By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
One night last week, I woke up feeling cold enough to need socks, slippers, an extra blanket. Rain clouds and low temperatures chilled the beginning of this Kansas summer, and I shut off the air conditioner. “What in the world is going on?” I muttered in the dark. “It’s supposed to be summer.”
Part of me wanted more sleep. The rest of me felt a bit anxious. Should I turn on the radio? Check the forecast?
It’s impossible to live in Kansas and not care about weather. It’s so extreme here — huge skyscapes, wind that can tear your clothes loose if you aren’t mindful, blizzards, tornadoes, scorching summers. It’s difficult, too, to separate big issues from personal comfort.
True to my small-town roots, I feel loyalty to the Kansas farmer, even if I disagree with the modern grower’s fondness for GMO corn. I toy with waxing-waning curiosity about how real the problem of global warming is or isn’t. My heart aches for the stoic Oklahomans who survived yet another twister, even as I exhale with the expiration of a local storm watch.
But my feelings about this week’s weather had nothing to do with any of that. What I felt was relief. The sky offered us all a reprieve, a filtered version of June’s heat, a generous misting of water, more than we ever expect anymore. It seemed like a lovely, weeklong time-out.
It seems to me that, once upon a time, blank weeks like this one existed on a fairly regular basis. They might arrive just after harvest, or before Easter. They sometimes manifested through a complete white-out that snapped electrical lines and smudged snowdrifts against people’s houses so that everyone stayed indoors and waited for life to resume.
In days when work revolved around the natural world, snow or rain might mean anxious worry about a crop or a cow or a delivery. For the most part, though, a generations-old flexibility ruled. If you can’t do the work, then you can’t. Nobody can force the weather to cooperate. Might as well sit back and rest a little.
We need time to slow down like that. Ask any teacher, any parent, any student who has just completed a semester — really, an entire school year — and she’ll tell you, “I am so tired and ready for it all to be over.” Ask any worker who has pulled a month or two of overtime, or filled in for a coworker, and he’ll say “I need a few days off.”
But modern life has deprived us of the ability to actually relax and experience time off. We tend to switch from one set of busy tasks to another, so that our computers continue to glow, our phones buzz, and we caffeinate ourselves into action. Don’t we have projects, paperwork, lists?
This week, the light itself slowed me down. When daylight gleamed through my bedroom window, the sun had a muted quality. When afternoon heat warmed the living room, it wasn’t brazen, but mild. I couldn’t help but feel slower, more peaceful.
Interestingly, my computer followed suit. I’m not kidding: a friend had emailed me to sing the praises of a new, free program called “f.lux.” The light-adjusting program could set my screen to match natural conditions, so that it would dim slightly at sunset, rather than glaring bluely till the wee hours of the morning. Evidently, blue light disrupts my brain and falsely encourages it to stay focussed and alert, just when sleep is what my body really needs. I decided to give f.lux a try, and found I liked it. I slept soundly, all week long.
Perhaps it was the sound of water falling on the roof. Or the knowledge that working in the garden would be easier thanks to the storm-soaked soil. Maybe I relaxed because, for once, my body didn’t feel like it was slowly drying out in the Kansas heat.
Whatever the reason, I reached the end of my week feeling surprisingly refreshed. I guess rain will do that for a person.
It’s nice to know that’s still how the world works.