I recently overheard someone giving a small sermon about how they no longer wish to entertain “small talk.”
Initially, I understood the sentiment and even quietly cheered for their bold statement because, yes! Why should we allow ourselves the pleasure of debating our half-baked theories of the universe with a store clerk or the mailman? After all, time and personal boundaries are but constructs of the human psyche! However, despite the passion and fervor this person had for their declaration, I thought it was curious the only example they gave of the kind of small talk they would “straight up walk away from” would be about the weather.
There was a time in my life when I too considered the weather to be a boring and generally meaningless topic of conversation. But these days, seeing how my work as a gardener involves being outside with the elements, I tend to pay a great deal of attention to the forecast. And much to the dismay of others, probably, I struggle to not bring it up during most interactions.
But the topic of weather can be as engaging as any other because it encompasses so much more than just the daily highs and lows, overcast or clear skies. It’s the first thing we notice when we walk out the door and one of the many ways the seasons communicate with us. It’s a subtle language, but one that is an inseparable component of the whole. And if we all knew how to converse about it like that, then it would be the furthest thing from small talk.
As I write this, we are going through a heat wave. Luckily it’s the only one we’ve endured all summer (fingers crossed) and thankfully nothing like what we dealt with last year. The general consensus now is that each of these days is “gonna be a hot one” and “to stay cool.” Naturally, I’m gonna stay cool, because I am cool, but while I am outside and fully immersed in a hot summer day, I go into it wondering how many snakes and lizards I will end up spooking while they are out sunning themselves on rock faces, or sometimes camouflaged among some dry leaves.
Will I come across irritable bumble bees, or are they sitting out the heat letting mud daubers, honey bees, and hoverflies seamlessly pick up the pollination slack? This question can usually be answered by finding the nearest patch of fragrant herbs in bloom.
If we’re looking at a day above 85 degrees, I know my tomatoes aren’t going to be happy (ironic for a “heat-loving” crop), and neither will any other plant for that matter since that’s about the temperature when they stop photosynthesizing to conserve water. On these days, the air always feels a little thicker. A sensation that can easily be remedied by tasting the tang of the first ripe huckleberries.
Despite the late summer inferno, an occasional breeze carries a distinct chill indicative of autumn’s return. Similarly, the drawn-out shift in seasons can be observed in native plants like the osoberry, which enters senescence as early as it came to life in late winter. This season a concerning majority seem to have wrapped up far sooner than last, a result of our prolonged drought, I’m sure.
Where the plant kingdom generally begins to slow down as the sun sinks south for the winter, the animals enter a reproductive relay. Spiders most noticeably burst into action spinning webs between branches, trees, and any space my face passes through on a regular basis. Coupled with the blaring heat, this is especially irritating.
Yep, that’s a hot day in August.
The technical term for observing this sequence of events is called phenology, which is the study of cyclical and seasonal natural phenomena, particularly in relation to climate and animal life. I’m not a formal student, but in the past few years of being more immersed in natural cycles, I’ve come to see that there is definitely a rhythm to life that I had been oblivious to for most of mine. This makes me wonder if there’s more significance to the weather being our general go-to for brief conversations with one another.
Perhaps exchanging thoughts about the weather is a collective habit passed down through our history. In the modern era, the majority of us spend a decent portion of our time indoors. That wasn’t the case for the thousands of years humans have spent getting to this point. Being out in the elements and living with the seasons probably meant more people knew how to interpret seasonal trends and how to share their insights as a common courtesy or a lively debate.
While today those insights might come out more as simple observations like, “It’s gonna be a hot one,” we continue the verbal tradition while not knowing there may be something deeper we’re missing in the conversation. By dismissing the mere mention of weather as meaningless small talk, perhaps we ignore the potential for forging a deeper connection not just with each other but with the world around us, where we live as inseparable components of the whole.
Yup, told you I’m cool.
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