Is there a place or person on earth unaffected by the vagaries of weather? From literature, Odysseus and his men battered by a wind let loose through the men’s distrust were forced into a lengthy journey that only one survived; from history, General Washington’s harsh winter at Valley Forge spurred some men to desert the cause but ultimately he was able to turn the winter confines to his advantage as Baron von Steuben drilled the soldiers creating a more unified fighting force; in modern times, Hurricane Katrina’s destructive force is familiar to everyone in the U.S and is still being felt by many. Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice,” though layered to implicate the nature of humankind as well as the nature of meteorological and geological forces, suggests the potential that a permanent freeze may result in the end of life on earth. Sitting in Mississippi, having returned from a much balmier Pacific Northwest, I am contemplating the gods of weather and the preconceptions we all have about the weather in certain places.
Since arriving in Mississippi in late September, my first shattered preconception was that it rains in Seattle more than in other places. Mississippi, during the month of October, received so much rain that the annual state fair held in Jackson, celebrating its 150 anniversary, saw attendance down 60 percent. Skies weren’t just gray with possible showers, or partly cloudy with sprinkles in the morning, or “don’t forget your umbrella” rain. This two-week deluge was reminiscent of Noah’s ark type rain. It was of monsoon proportions. Everyone said it was so unusual, that Mississippi just never had rain like that, but my first autumn in Mississippi is my only autumn, so it’s not unusual to me, it’s the norm. All of which makes me protest the undeserving reputation that Seattle receives.
Late October and early November proved quite lovely, until it snowed in Mississippi. I have already written about that snow; that surprising and scary white precipitation which delights children allowing the energetic to create a new race of snow people and the wary driver to anguish over slick roads. While the snow didn’t last, it was the talk for a few days and certainly not anything I would have expected this far south. That preconception, again.
After Thanksgiving, Mississippi (and the rest of the South) turned chill. Lower than normal temperatures were reported day after day after day until I left for Seattle where the warmth every day revitalized me. (We are talking Seattle, not the tropics.) And we didn’t have any rain, either. One of my missions in packing to return to the South was to bring lots of warm clothes. Who would have known I’d need sweaters and fur-lined boots and gloves and knit hats? And having returned to Jackson with a full wardrobe of winter wear, I can only say I’m glad.
For weeks (it seems) Jackson’s temperatures have plummeted into the teens! Unseasonably cold, you might say, but, the real kicker is the effect. Many of the city’s underground pipes carrying water and sewage are made of clay and have been in place for over 100 years. The unstable “Yazoo clay” into which the pipes were laid shifts with the temperature changes and over time these shifts have become more pronounced and have, this week, caused numerous breaks. Public schools and downtown office buildings closed midday yesterday and remain closed today, as there is no water and no toilet facilities. The governor declared a state of emergency; the mayor has ordered everyone to boil drinking water and conserve what water they have; the city crews have been working three days straight trying to find and repair the lines. Apparently a similar event occurred in the 1980’s and things were shut down for a full week.
Back to my original question-- Is there a place or person on earth unaffected by the vagaries of weather? I think not. At this point, I wonder what spring in Mississippi will be like.