So, sure, I had my heart broken. I felt unmoored and adrift for weeks, sobs coming and going, going and coming. But some little (very little, initially) voice in my head kept calling out this corner of my mind—this corner where, though I was too balled up and bleary-eyed to see it at first, a door suddenly stood just ajar. A sliver of light crept out from under it. When I finally managed to blow my nose and notice this door, I recognized it, just barely.
Long, long ago, in a faraway land called Claremont, California, I went to college and had the thrill of a liberal arts education in a place that looked to my wide-eyed Midwest self like somewhere people only vacationed, couldn’t actually reside in. I was encouraged to think strange thoughts and stretch my suburbs-shaped mind. I fell in love with questions and not answers and with the electricity of the seminar discussion.
I ended up a Humanities major, with a self-designed environmental studies focus, and I wrote a heady thesis on the role of storytelling in determining whether climate change was real. Something grasping at that effect, anyway. I’ll skip the details (you’re welcome), but an idea sprang from that project that’s stuck with me in the ten or so years since: I want to ask strangers about the weather.
Specifically, I envisioned a road trip snaking four times across the US along different latitudes. I thought I’d stop in diners and shops and chat up motel staff simply by starting with the weather. It’s a common and innocuous topic between strangers, but it can also lead to bigger conversations: similar conditions on the day of a major life event, complaining or rejoicing in the dissimilarity to seasons decades earlier, the way a certain kind of weather affects one’s business or one’s vacation plans.
The thing is: I’ve studied or worked in climate communications in some form or another for over ten years now. My climate dialect is expert-ese, you could say. But frankly, I don’t speak that much about it to begin with, insulated as I am among people who don’t question the reality of climate change and focused as I have been on the written word of it anyway—more a monologue than a dialogue, and I’ve never been prone to proselytization to begin with.
I know that climate and weather are different concepts. But given the dire place we now occupy with regard to climate impacts, I just don’t think it matters that much anymore. If the data aren’t convincing people, maybe their own weather experiences will. And if their own experiences won’t, then at least we’re sharing a few good stories with one another in the meantime. I don’t know many things more central to being human than sharing a decent story.
So that’s the gist of things. I don’t know the shape or even likelihood of undertaking this project as I also figure out how the hell you ride hundreds and hundreds of miles and sightsee and nurse saddle sores and find food and somewhere to pitch a tent and all that. What I do know is that this door is suddenly ajar again I had forgotten was there at all, and I have an unusual chance to open it wide and look around for a bit. I think I just may.