Under the weather

A few weekends ago I was sat round a fire in Devon chatting to a warm and fascinating couple who, it transpired, are training to be graniceros, which is to say, weather shamans. A Mexican, Huichol, tradition, this requires you to pay particular attention to the weather and to perform a small (and secret) ritual whenever it changes. To become a granicero, you have to be chosen by the weather gods, and the usual sign is that you’ve been struck by lightning.

I’m no weather shaman and I’ve certainly no desire to be at the receiving end of a thunderbolt (indeed, the couple’s story put me in mind of Lady Bracknell: for one of you to be struck by lightning may be regarded as a misfortune; for both looks like carelessness.) But it’s true to say that I do try and notice the weather. Not the forecast. The weather. It’s an interest I’ve picked up from my father, who cannot pass a barometer without peering at it down his nose and giving it a helpful tap or two. I’ve always wanted to be one of those bluff country coves who, derided for wearing a mac when the sky is blue, has the last laugh when the heavens open.

From folk sayings to shepherd’s almanacs, prognostication has a poor track record, which is why we have the science of meteorology. But a small measure of my success is that when I travel elsewhere – to Cornwall or the Lakes, say – I can’t read the weather at all. I couldn’t say whether it will rain or not, or whether the mist will lift or roll in more thickly from the sea.

At home, however, I can usually tell just by looking out the window whether I need to pack my cagoule. Whereas my father trusts in his daily readings of temperature and precipitation, I prefer to look and listen. I think it’s possible to know the weather in a qualitative way, quite apart from occluded fronts and isobars and thermal inclines. I think it’s something you can learn to feel.

And though today is bright and sunny, with a few high mare’s tails and a gentle north westerly, I can’t escape the feeling that something is wrong. It’s not just the extreme events – the flash floods or the baking hot days in April or the droughts or the fact that the blackberries are already ripening and it’s not even August – it’s the creeping sense that the weather is changing. We don’t seem to get a summer anymore. April showers have moved to June where they linger till August. The summer has become a rainy season, with endless jets of cool wet air sucked in from the west. The clouds look troubled and scour the land with the weight of a millstone.

We live on a small island off the North West coast of Europe where the gulf stream keeps us warm and makes our weather ever changeable and unpredictable. I know. It’s so very British to talk about the weather. But, forgive me, I think this is different. It’s almost like we’re at the opening of some sci-fi novel: the signs were there, if only we’d noticed. (And if you don't trust me, have a listen to what indigenous people are saying around the globe.)

I try and lead a low-carbon lifestyle (as much as that is possible). I worry about Kyoto and Copenhagen and politicians’ abject failure to address the most pressing problem there is. But I think climate change is already with us. I think we crossed the event horizon decades ago. I have no idea what that means.

Talk of graniceros has prompted me to go out each day, to smell the air and rub the sky with a new intensity. For most of us in the cities and towns the weather is just something that happens to us, something inconvenient, an impediment. Perhaps we should pay it more attention. My hunch is that we might just need those country skills, and, with all respect to the Huichol, we probably shouldn’t wait for a bolt from the blue.


  1. I agree with you that we're "in it"... When I moved here in 2003, I started to notice that suddenly the rain was different. In questioning others, I discovered that the rain did seem different to them. The downpours we have now seem so intensely tropical - monsoon quality rains that we've never had in New England before. We, too, are experiencing extremes and seasonal patterns have shifted. A mentor of mine is a Plant Spirit Medicine Woman as well as someone who works closely with Maya Shamans. The elders she works with have conveyed to her the urgency of the moment. Of course, if we are paying attention, we don't need anyone to tell us this. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, "we are made for these times", though I am a dreamer holding a dream of profound cultural shift, not climate change. I think that a metaphoric lightening bolt might just be needed to wake us up, though if you ask me, we've been struck again and again and STILL we aren;t paying attention...

  2. My heart heaves for action, but my brain is in inert bafflement. Yes, it is happening now and to us. If we are the people we have been waiting for, what were we waiting for us to do? I feel so small under the sky.

  3. Yes, I've noticed it too, down under. Our summer dragged on and did not really end until the end of May, autumn seemed to bypass us completely with no rain to speak of. My garden is all over the place, so even the plants don't know what's going on. My Almond tree decided it must have missed winter completely and started blooming in May and sprouting new leaves at the same time, while the Apricot resolutely hung onto its leaves, and still has not lost all of them, despite this being the middle of winter. Not that you'd know it, we've had a few cold days, but it's just not normal, it's too warm, and I noticed this afternoon that my jonquils are blooming!

    As for noticing weather, I don't think that many people take note of it...they notice it when it happens, but they don't see what's coming. Living in Perth on the west coast of Australia, only a half hour drive from the sea, we can be pretty sure that, unless there's a cyclone up north, any rain or storms and so on will come in from the ocean. So I always look out my west facing kitchen window before I hang out the washing! But my dearly beloved will point to black clouds in the north east and say "think we're going to get wet" and doesn't get it when I tell him that's already passed over.

    Mind you, I had a short debate with a chap a few years ago who seemed to think the moon sometimes rose in the west...not all the time, just sometimes! We've become awfully unobservant!

  4. Wonderful post. Thanks. Makes me hopeful - in spite of the definite changes in weather patterns; and a bit more mindful to "smell the air and rub the sky."

    My heart leapt at that top photo. May I ask where that is?

  5. Thanks all, as ever, for comments. Top photo is lake Buttermere looking towards Fleetwith Pike, up in the Lake District; lower is a gorgeous day up on Adam's Grave, near Alton Barnes, Wilts xxx

  6. Thanks, Andy. Must find my way there some day.



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