Folklore of American Weather by Eric Sloane

I think most people my age — I’m 36 — find talk of the weather the distressing and inane babble of strangers. Talk of the weather is the kind of talk you have with people in elevators, It is the kind of talk you have with store clerks with whom you don’t want to exchange a single word. Grudgingly, the talk might touch on the weather. For the most part, especially in Seattle, there isn’t any weather to really talk about. Most people work within sealed, environmentally controlled structures. For many years I worked in offices and cubicles without a window. I’ve pretty much always worked with an office computer with a Web connection and one of the first things I usually do is bookmark the University of Washington Web came so that I can see what I think of as the real world.

I like talk of the weather.

For me this is a safe topic in which my opinion for which I say things I probably shouldn’t as tactlessly as possible in just about any other subject is neutralized by the fact that no one really cares about deeply about the weather and yet they all share a superficial connection to the weather became when they leave the sealed, environmentally sealed structure of their work place they may actually see the weather. The weather determines what they can do on the weekend. The weather is always present and something everyone observes. And through the talk of weather I can safely talk to strangers and learn how observant they are and hear stories related to their lives under the sky. Talk of the weather lets me understand who I am talking to before I talk to them about something in which I am liable to say something disagreeable.

I bought Folklore of American Weather by Eric Sloane from the best bookstore in the city where I live south of Seattle, a tiny used bookstore that carries an oddly great selection of paperback books. I didn’t know who Eric Sloane was, but as I bought the book the owner of the store said that Eric Sloane was known for his books on

This slim book contains a dictionary of weather folklore and a brief explanation of both
the source of the wisdom and a brief explanation of the scientific validity of the wisdom.

For instance:

When the katydid says “kate,” he announced ten days till a frost. (Possible)

Kate-ee-didn’t — 87 degrees
Kate-ee-did — 72 degrees
Kate-ee — 65 degrees
Kate — 58 degrees
Ka — 55 degrees
Mute below 55 degrees

Coldness numbs all insects and first slackens their calls. When ‘kate-ee-did!” is reduced to a single “Kate!” it is because of the lowering temperature. The first frost might well be near.

The book is full both cant and tiny poems that work as mnemonics to explain the operation of the world. Cobwebs on the grass are a sign of frost.

Sloane writes in the introduction to the book that European, particularly English, settles on the Eastern Seaboard brought their weather folklore to the country. But the United States, while in general similar in temperature to England experienced widely different weather patterns that often varied greatly from morning to night and from day to day. England sits in a current. The United States is a vast land-mass.

Weather (except for weather disasters) has so little impact anymore. For most of the life of this country weather and the language to understand it were essential to functioning in the physical world. There is something drifting in my mind about a problem here between a separation of signifier and referent, but I don’t know. I can’t help but wonder if another effect of global warming will be more attention to the weather.

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