Summer is my season. You might think that I’d be enamored with snow, being a meteorologist and having grown up along Coastal California, where seeing snow involved a 6-hour drive to Tahoe. I do enjoy snow – there’s nothing like a good blizzard on some long weekend in February when I can hunker down at home with a cup of tea and watch it snow enough to where finally put on my skis and head over to the neighborhood park. But 8-inches in late May? (Heads up: basic meteorology lesson coming!)
When I was about 5 years old, I had to explain to my 80-year-old great-grandmother how a tape recorder worked. She asked me lots of questions, and I patiently explained all the buttons. I’m sure she was humoring me, but I felt so surprised that someone so old wouldn’t know how something works. “She grew up in the horse and buggy days,” my mom told me when I asked her about it, “Imagine how much change she’s seen in her lifetime!”
I remember thinking that it must have been really hard for her to keep up – given how fast things were moving. I felt lucky to have been born after such big technological revolutions as tape recorders and televisions. I wouldn’t have such a hard time keeping up. (Ha.)
Imagine a high, windswept, rolling plain, with tall grasses sprouting from spongy soil. This is a place where you can watch the clouds and feel them engulf you before they scurry past, as they race to the next mountain top. The sky here is ever-changing, offering an occasional glimpse of blue, where wispy cirrus cruise by at a leisurely pace high above compared to the ragged cumulus and foggy patches that race by just above your head.
Living in the Andes has forced me to rethink everything I know about what drives weather and shapes climate. I come from a country where it’s always winter in December – no matter where you are. In Ecuador, people will change their minds about what season it is depending on what’s happening right outside their window. Also, there is such wide variation in ‘season’ and climate from one valley to the next, from the east slope of the Andes to the west. Two hours in a car, descending thousands of feet, can take you from a cool, cloudy mountain climate to a desert. Last week I visited the Yunguilla valley – an hour away from Cuenca – but another world entirely.
The Ecuadorians have a saying ‘Abril, aguas mil.’ (And lodo=mud.) The direct translation is roughly: April – a thousand waters (and I added the part about the mud). You get the idea – it’s basically the same sentiment as ‘April showers bring May flowers.’ True to form, the atmosphere has delivered us aguas mil this month. For that matter, March was also a month of aguas mil. I have become accustomed to donning rain gear, boots, and marching out of the house with my giant umbrella (mi sombrillo gigante!) that I purchased on a street corner in a moment of soggy desperation sometime back in March. Everyday I wish we could send some of this deluge off to California, where people actually need the water.
There is something about a windswept, lonely place that draws me in. It’s the escape from the bustling crowds and the diesel. Living in Ecuador’s third largest city is sometimes a challenge simply because it is a city. When I first arrived, I thought I was suffering from culture-shock. I think a lot of the shock was simply adjusting to city life. I’ve adapted, but I still need to escape regularly – to breathe fresh air and wipe the grime from my face.
New Zealand has the Middle Earth claim-to-fame. But the Andes could have easily played a starring role as the Misty Mountains in Lord of the Rings.
Just in time for Easter, this post has a little religion and a little science all in one! Not that I ever mix the two, but sometimes it’s interesting when they stand side by side.
Last Thursday I took my first pilgrimage up the mountain with colleagues to check out one of the weather stations. We drove about 30 minutes up toward Cajas National Park, west of Cuenca. I was excited to get out in the countryside, having been cooped up from all the rain these past couple of weeks.