June 2, 2011:Talking about climate change

Just back from a wonderful, five-day trip to Louisville, KY and still in that never-neverland mood when the sensibilities of that quirky city feel pretty real. I can still smell boxwood.

For this trip, my husband and I had opted to stay at an elegant B & B, the Dupont Mansion, in the heart of Old Louisville and one block from “Millionaire’s Row.” So the scene for this B & B’s making-polite-conversation-with-total-strangers-while-having-a-sumptuous-breakfast-ritual was an elegant, high-ceiling, crystal glassware-filled dining room.

Nine times out of ten, under such circumstances, after collectively oohing and aahing over such palatial surroundings, what would most strangers—sleepy strangers—talk about? Of course: the weather.

Except that it seems as if weather, like religion and politics, is not a safe, banal conversation-starter any more.

This became crystal-clear (get it?) one morning when my husband and I sat across the dining room table from three people from—yup—Missouri. After we’d heard the story about being shunted into a supermarket walk-in cooler for almost an hour with forty other shoppers to wait out a tornado, the five of us began looking into our laps.

Bill McKibben’s Washington Post article playing in my head, I was hyper-aware of how fraught, how layered that lap-studying moment was. Because one simply doesn’t say aloud, “Jeez! This weird weather we’re having scares the bejeesus out of me!” to a total stranger.

First of all,  there’s the possibility you’re talking to a climate change denier—and who wants to get into that over fruit cups and french toast?

But I sensed something else in that heads-bowed moment: A still-working-on-it etiquette: One simply doesn’t talk about the scariness of tornadoes and droughts and deluges and violent weather because it IS so terrifying. It’s a kindness not to speak The Truth?

Well, yes and no. Like discussing religion and politics, it’s a kindness to strangers to tread gently. But now that I’m home, I’m pondering what I could have said in that lap-studying moment.

Or asked.

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  1. I had a haircut this morning, and my Italian-American barber told me that visitors from “over there” this last weekend commented that all we talk about in this country is the weather (maybe we have more interesting weather than they do “over there”). It looks like we’ll have to change our topics of casual conversation — to religion and politics?

  2. I love David Myers and Patricia Wild. And some days, the weather.

    Just checking to see who is paying attention.

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