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One of the simplest and best environmental things you can do is put up a thermometer. I can't imagine this act would offend anyone, and it will provoke conversation. Everyone talks about the weather, though the cliché tells us we have no control over it.
Sure, it's easy and sometimes petty small talk, but it's also common conversation ground for anyone and everyone. In the urban world, we have largely made weather irrelevant; we move from one climate-controlled building to another in comfortable cars. Outdoor recess is cancelled at the slightest hint of cold or rain. I meet more and more children who (though they could certainly afford them) do not own a raincoat or insulated jacket, because they do not spend enough time outside — why bother?
I hope that the weather matters at camp. Here, it's not small talk; our activities are quite directly affected, so we wonder what the temperature will be and what the clouds on the horizon will bring. We want to be protected from lightning or high winds. We want to get the swimsuits off the clothesline before the storm.
A severe weather plan is critical for your camp, but what about routines to enjoy routine weather? I really cherish memories of traipsing around camp on rain hikes with my favorite counselor and cabin mates. I was treated to a whole new wet, refreshed world. Streams appeared on paths that were sandy and dry an hour ago, carrying tiny stones away, making ripple marks, leaving a sort of hydro-energy map. Our leader challenged us to examine and determine if nearby leaves felt softer. Do leaves absorb rain water? We were instructed to look for the birds; where do they go in a shower? We intrepid hikers learned a new song, "Oh, the wind is blowing and the rain is falling and joy is filling the air. Trouble and sorrow are gone forever and song abounds everywhere." Such a lovely thought.
I guess I am a sort of weather nut. I will walk outside in the middle of the night in my bathrobe, just to feel the rain. I check the weather radar online daily, and follow the movement patterns of high and low pressure. I love to find the comma shape of clouds that accompanies low pressure. I make predictions about when the rain will come, and how long it will last, and I take my colleagues' ribbing as I am usually wrong.
When I was a "weather watcher" for the local TV station, often with the help of campers, I reported the daily high and low temperatures. I'd never thought about it before, but I noticed how the low temperature came just at sunrise, and the high almost always around four in the afternoon.
Perhaps vainly looking for my campers' efforts to be broadcast, I started to watch and learn from the weather reporters. Cold fronts arrive abruptly. Since warm air rises, the heavier cold air delivers a fast temperature change to us ground dwellers, often followed by a blast of hard rain. Warm fronts tend to bring gentle, lingering rain.
At my camp, we have the following rule: As long as we can be safe, and have good attitudes, we are going to be outside. A basic understanding of the weather helps us to plan activities in an effort to enjoy the outdoors better.
I like to bring up the forecast in conversation with the camp staff when I greet them in the morning. I show a young man how morning dew usually indicates a dry day to come. Overnight, cloudless air cools quickly, and dewdrops form when cool morning air meets the warmer ground. He tells me he's looking forward to working with the kids after breakfast. Another young lady is proud that she knows what cumulonimbus clouds look like.
Folks have always talked about the weather. Jesus mentioned weather interpretation in the gospel of Matthew (16: 2-3). "When evening comes, you say it will be fair weather for the sky is red. And in the morning, today it will be stormy for the sky is red and overcast." Does "red sky at night" really mean "sailors' delight?" And does "red sky in morning" really mean "sailors take warning?" A certain amount of dust and moisture in the air refract the sunlight to a red color. Red to the west in the evening indicates high pressure will come from that direction, usually associated with fair weather. A red sunrise means the high pressure has passed from the west to east, followed by low pressure and a cloud front. Science might explain folk wisdom, but we still love to speculate, and weather remains pertinent to our lives.
Weather must be the easiest vehicle to gently increase environmental awareness. It matters to everyone, even if just a little. Every aspect of the natural world is affected by weather. In the end, weather reminds us of our own place in the world. We are part of this grand system about which we jest how it cannot be controlled. Yet we may, perhaps despite our good intentions, be doing just that. Either way, I say that it's a start, and unites more than divides us. I'm positive the good weather is ahead of us!
Jim Parry is the outdoor education director at Collin County YMCA Adventure Camp in Anna, Texas. He can be reached at JimP@YMCADALLAS. org .
Originally published in the 2008 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.