It is spring and here, that can mean anything. For many it means being ‘under the weather’ with colds, viruses and the other miseries that attend the change of season. Yesterday was as warm as a summer’s day… the day before was wintry cold and rainy. Tomorrow…who knows? The forecast suggests it will be archetypically English and grey but it is entirely possible that it could snow. Or we may be wandering round in shirt sleeves complaining at the sudden ‘heatwave’. We seldom believe the forecast.
Like most countries, Britain has a rich weather lore and we are probably more likely to believe that it will rain if the cows are laying down than whatever the official forecast tells us. And if it rains on St Swithun’s day, 15th July, well, it will continue for a good while to come. The story goes that the Saxon bishop of Winchester chose to be buried outside beneath the feet of passing pilgrims on his death twelve hundred years ago. When a decision was made to move his remains into the cathedral, the rain began, marking his displeasure and continued for a biblical forty days and nights.
The weather here is notoriously changeable and ‘never cast a clout until May is out’ a saying that most of us will heed… though whether the May in question is the month or the blossom is up for debate. On the other hand, should there be ‘enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers’, as my grandma used to say, we can safely leave the ‘clouts’ at home and go coatless in the sun.
The sailors and those who work the land know the weather best. An uncle of mine had a farm. He knew the weather… his livelihood and the wellbeing of his animals and crops depended upon it. An old sea dog of my acquaintance never failed to predict the weather accurately, even though age had kept him from the waves for many a long year. He watched the skies because his life and those of his shipmates depended upon their ability to read the signs. The awareness was learned and honed, through observation and experience, to a point where he always beat the meteorologists with their focus on scientific data that fails to actually look at the skies.
For most of us, the weather is a hit and miss affair. For all our national preoccupation with its fickle behaviour, few of us can read the skies and predict what the day will bring. Some can smell a coming storm or see that nebulous tint of pink in the light that heralds snow, but most of us just accept what the day brings and live in hopes of a brighter day. At one time our own survival would have depended upon our knowledge of its changes, but today, the weather is little more than an annoyance or inconvenience when it fails to conform to our needs.
We still live under the same skies. The wider patterns of a shifting climate may be affected by both mankind and the tides of the earth itself, but the pattern that announces what the weather will bring on any given tomorrow does not change. The clouds, winds and colours of the light still do what they have always done to hint at rain or sunshine to come. We have, on the whole, lost the affinity with the weather that we must once have had and become acclimatised instead to paying little heed to the subtle signs around us. There is no longer a need.
How long would it take us now to regain that lost gift of weather-wisdom? How long did it take for it to dissipate, so slowly that we did not notice its loss? How far back in our history did we begin to lose it? They are probably unanswerable questions. I wonder too if, in discarding a skill we no longer needed for our survival, whether we gained those more suited to the changes in our nascent society? What other skills might we have lost…and are any of them truly lost at all or merely dormant, waiting for need to arise once more?
There are many skills in the old tales that we do not possess. We consign them to the realms of myth and magic. What if, amongst the wilder embroideries of the story tellers, some of those skills were once real? Skills that, like weather-affinity, relied upon a reading of signs and signals too subtle for our modern eyes and minds to notice and an observation more acute than we are used to giving to our world. What if there are lingering remnants of those abilities and those who walk amongst us seeming ‘different’ still have access to the layers of attention needed to read what we call the unseen?
We can learn to read the weather through careful and attentive observation. We can ‘feel’ so many things, picking up invisible signals and calling it intuition or gut-feeling. I wonder what else we could learn about ourselves and our world by giving our full attention and awareness to the study. Just how wide is reality…and how much of it do we really see? It is a thought…