about the weather you are feeling yourself.

Basically, this winter has been a really terrible time to live in the Mid-Atlantic region. I can’t even qualify that with an “if you don’t like cold weather,” because I remember far colder winters. The weather has just been unstable. My birthday is in October which provides a pretty good frame of reference for my memory of fall temperatures, and this October definitely seemed to get colder, faster. Then we had Hurricane Sandy just before Halloween. Then we made up for slightly warmer temperatures by an exceedingly grey holiday season. Now, days after the spring equinox, we had: temperatures in the 60s on Saturday, the lower 40s Sunday morning, sleet that turned into snow that had accumulated close to 5″ by Sunday night, and I woke up this morning to completely clear roads (despite the fact that it was still snowing) and temperatures in the upper 30s. Oh, and on my lunch break, it dropped 5 degrees over the course of an hour and went from thinning clouds, to simultaneous snow and rain. After the sun went down I’m pretty sure I would have been okay without my coat.

And I want to be so angry at this. I want to be angry at the fact that I’ve been wearing long sleeves since September, that the clouds just Wont. Go. Away. When I have a day off in late March, I want it to be nice enough to work out in the yard. I would love to finish clearing the winter trash out of our flowerbeds before the flowers actually start to bloom, but it’s just hard to do that when there is snow on the ground, it’s raining, or it’s near freezing.

I want to rant about climate change, because that’s the closest to effectual anger I can come up with in terms of being mad at the weather. It still won’t make spring get here any faster, or stop hurricanes from ruining trick-or-treating, but it will at least serve as a way to channel all this rage, right? But science is far better at raging about climate change than I am, and my day off will have come and gone before it does me any good, anyway.

Instead, I have an anecdote.

Last June, Billy and I went to Acadia National Park for our annual week-long camping trip. We’d both always had Maine marked as a place we’d like to visit some day, and figured we may as well go before we had kids and it became a lot more difficult (seeing as I am currently 6 months pregnant, this was obviously a well-timed decision).

What we did not understand when we booked this trip, was how vastly different the weather would be from what we were used to. We read forecasts, looked at historical reports from that time of the year, and we were expecting it to be cooler (a lot cooler–to our credit, we did at least bring enough layers. We may not have intended to wear all of them all the time, but we had them), and that we would probably see rain a day, maybe two. What we got, was a stretch of days that never went higher than the mid-fifties, and rain for almost a solid week. And for a day we went with it. We explored Bar Harbor, had a wonderful meal, talked to a few locals (who quickly informed us we came up about three weeks too soon), and drank some really good beer. Then the rain picked up. And by the time we got back to camp the clothes we were wearing were drenched. And the wind had knocked our tarp partially down so a lot of our gear was drenched. And we hadn’t done a good job of pulling our sleeping bags far enough to the center of the tent, so they had folded down against the door over the course of the day so our sleeping bags were drenched. I don’t think I need to mention the state of our firewood.

Here’s the thing about being out in the woods in an unfamiliar area a 17 hour drive from home: you have no options. In retrospect we could have just gone to a hotel, at least for a night until we could dry our clothes, but it didn’t actually occur to either of us at the time, and given we were in Bar Harbor, Maine on a Richmond, Virginia budget, I don’t actually think we could have afforded a room anywhere even if it had.

So we were upset. I cried. We fought with each other while we restrung the tarp. Then we stood under it, dripping wet, with a fire starter we’d grumbled about but ultimately decided to buy, and clinked together beer bottles with peeling and waterlogged labels, surveying in the last dark grey light of the day our ruined campsite and wondering what to do with all of this futile anger. Our answer?

We set fire to the rain.

Literally.

Using the fire starter, the driest wood we could find, and the sort of determination to get your way that only a Libra-Rat can muster, I built us a fire. It started small and under the tarp until it got strong enough for us to move it to the fire ring, where we ended up with a roaring blaze that did not care that it was raining. It allowed us to dry our clothes, and, armed with the knowledge of what to do (and after a very wet night), to repeat the process the next day enough to actually dry our sleeping bags.

I have a lot of opinions on man’s conquering of nature, and very few of them are good. Not things like climate control, shelter, or refrigeration, but things like artificial clouds that keep sports stadiums cool in the middle of summer, artificial islands in the shape of whatever you feel like paying for them to be, and genetically modified food that is dangerous and unnatural just for the sake of marketability and corporate profit. So, I feel like we cheated that trip a little bit, by forcing a campfire when nature so clearly did not feel that was appropriate.

But I also feel like we compromised. We took what could have been a miserable week of fighting with each other and overspending by escaping the rain in town, and found a way to coexist. It might not have been the most environmentally sound thing for us to do, but then, neither would spending a lot of time in our car, or taking our sleeping bags to dry at a laundromat, or chalking up a 1600 mile round trip to a few nights in the woods and one day of bar-hopping. And by drying our belongings, neither of us got sick, which we would have if we’d spent our remaining nights sleeping in wet clothes and wet bags.

Even though this was less than a year ago (or maybe because this was only a year ago), I’ve come back to it a lot this winter. Some days it helps. Some days it doesn’t. I love hot weather. I love warm weather too, and even slightly cool weather in the fall, but I also love hot weather. I hate cold weather. I understand and appreciate the role that winter plays. I even like a few nights out of the year in my warmest, fuzziest pajamas cuddled on the couch with a cup of hot tea and leftover soup in the fridge. I don’t want it disappear–I am just more suited for climate zones with mild winters with shorter frost periods. Being cold is physically painful to me, and I am very strongly affected by the absence of the sun. So when, three months after the return of the sun and almost a week after the first day of spring the skies are still grey and there is snow on the ground, I think of last summer, and of learning to exist with the elements, rather than running from them or relying on artificial means of controlling them.

Which really just means, I think, that the only way to get over the futility of being mad at the weather is to throw out your arms and surrender to it.

Published by Whimsy & Wilderness Photography

I am a photographer and writer based in Chattanooga, TN, and adventuring around the southeastern United States with my husband and two children.

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