Friday, January 11, 2013

Freezing Fog

In grade five we did a weather unit in science class. Mr. Ladabouche was a short and slick man with a wee mustache and a high, nasal voice. He was grumpy and strange and had delicate manicured fingernails upon which I would obsess while he did scientific demonstrations. In my memory, he looks like this:
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But that might be an exaggeration. He was on my brother's paper route and he would leave nasty, instructive notes in his tidy, finicky handwriting about where the paper should and should not land when tossed from a bicycle at five in the morning. One time my brother went to collect from him and he answered the door shirtless and in sweatpants and even though I never actually saw the incident, my imagination was such that sometimes this knowledge made it hard to pay attention in science class. To be exposed to the horror of man-breasts at such a tender age is a travesty.

In spite of these distractions, I took copious notes and great pride in the pages and pages of diagrams and science-y stuff that filled my unicorn notebook. I learned the meteorological difference between sleet and hail, how weather balloons and barometers work, how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius to Kelvin and back again. For a few months, my passion was to become a meteorologist - not a weather girl, she was just set decoration - but the one with a lab coat and glasses and a bun who got to tinker with all the instruments and plot the high and low pressure systems.

(OK, so maybe a little bit I wanted to be a weather girl: she was the Vanna White of news broadcasts and it was in the 80s, before it was all done on computers and they got to use a big felt map with Velcro numbers and suns and clouds and move them around and that appealed to me in a very tactile way. But you should forgive this because during that school year I also spent several weeks wanting to be Mahatma Ghandi.)

One of the biggest hose jobs of fifth grade science is that he didn't actually let us conduct any experiments. Mr. Ladabouche would hold up different scientific instruments and his tidy little hands would twitch them around and show us how they worked, but we were absolutely not allowed to touch them. Of course, it's because we were animals, not to be trusted. We were the sort of creatures who threw his newspaper into the bushes instead of onto the porch and who passed notes in a steamy love triangle during class. 

(Oh, did I not mention that? Part of the reason I took such copious notes during science class is because I sat across the aisle from Eric Waters, the very Aryan-looking boy on whom I'd had a crush since grade three, who was rude to me and had a crush on my best friend, Sara, and spoke to me about it in no uncertain terms and that only made me pine for him more and so I thought I would - silly me - woo him with my great big brain since my breasts were smaller than Sara's and the curious side-effect of all of these demented machinations was that I learned an awful lot of science that year.)

I begged my parents to install a wind sock on our house. I could envision myself climbing up on the roof every morning with my clipboard and lab coat (because let's be honest, it's really about the costumes) and recording the wind direction on a chart along with the temperature and barometric pressure. They, shockingly, said no. Too much trouble, too tacky, too weird, and why on earth do you want a wind sock? I consoled myself with Huey Lewis and the News and blamed all of the adults in my life for thwarting my ambitions. The heart of rock 'n' roll is still bea-tin' and all that. Because, as you know, all aspiring pre-teen meteorologists have a heart of rock 'n' roll.

I moved on from my wind sock heartbreak; I got over my taste in mean, Aryan-looking boys (although, seriously, that took until about my sophomore year of college and I don't know what gives with that) and I survived such devastation long enough to grow up and get married (to a man with dark good looks who has often been mistaken for my brother and we shall not even get into the weirdness of that right now) and give birth to two children who also would like to become meteorologists right now. This being the twenty-first century and all, they actually get to do experiments in science class and even visit a weather station, so they are far more advanced for their age than I ever was. They almost missed the bus yesterday because they were faffing about on the deck trying to measure the amount of precipitation from the night before. I had an un-winnable argument with the Hooligan in the car last night about how even though there was a little snowflake next to the temperature on the dashboard display, thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit is not actually freezing, that you must be precise about such things. ("Yes, but I'm freezing." Boom. No arguing there.) I have had to explain repeatedly to my jBird that yes, I understand the metric system is a much more accurate and simple system of measurement, but that's not what we use here in the good ole US of A, so learn your conversions. I wonder if this obsession with the weather is somehow genetic?

This morning, my world was encased in an almost imperceptible layer of ice. The dark grays and greens of winter were muted just a little bit more and the cloud still touched the trees in the valley below my house. Freezing fog.

Mr. Ladabouche never taught us about freezing fog. Perhaps it's because we lived in Vermont, where the weather was much more straightforward than it is here in this temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it's because freezing fog was one of those things that was invented in the 90s while I wasn't paying any attention - like Karl Rove and the Internet.

I like to think it's because freezing fog is more the purview of fairies and poets than it is of scientists. My fairy-poet-scientists and I stood on the deck this morning and inhaled the powdered sugar frost that had sifted down through the night. We counted the treetops rising out of a valley of cotton candy fog. And then I shooed them to the bus so I wouldn't have to drive in this mess and came back inside to warm up. I'm not ten years old anymore and I'm quite happy with my non-Aryan life of not being the female Willard Scott, but I still came in and wrote about the weather in my unicorn notebook. I'm glad that Mr. Ladabouche never taught us about freezing fog. I'm glad I got to discover it by seeing it myself just a few years ago. I'm glad that my monkeys get as excited about it as I do. Perhaps this afternoon I will buy them a wind sock. 

15 comments:

  1. I'm telling you it's true! Sometimes these Aryan looking boys come into our lives just to teach us stuff and then move on with pieces of our hearts. Pieces we really won't need again.

    Here's to wind socks, learning on our own, and learning through preteen heartbreak.

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    1. I have no idea what the deal is with Aryan boys. I blamed Shaun Cassidy for years, but you are far too young for him to have had any effect on you. Hmmm. But you're right. We really don't need those pieces again anyway, so maybe they can just have them.

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  2. Wooing with science, that sounds like something I would have done back then.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not alone in this nerd-dom.

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  3. This is probably why, in Mikalh's weather unit—back in September—mist was not discussed. Fairies and poets. Some weather phenomena are clearly scientific, like tornadoes, and others are clearly the province of Bram Stoker and Emily Bronte. Ever since I noticed,I've wanted a barometer made of delicate, hand-blown glass. It will sit mounted on my wall, all color and mystical Enlightenment romance looks, as if the weather girl had been decapitated and her beauty nailed up there. Weather. It's all about the sex. That's why we all like it so much, perhaps?

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    1. Ahh. Sex. Of course. I have a Galileo Thermometer with all of its lovely floating globes of color. Now I think I need a hand-blown barometer, too, so I will know when I will get a sinus headache.

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  4. I hadn't thought about 5th grade science in years, but as soon as I started to read this I remembered sitting in class, trying to build some sort of weather measuring contraption out of milk cartons. Mine didn't work, and I can't remember what I was trying to accomplish, only the horror that I wasn't going to get a good grade! Science never inspired me, but currently I have opened my blinds and am bundled up, sitting next to a surprisingly drafty window, hot coffee in hand, watching the sun rise over our frosty neighborhood. It's a moment meant for poetry and joy.

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    1. It is definitely meant for poetry and joy. How can it not be? I think it's because I hadn't discovered coffee yet that 5th grade science had such an effect on me. I'm more of a language arts girl in my heart.

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  5. Getting to relive a love of meteorology is a definite plus of having kids. We love to speculate on what type of clouds we're looking at. In addition to your wind sock you can make a anemometer using paper cups with them. We've done it. Good stuff!

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    1. I will definitely have to try this with them. We can add it to our other odd measuring devices and the "Bird Enrichment Course" in the back yard.

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  6. I don't remember studying weather in 5th grade science- maybe because I went to 5th grade in hick-town Idaho in the dark ages. (Weather? Look out the window.)
    I'm totally adding 'faffing' to my vocabulary. Wonder if I can work it into a conversation today?

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    1. Glad I could add a word to the lexicon of an amazing writer. I'm honored.

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  7. As long as you don't start looking like Willard Scott.

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  8. Ah, the intrigues of 5th grade romance...

    And one question: if you buy the monkeys a wind sock does that mean they get to be sock monkeys? ;)

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