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It’s the time of year when the weather sneaks up on you, at least here where I live in South Dakota. Everyone knows, myself included, that when fall comes a calling, the temperature will drop. And still, it’s easy to find myself standing in the dark, waiting for one of the dogs to pee in the park across the way from my house, shivering in the cold.
I try not to complain about the weather — which for the most part isn’t a difficult task. Yes, on the coldest mornings, when the wind sucks the heart from my bones and blows snow into the tiniest openings on my layers of clothing, I will likely make a remark to my wife as I return from walking the dogs. Maybe I’ll quote my father who enjoyed using the colorful expression, “It’s colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra.”
Similarly, when the sun is baking me on the hottest days and I’m trying to achieve a task, I’ll likely bemoan the heat, humidity, and lack of breeze. Probably in less colorful language, along the lines of, “She sure is a hot one today.”
That, and perhaps some whining about shoveling snow and bad drivers on winter roads, is generally the extent of my complaints about weather.
Instead, I carry a certain level of acceptance of the weather. Rain, snow, heat, or cold are going to come regardless of my individual actions. As a species, of course, we have changed — and continue to do so — the course of our weather. But nothing that old Wade is going to do, short of the occasional bout of magic, is going to change what’s happening outside of the window or tent flap.
Similarly, I try not to let the weather get in the way of what I want to do. I have hiked in the heat and the cold, set up tents while wearing snowshoes, and backpacked in the rain. None of that’s to say that the weather doesn’t matter. You should always check the weather report for the day so you know what you’re in for and if or when you need to bail out. This is an important part of risk management. But if conditions aren’t dangerous, just uncomfortable, why the hell would I let a little thing like hail stop me?
But what about when conditions are dangerous? Like in 2016, when I was part of a group hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park as snow started falling, ice covered the granite, and clouds hid the formation from view. Or in 2017, when a near record amount of snow kept us from reaching the summit of Mount Whitney. That same year, a torrential downpour threatened to wash out our car during an overnight trip in northwestern Illinois.
It was a cold rainy day when Clarissa and I explored Rocky Mountain National Park. There was extreme heat that caused Clarissa and me to bid a hasty retreat from a hike near St. George, Utah, in 2018, and if we want to jump ahead, there was a record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada range in 2023 that — once again — stymied plans to summit Mount Whitney.
I’ve seen the flash flood sneak up, almost as unexpectedly as the cold dark mornings slip into my daily routine, then nonchalantly carry cars away. I have watched hail shatter windows and smash vehicles. I’ve witnessed wind bring pines to the ground, groaning as they fall, and lightning smash oaks into bits.
I may avoid complaining about the weather, but make no mistake, I am aware just how powerful mother nature is, and just how easily she can put me in my place. So when the weather does turn dangerous, I will bail out without shame. There have certainly been plenty of people — mostly men — who have guffawed with bravado, proclaiming that they wouldn’t have turned back, no matter the cost.
And in the moment, I’ll feel some small amount of embarrassment. Maybe I’ll second guess my decision to bail in the first place, regret the decision, or even try to regain some small amount of machismo to counter my bruised ego — I’m only human, after all. But deep down inside, I’ll know. It was the right call.
No, you won’t hear me complaining much about the weather, even when it gets the better of me. Because I know how dangerous the wind and the rain, the storm and the flood can be.
And how damned beautiful it all is, as well.
We can’t separate the beauty from the danger. They are connected and twisted together, a meteorological tangle of thermodynamics, precipitation, and dozens of other processes I don’t understand. Try as we might, we can’t separate ourselves from the weather either. Even with roofs over our heads and air conditioning running in the background, we’re not immune, let alone when huddled in tents with sleeping bags wrapped around us.
So what’s the use in complaining about wearing multiple layers when I walk the dogs in the morning?