Jan 8, 2009

Internal Almanac

There are headlines in the papers about how cold it is in the UK right now. I’d like to agree that it’s crazy cold but what do I know? I’ve got no internal almanac for these coordinates. However, the headlines of my body are bold as well: “Find More Layers”. The multitude of convertible pants crowding my wardrobe seems optimistic. Luckily they’re compact and quite comfy with thermals underneath.

Grappling with this cold snap, I got to thinking of SF. Blake pointed the webcam out the front window last week (trying to give me a view of our neighbor’s giant SUV, a fixture on our street). I was startled to see rain slick streets. I’m loosing touch.

Working outside for 8 years, I had an attuned internal almanac for 37 N, 122 W, SF that is. I could, with surprising accuracy, keep track of precipitation and extreme temperatures based on my time outside on my bike, walking dogs, or pulling weeds. It didn’t hurt that we don’t really have heat in the apartment. In March I could tell you how many big storms we’d had, how many nights of frost. Ok that last one is easy, I know. In summer I could tell you how often the temp got out of the mid 80’s and for how long at a stretch.

And these things come up in mild SF, where the majority of the population goes from building to transport to building, living increasingly indoor lives. We all get dragged into these super weird conversations about the weather because the SF populous goes long stretches with temps between 55-75, helping it forget that we also get ‘real weather’. These conversations are actually pretty funny. I’ve found myself researching the monthly temps in an effort to prove that it hasn’t actually been that hot for that long or whatever the claim is. At times, Blake and I’ve actually banned discussions of the weather because I won’t take seriously his assessments of the temperature as he spends about 15 minutes a day outside, waiting on a bus.

The extremes don’t flip me out. If I can gauge their frequency and duration, I’m usually ok. I don’t feel the need to bike up Twin Peaks and scream, “CLIMATE CHANGE” every time the temp hits 95. But sometimes I get nervous. I was pretty dry in the winters of 2007 and 2008, and not because I wasn’t outside a hell of a lot. Consecutive low rain winters give me the jitters in largely arid Cali. I can’t estimate Sierra snowpack from SF so I follow the media and relevant agencies with a bit of nail biting.

I’m as obsessed with wildfire monitoring as I am with snowpack. I know they seem distant, but if you consider the timing and the systems that ultimately drive them, you might see the connection. By May we have some idea of what snowpack is going to be like in the Sierra, and thus how much water we can waste. By early June we’re looking at fuel load and vegetation moisture content to predict the threat of wildfires. And I’m one of those geeks who likes to know that the 2008 snowpack was at 62 percent of normal last May. Or that the moisture content of our vegetation averages 20% in June but was already at 5% in June of 2008. And the summer burned.

As I contemplate my next moves (I’ll let you know when I do), I wonder if these strong land ties await me somewhere. I wonder if I have the staying power to develop a new, strong love for a place other than SF. Even as I consider leaving my course and London by extension, I have no desire to go straight back to SF. My anxiety about an incomplete internal almanac notwithstanding, I know I need more time away. For now I’ll just have to keep checking the dashboard on my Mac, which still gives me the weather in SF. Perhaps my brain can catalogue a bit of the info my body would have processed.

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