“If you don’t like the weather, try waiting five minutes” is what they say in England.
That’s fair because the weather there is very changeable. The big white clouds keep rolling up from the horizon, “marching in big battalions across the sky,” as the poem says. The clouds turn from white to grey and it rains for 10 minutes or so, then it stops, then it rains again, the pattern repeating itself again and again.
Best not to let it disturb you or what you’re doing. It’s only a misty, light rain, not a soaking downpour, nothing to worry about. And it’s unpredictable besides affecting everybody. Which makes it a favorite and safe topic of conversation with strangers when politics and religion are forbidden.
Raincoats and umbrellas are everywhere in the old country, the coats smelling like mildew and mold in the close quarters of crowded passenger trains, the umbrellas threatening to take your eye out in crowded places and producing spreading puddles on office and household floors.
The suited English businessman and his brolly is a standard joke worldwide. So too is the line from the 1930 lyrics by Noel Coward “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” That refers to the tendency of a dog sick with rabies to ignore the blinding light and excessive heat of the tropical sun and roam abroad like the northerner who refuses to admit it is uncomfortably hot and he should be resting in the shade.
Even the Mediterranean people have heard about the siesta. During summer many businesses in southern France and Italy shut down for several hours from noon so the locals can go home to enjoy home cooking and rest. That way they have the energy to reopen for a little more work in the evening, then dine and drink and party far into the night.
Which brings me finally to the weather in California and more specifically the Central Valley that has a Mediterranean climate but is too stuck on the American work ethic to follow Mediterranean ways.
Here the summer sky can stay steely blue from dawn to dusk with never a cloud in sight except over the Sierra foothills. It can be set fair for months on end.
We’ve survived January’s cold and rain and at the time of writing the sun is out. The almond trees are about to break into blossom, white boxes have appeared in the orchards and that steady humming you can hear is the sound of bees looking for honey and fertilizing the farmer’s trees as they go. It’s mid February. The Ripon Almond Blossom Festival must be on the way.
But the weather forecast is for rain or the chance of it most of this week. So we’re not set fair for even springtime yet while the rests of the country digs out from an unusual amount of snow and ice.
That much heard phrase “global warming” sometimes seems like a misnomer. It’s a fact the average temperature has risen by 1½ degrees F since 1880 and the rate is increasing. Ice caps are melting, ships can now navigate the Northwest Passage year-round and polar bears must swim further to find sea ice on which to hunt seals — did you read about the bear that swam more than 10 miles nonstop? The rising sea level ultimately will flood coastal cities, we are told.
In the meantime, worldwide weather grows not uniformly warmer but more extreme, hotter than usual in some places, colder in others with storms of all sorts. America’s East Coast experiences record snowfall while Australia’s deserts undergo first extreme drought with fierce firestorms and then torrential rains.
The changing weather is allegedly caused by manmade pollution and by the greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere from our car exhausts, factory smokestacks and all kinds of machinery. But it could be just a natural, cyclical change in the Earth’s weather. Ice Ages have come and gone before. Several centuries ago the River Thames in London was frozen over sufficient for ice-skating. But there have also been warmer times. Stories about medieval England talk about growing grapes and portray the people as far more lightly clothed than nowadays.
We’ll see what happens. Just wait five minutes.
John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-3021.