My husband and I went to California on a business trip two weeks ago. At exactly the same time, our daughter and son-in-law flew to Austin for a wedding and stayed at our condo for a few days. We missed each other, but we kept communicating.
“It’s supposed to rain the entire time you and Bennett are here,” I told our daughter.
She’d read the forecast, too. She knew it.
“Has it rained much?” I asked her when I called a day later.
A couple of days later, I heard my husband talking to her. “How much has it rained since you all have been there?” he asked.
Minutes later, he hung up. “Teal says we’ve gotten really boring and obsessed with rain,” he reported.
“Of course, we’re obsessed by rain,” I snapped. “We’ve been in a drought for four years. Who wouldn’t be obsessed by rain?”
He shrugged his well-you-can’t-please-everybody-and-especially-not-your-adult-children shrug.
“Also,” I added, playing my trump card, “we’re both from West Texas. Naturally, we’re interested in rain. That doesn’t make us boring.”
Or does it? I don’t know.
I remembered coming back from a year in New York in 2010, wondering what it was I’d missed most about this crazy state of ours. It took me only a few hours to look up and see it — that vast, roiling sky. How had I gone so long without it?
You can’t escape being obsessed with the sky (the sky, the sky!) or the weather (the weather, the weather!) when you grow up in the flat, hard, unforgiving land of West Texas. The wind howls, the sun bakes, the dust blows, the tornado sirens scream, the skies part, and you — a puny, vulnerable human being — would be a fool not to pay close attention.
(Maybe, I’ve sometimes thought, this is why there are so many churches in West Texas, where a person’s insignificance and isolation are so frighteningly obvious. Then, I invariably wonder, why it is there isn’t more kindness and charity in those churches? I think about that till the skies begin to spit dust and grit and the clouds darken — and I realize that both the West Texas climate and its religions reek of Old Testament fury and certitude; the weak, the tolerant, and the sensitive should catch the next train to the coast, any coast.)
But anyway, in almost every corner of Texas, nature is often violent and humbling. What’s it serving us up next? Withering drought, blue northers, hurricanes, funnels — or the kind of merciless downpours that turn sleepy creeks into raging rivers that rip houses off their foundations and heave them downstream, destroying lives, killing randomly.
We’ve had those pitiless floods the past week or two and they’ve left death and debris in their wake. “Can you believe this weather?” we ask each other, over and over.
We’re transfixed by it, we’re boring about it, we’re newly aware, once again, of how vulnerable we are. We watch our skies and follow our forecasts with increasing care. Like our lives depended on it.
Texas weather — always interesting, always changing — has gone from being a diversion to a full-blown obsession. The only good thing about it, I sometimes think, is that at least it takes my mind off the Texas Legislature.
(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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