Speaking of the weather

When we left Montana for graduate school in Chicago, I expected that we would be gone for three years and then return to Montana. I thought of myself as a Montanan and my sense of my call to the ministry had to do with the congregations I knew through church camp and the activities of the Conference. I also grew up with geographical biases. I suspect that it is still true, but when I was growing up, North Dakota jokes were a staple in my state. People made fun of the intelligence of their neighbors to the east. They joked about the weather and the lack of mountains in North Dakota. I had a bit of sensitivity to the jokes because my father had been born in North Dakota and he would occasionally defend his home state when the jokes got too wild.

Our first call to ministry was to serve two congregations in southwest North Dakota. I had to face my prejudices and learn to live with the reality that I had become a North Dakotan. Both of our children were born in North Dakota, so the place is forever a part of my story. One of the things that I remember about moving to North Dakota is that there was a certain apologetic stance when it came to discussions of the weather. It seemed like it didn’t matter what the weather was doing, there would be someone at the local coffee shop who would tell me, “This is very unusual. It usually doesn’t get this hot,” or cold or windy or snowy or rainy or dry or whatever the current weather was doing. I used to joke that North Dakota doesn’t have usual weather. Only unusual weather occurs in that place.

My experience, however, was that North Dakota had pretty good weather. It got hot there in the summer, but not as hot as Chicago had been. We never had air conditioning in our home and only got a car with an air conditioner just before moving from the state. We didn’t suffer. It got cold there, but not any colder than my home town when I was growing up. We did have some really big thunderstorms and I saw a couple of tornadoes, but we also had some wonderfully pleasant days. We walked a lot in our small town and the weather was almost always quite bearable for a short walk.

I still hear people talking about the weather in North Dakota. Wherever I travel, people have an opinion that it is a very cold place in the winter and when I tell them I lived there for seven years, they wonder how I survived.

Somehow the subject of the weather in North Dakota has been on my mind because we have moved to a place that is quite different from the other places we have lived. The pacific northwest is a region that is described as a temperate rain forest. It does rain a lot on the west coast of Washington. There are, however, some places that get more rain and others that get less. Mount Vernon, where we live, has an annual rainfall of 32 inches a year. That is quite a bit more than Rapid City, where the average is 18. On the other hand, it is lower than the national average of 38. And it is a lot lower than the 53 inches a year in Olympia, the city where our son first lived when they moved to Washington.

Mount Vernon has, for the most part, shown off pretty well for us when we have visited. But it is showing us a wetter side in our first week of living here. It has rained every day and we have had to strategize how to take our walks between showers and even then we get sprinkled on. November and December are the wettest months on average here. I don’t know how often I will need my insulated coveralls and winter parka, but I’ll be wearing my rain jacket a lot and a person definitely needs waterproof shoes in this country.

We human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures. We can adjust to some pretty big changes. And I know that part of what is going on with me during these first weeks of being a resident of Washington is that I am grieving. I’m going to miss South Dakota. I enjoyed living there. I have a lot of really good friends in that place. And this is just the first week of my transition. I haven’t adjusted to living in this house. I haven’t established new routines. I miss my basement library with three walls of floor to ceiling bookshelves. I’ve given away most of my books, and although I still have plenty, the shelves I do have here seem small by comparison. I miss the big deck out back where I watched the deer every day. We have a nice back yard here, but it isn’t the same. I know enough about myself that I am aware that I need to give myself time to grieve. Just because we are moving on to a grand new adventure and are so happy to be close to our grandchildren and our son and his wife doesn’t mean that there are things I miss during this time. I used to teach stress management classes in which I told participants that grief is good. It is a normal human reaction to change and that learning to live with grief is an essential skill for managing stress.

So, like a true North Dakotan, I will probably talk about the weather a lot in the weeks to come. It may not be unusual for this place, but it is unusual for me. I’ve never lived in a place with perfect weather. However, I’ve never lived in a place with unbearable weather, either. And I can console myself with the fact that it is warmer here than the place we lived in North Dakota and it will probably be warmer most days throughout the winter. Then again, this is unusual. it isn’t usually so cold in North Dakota.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!