I keep my eyes on the pageant of the skies

Each morning I arise and search the heavens. Is the sky clear, or are the stars muted by high thin clouds? Where is the moon on its monthly journey? Are the front steps of my porch wet from an overnight shower?

I peer through the darkness for fingers of fog that sometimes settle over our pasture and pond. Then, opening my weather journal, I write down these details along with the time, temperature, recent precipitation, and the barometric pressure.

I cultivated this habit several years ago, when I volunteered as a snow-spotter for the National Weather Service in our area. I recorded the daily climatic conditions on the log provided for me and measured the snowfall for the past 24 hours. For my own edification, I also repeated the process in the midafternoon.

As I am a farmer, the day's forecast determines if I work inside or outside. My husband and I take note of an easterly wind and the arrival of cirrus clouds, both indicators of change and the need to complete outdoor tasks. When time permits, I add these particulars to my meteorological record.

Most of all, I watch my barometer.

While the National Weather Service trained me, it was my father who nurtured my love for weather. I use his barometer now. I can remember its resting place on my father's dresser.

Years ago, I stood on my tip-toes, pigtails framing my face, as my father taught me to set the gold arrow and watch how the black needle moved throughout the day. He showed me how far the needle would dip to predict a tornado. Whenever severe thunderstorms rocked our house, I would sneak into my parents' room and check the barometer.

As long as the instrument reported no impending tornados, I felt safe. And usually, as the edge of the storm blew over us, my father would wander out and check the sky.

Now when the wind changes and scatters the remnants of a storm, I, like my father, head outside. I walk out to the first rise beyond our house and eye the eastern horizon, following the movement of the storm, and I listen for the rush of the cold front passing through the trees.

In writing down meteorological details, I have come to see the patterns in the weather. Not only are adages such as "Rain before 7, ends before 11" true, but also there is a rhythm to when the fronts cross the Great Lakes. In fact, their passing is almost predictable.

I need only to open my weather journals to read that the weather three years ago on Jan. 7 was not all that different from what I am experiencing today. True, the blizzards of 1978 and the drought of 1988 loom in my memory, but these erratic conditions are overshadowed by the regularity I've documented.

Recently, a first-year middle-school teacher learned about my weather records and asked me to speak to his class. He planned to have his students keep their own journals for the next six weeks.

I arrived with my weather radio, cloud chart, a rain gauge, and one of my barometers. The students and I talked about the instruments, determined what sort of clouds drifted overhead, and then I read to them from my entries. They enjoyed hearing about the patterns and the mystery of seeing what days had held in the past.

But even more, I encouraged those eager faces to go outside and scan the sky, day or night. Note the ring around the moon and when the wind turns the leaves over. Watch the roll of the squall line passing overhead.

Chronicle the details of life, I urged them. Record the pulse of the sky, feel the heartbeat of the season, and claim the richness that surrounds us in the heavens.

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