28 November 2010

The Choices of Climate

How many times have men (and women) begun a story or a joke with: “There are two kinds of people…”? Such a cliché, and so staggeringly simplistic. Yet like most clichés, most stereotypes, most generalizations, it contains a kernel of truth in its core. In many ways, there are “two kinds of people.”

I was thinking about climate. About our desires for warm or cold or humid or dry. About how most people tolerate the weather they’re born or blessed (or cursed) with; and about how another group of people try to live their lives in a manner to cater to their weather desires.

Of course, the wealthier or freer you are, the easier it is to go where the weather suits you the best. Or maybe not. Is the weather in Omaha the ultimate climate for Warren Buffett? Does Bill Gates really think Seattle has the best climate in the world?

A friend recently commented on our personal weather choices, while briefly discussing hers. And as with most things in life, it’s about choices – the choices we make, and the choices that we suffer in silence for our whole lives in a climate that we can manage to endure. For many people, career, family, history, social opportunities, or inertia drive their ability and desires to celebrate or endure the climate where they live.

Yet for a smaller (I would imagine) subset of humanity, the search for and the living in a “perfect” climate is, if not an obsession, at least an overriding element of their psyche and their core.

I like to believe I’ve lived in a reasonably wide variety of climates – north-central eastern seaboard of the U.S. (New Jersey); ocean-side Pacific Northwest; inland Pacific Northwest (both Washington); Colorado Mountains; Mediterranean southern California; hot Southwest desert (Arizona); high-altitude southwest mountains/desert (New Mexico); Pacific rim (Japan). And over those years, I’ve developed some distinct preferences. At this stage of my life, climate/weather is one of the most significant aspects of any list of places where I’d choose to live. Barring poverty, it trumps jobs, family, or social aspects.

Yet I still fantasize about the semi-Arctic (Scandinavia), the Alps (Switzerland), even the tropics (Cuba). But there is a core within me that needs – craves – a certain climatic mix. Four seasons. Snow (not too much, mind you) in winter. Not humid. Not too hot in summer. Fall colors.

The friend I mentioned says she needs clouds (again, not too many, mind you). Another friend lives where he lives out of ennui, out of habit, because he’s close to family and friends and a career. All in a place that (I think, from his comments) in his core he loathes from a climate standpoint. (We have another friend who always signs his notes to us with the phrase “a Dane stuck in Sweden.” There are many reasons for his line, but a part of me would love to be “stuck in Sweden.”)

We are creatures of our choices – and many of our choices are the ones we choose not to make. The women we decide not to live with. The good jobs we turn down. The family we don’t live near any more. The schooling we didn’t continue.

An ex (who claimed to be a recovering Catholic, or sometimes a Zen Catholic) used to say that there was a saying within the church to the effect that just because God doesn’t grant your prayers or wishes, it doesn’t mean that he/she isn’t listening – that maybe the not-granting of your prayer is God’s gift and answer. (Unfortunately, I think I’m too atheistic to believe in that. Fate or free will – I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the answer to that one.)

As societies, we’ve become numb to the world around us. Most of the world’s population now lives in cities – whether Beijing, Mumbai, New York, or London. Whether we can stand London’s gray weather or Mumbai’s stifling heat – we live where we are. We shuffle through life with our heads down, waiting for the ray of sunlight that can cause us to lift up our eyes and which can brighten an entire week. Or the mysterious cool breeze that can refresh us down to our core.

For me, a “bad” climate seems like getting close to death. I may not always thrive in a “good” climate, but I know that I stagnate and corrode in a bad one.