‘Tis the season of fall, the changing of the weather. Summertime may end, but the Thrill is weekly. I must write once more.
As I sit down at my dorm-issue desk in my black plastic dorm-issue chair, I feel an aching where my thigh bone meets my kneecap. For a second I mistake it for my metaphorical ache, my middle-class ennui, but soon I come to realize it is real, real pain, ouch, hang on I need to stand up.
Has the coronavirus lifestyle allowed me to lapse in the upkeep of my body? Is my youth already spent, eaten up by the nihilism of the modern world? No, I say, it must be about to rain.
The science of the internet has told me that aching joints can indeed tell the weather. Low pressures can cause muscle and scar tissue to swell up and cause discomfort — low pressures like those just before rain. The calm before the storm is also the creak inside my knees.
A few weeks ago, a storm hit Gambier, with a full tornado warning issued. I pressed a towel against my leaky window (I’m in the back bullseye this year, rush AD) and waited for the curtains of rain. They fell over and over again, and we all cowered before the weather. It blew away the paper club flyers on Middle Path, rocked the leaves from the trees, and set my knee off something fierce. That storm flew all the way across the Midwest, surely amassing a toll of aching knees as it went.
I come from Chicagoland, where the elders tell the weather not by their bones, but by Tom Skilling on WGN. The weather comes down in bright red and green bands, while Skilling waves his hands and enunciates something about the pressure changing with the wind. He studied very hard to talk to me about things I don’t understand, so I appreciate it.
The weather is one of the first things a child learns to pay attention to. It’s the difference between a fun day in the park and a fun day tracking mud into the house. The rest of the news is people sitting at tables, using words too big for us, but gradually we come to understand. The sky is not our only enemy, there’s also China and Russia and the Middle East, except when we want oil, but sometimes especially when we want it. In school we learn that oil is a bad fuel anyway, which confuses us even more.
None of the adults pay attention to the weather anymore. It’s left up to the bones that can feel it coming.
Now we are faced with a world of changing weather. It’s easy to forget that one of the first things President Trump did was withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. He has repeatedly questioned the science of climate change and expanded the coal industry. “America First,” explained his supporters. It’s for the prosperity of our nation. Maybe I am too young to be thinking of this, too.
Last year, I watched a storm come down from the top of the world. The map of the polar vortex was staggering; BBC called it “one of the worst cold snaps to hit the U.S. Midwest in decades.” An eighteen-year-old college student was found frozen, just a short walk from his dorm, in a windchill of negative fifty-one degrees. He died in the hospital. His name was Gerard Belz.
There is something deeply unsettling about death in the cold. It’s not quite unnatural, because it’s one of the most natural deaths there is. It’s a simple problem, older than any of us. People go hungry and cold every day, and prosperity reigns above them. Higher still is the sky, full of storm clouds.
The world’s years set records now. Record high and low temperatures, record winds, record disaster. For decades, the priority of our environment has been a political talking point. In the question of affecting change today or tomorrow, the answer is always tomorrow. Days pass, and we grow older. Our climate destabilizes while those who are not young get to brush it off. Whether or not climate change is real, they’re confident that they will die before it matters. Maybe we will too.
There is some benefit to putting America first, I suppose. It takes off the pressure to cooperate with others, that pressure of a common ground, of globalism. The pressure falls fast, and my knee knows what comes next.
I am far too young for my bones to hurt. Still, the storm comes.
“Polar Vortex Death Toll Rises to 21 as US Cold Snap Continues.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Feb. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47088684 .
Ojeda, Hillary, and Zach Berg. “Cause of Death for University of Iowa Student Gerald Belz Determined.” Citizen, Iowa City Press-Citizen, 15 Feb. 2019, www.press-citizen.com/story/news/2019/02/15/cause-death-ui-student-gerald-belz-determined/2884911002/.
“Donald J. Trump’s Foreign Policy Positions.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/election2020/candidate-tracker/donald-j.-trump gclid=Cj0KCQjwt4X8BRCPARIsABmcnOoldwH182qWGDb9GuWro35roU4d9euWHdvip79tOGrHlv21w79QUhEaAn8zEALw_wcB .