The weather prophet

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We live, for most part, in a universe complex and unpredictable, so that it is a brave man who will tell you what tomorrow will bring. Where the human factor is involved the elements of cause and effect are particularly obscure. The heart is a wayward thing, subject to its own unfathomable laws. Wordsworth's heart leaped up when it beheld a rainbow; hearts of less poetic mortals have been known to stand still on seeing a pair of eyes across the room. Going out at the start of the day, one knows not what friend may stir a considerable emotion within or what stranger, for that matter, may ignite a conflagration.

Fortunately for man's peace of mind there are areas where we can be reasonably certain of recurrences and repetitions. That tomorrow's sun will rise, that the tides will ebb and flow a their predetermined hours, is an altogether persuasive conjecture. But even here certain poets and philosophers have liked to express a doubt. G. K. Chesterton denied categorically that any compulsion lay upon the sun to arise at a certain hour, preferring to think that a spontaneous deity simply clapped his hands each morning and said, like the child, "do it again!" "As to me," declared Walt Whitman in his fine off-hand way , "there are onlym miracles." Most of us, however, accept the regularities of sun and seasons, and even of the more errant and mysterious moon, a fixed points in our otherwise shifting lives.

One area has even been carved out where man dares make daily predictions. It is rather extraordinary, when you think of it, that practical-minded men should have staked out this one aspect of our whirling existence and made it subject to prophecies as confident as those of the storefront fortune-teller. Here in Maine, having no radio and often getting the newspaper a day late, I call a certain number (itself curiously compounded of symbolic integers) to hear a voice telling me with perfect assurance what will be occurring on land and sea over the next 24 hours.

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In my youth it was otherwise. Before setting out on a picnic or other excursion, one of us children would be delegated to consult with an ancient woodsman who sat all day, no matter what the temperature, in his rocking chair before a pot-bellied stove. On being queried, he would arise slowly and, going outdoors, would peer and sniff, then pause for what seemed in our impatience an intolerable interlude. "Well, it may rain and it may not," was the reply we would regularly and faithfully carry back to our elders.

The voice over the telephone in Maine is of a different quality.

The first problem, however, is to reach the voice. I regret to say that although we have resolved up here the mysteries of the natural world, we have not workd out a Telephonic system which allows more than one or two listeners at a time to get to the front of wisdom. The line, in short is invariably busy. From its degree on busy-ness I have formulated a generalization about this part of the human race: to wit, we are mostly optimists. For when the weather outdoors is plainly fine, relatively few people are interested in Learning when it is likely to worsen. But give us the kind of foul weather that has assured Maine an evil reputation and protected its coasts from the kind of tourist invasions one finds elsewhere in summer, then everyone under heaven in clamoring to get through to the prophet and to learn when a break will occur. They actually think a break willm occur -- though I have known times when the prophet went on for weeks at a time with never a change in his voice or manner, firmly asserting that the day would be foggy and that tomorrow would be the same.

There are times, I hate to admit it, when the prophet is caught napping. Into whatever cavernous interior he sits, the rays of the sun do not seem to penetrate or he does not, like the Adirondack woodsman I have spoken of bestir himself to step outside. And so he will announce the day to be stormy, or clouded and unsettled, when any fool can see with his own eyes that it is a perfection of dazzling blue.

Generally, however, his errors derive from more cosmic forces. The weather fronts whose progress he likes to trace -- sometimes announcing that they approach with "funenls" -- don't behave the way a reasonable weather front should. The result is a flawed prediction, to put the matter kindly. Yet for this I do not reproach him. Indeed it may be reassuring to think that not everything, even in this matter of the weather, can be exactly foretold. Let an unheralded shower approach, the sailor goes below and gets into his rain-gear, perhaps ruminating on the though that "the sea is His, and He made it" -- not the weather prophet.

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