The first time we came out here, it was for Erik’s sister’s wedding. It was early June and the prairie was that brilliant green it gets when storms blow across pretty regularly and the sun is shining. But I didn’t see any of that. We flew into Fargo, for some reason, and so we had a long drive up here. Miles and miles of interstate, scarcely seeing a town. And then turning west, heading up out of the Red River Valley up onto the high prairie here, where the shelterbelts thin out and disappear and you see to the edge of the horizon. It was as if we had driven onto a high plateau somewhere and the air was thin. I felt like it was hard to breathe. I’m
When we got back to Boston, I was telling someone about it and they said, “What do people do out there? What do they even have to talk about?” I said, “I don’t know. They talk about the weather a lot.”
People would think they talk about the weather more during the long winter. If I want to shock people back home, that’s the time to send back a weather report. “Hi Mom! It’s twenty-five below and with the windchill it’s minus fifty.” I can throw that in an email to one of my friends from the college. Most of them thought I was insane to come back here with Erik. I guess it was insane, in a way, but not in the way they think. And a lot of it has turned out pretty terribly, trying to work out a divorce in this town two thousand miles away from my family or any friend that I know. But it’s different from what they think. After the first year, when I knew we were never going to be able to save this marriage and I would have to file for divorce, I got a lot of advice about what I should be doing, why I should move back. And when I said I didn’t think I could leave, go back to Boston, and take Leah away from her father, I got a lot of advice. That’s putting it nicely. A lot of people telling me, or at least implying, how stupid I was, how I had to take care of myself first. There were emails. Late-night phone calls. There was one with my best friend, or at least she was. I tried to say, there is no “me” apart from my family to take care of first. My family is part of who I am, what I’ve made in this life. We may be separate people but we don’t have separate lives.
So since then, we don’t talk about things. Things go unsaid. There’s a kind of quiet between people here, and a lot slips into that. I think I’ve become a conversation killer. I’m disconnecting myself. I think I tell them about the weather, especially when it’s dramatic, as a way to say, “You don’t really know how things are here.”
But when people here talk about the weather a lot, it isn’t in the cold. It’s now. Planting season. The guys sitting along the counter in the morning, when they talk back and forth with others who have come in and settled into booths. What is it today. What does the paper say it will be tomorrow. Do they believe that? The guys in Grand Forks or Bismarck always get it wrong. Did the news report last night say something different from what the paper says? How dry is the ground over at your place? How warm is the soil? Why should we trust this forecast? — last Spring they said it was going to be dry and some guys planted and then it rained and rained and rained and their seed ended up rotting in their fields.
I realized this week that these guys talk about the weather because they are more aware of where they are and what’s happening than people back in Boston, at least people I knew. They may not know much about what’s going on in Washington or abroad or about injustices in the world, but they know what’s going on outside their back door. And good thing, too. I’m depending on these guys, or at least their families, to grow me good things to cook up this summer and next fall. It won’t happen if they don’t pay attention.