Ridin’ on the knob of the North Pole

Our move from New Mexico to Kansas raised quite a few eyebrows. “Kansas? Why Kansas? You’ll hate the climate.” The climate most often was mentioned even before, “Kansas? There’s nothing there.” Well, there is — but that’s another story. Or rather a whole book of stories. Yet the weather …

In Kansas as in other centers of agriculture the weather is something to be watched especially from March until the next frost, when farmers have to work from dawn to dusk. I can understand this — the weather is an essential contributor to the well-being of the crops, the tomatoes, peppers, okra, cucumbers, beets, lettuce, beans, sweet corn and popcorn. And don’t forget the potatoes. Charlie and Betty Swift got 400 pounds of them planted just before St. Patrick’s Day. The Swifts are lonesome farmers on the tallgrass prairie surrounded as they are by cattle men and cattle women too. Their farm is just south-east of Matfield Green. Charlie started milking cows for his Dad when he was six years old, which was in 1927. He quit school in 8th grade to become a farmer and farming has been his life ever since. Now 90, Charlie –“So tall he can’t tell when his feet is cold,” says Betty– has watched the weather and worked the farm long days for ¾ of a century. No wonder he is an expert at both. I will never forget that, when I first met Charlie, and Betty too, in 1995 it was, on a Monday morning, he as the personified farmer’s almanac told me that on 3:15 p.m. Thursday it would start raining cats and dogs. It did.

Since then, contemporary meteorology (meteoros is Greek for “floating in the air”) has thanks to its most successful media form, the weather forecast –“… and now what’s the weather like in your neck of the woods”– created a wholly new form of conversation for the peoples of all modern nations. All contemporary societies discuss the weather all the time. The discussion transforms these large, huge, societies with millions and millions of members to village-like communities that constantly speak out about the same subjects: whether it is too warm, or too cold, or too wet, or too dry for the time of the year. “TV and the other media use weather to create space,” is what Marshall McLuhan already said. Since McLuhan, we the people have become the public attending, as well as the performers acting in, the climate theater. To what we hear about the weather we all add our personal experiences and opinions. We became, all of us were made into, weather connoisseurs who judge the weather according to our own taste. That’s why serious climate observers fly to Hawaii in the winter. Austrian philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls these guys, “weather dissidents.” No dissident who takes himself seriously will fly to Kansas.

If, like Ans and I, they nevertheless move to Kansas in the month of November, the weather may be surprisingly mild on the days the winds are not resembling “ridin’ on the knob of the North Pole and pourin’ off and headin’ south with nothin’ to stop ‘em but a bob wire fence, and it’s full of knotholes too.” We get “blizzards” here, cold, with blinding sleet and smothering snow, and “northers” and “blue whistlers” that are just worse, or even cruel, forms of blizzard. We get “cow skinners,” and after one the hides are all that is there to salvage of the cattle. We get “pogonips” called “the white death” and “silver thaw” that is also freezing. We get “fence lifters” and “gully washers” when the rain gets “plumb wholesale” and “wet ‘nough to bog a snipe.” And, of course, we get “twisters” and others from the family of tornados such as the “Kansas brainstorm,”, the “hell wind” and the “dancing devil,” this one like the “sand auger” with whirling sand and dust added.

Cowboy Speak makes the Kansas weather sound worse than I think it is. I must admit I have never experienced a bitter cold like the one when I was out on the prairie one day last December, and on another day in January. But so what, I know that in July and August it will be hotter than in a pizza oven on the prairie.

Kansas is one of the states in the Union where the discussion about evolution or intelligent design flares up with the regularity of the annual prairie fires. “I reckon the Lord put tumbleweeds here to show us how the wind blows,” is an old cowboy piece of wisdom. “Zeus and Jupiter may have sent lightning to the earth, but the modern god is climate-inactive,” says Sloterdijk. “Therefore the contemporary weather news can talk about causes and refrain from talking about who caused the weather. It speaks of symptoms and phenomenon occurring without any steerage from anyone.” Today’s weather forecast show masters, with all the noise they create and all the attention they get, entice the public to have an opinion about something that is way over their head and to which they can only submit. Unless, of course, they finally begin to understand that they themselves are actors on the climate control stage.

Yet few seem to want to understand. When the international climate change debate gets disrupted because of a few scientific or statistic mistakes, if any, the whole discussion seems to be pushed immediately to the lowest back shelf of the fridge again, if not into the freezer. The funny thing is, that the Pentagon, that proponent of conventional and conservative thinking, already in 1996 published a report subtitled ‘Owning the Weather in 2025’, in which the only intelligent design, by the way, comes from the military. It is all about battlefield dominance and the undermining of the comfort level of the adversary by weather modification, by creating droughts, intensifying lightning, delivering torrential rains and such. And what do you know, the Chinese already have weather artillery battalions and they shoot mortar up to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds to create rain, or stop rainfall, whatever. Oh boy. “As long as some groups refuse to take weather influencing seriously, tremendous military opportunities will be dangerously ignored,” is what the DoD roughly said. Do you hear the doomsday voice? Weather wars are what they are talking about. The Weather Gap. You know where that will lead to. Atmo-terrorism, you betcha.

The American military thinkers were already in 1993 interested in the weather weapon. From the HAARP, the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program based in south-central Alaska, powerful electromagnetic waves are sent into the ionosphere to create energy fields at certain chosen areas of the earth. With no physical borders to regard, this “energy artillery” is expected to create enormous physical effects including earthquakes (tsunamis!) in the target areas. Some observers say that recent snow storms in Arizona and other strange weather phenomenon are related to HAARP tests. Critics say that soon Extremely Low Frequency waves will be ready to be used to influence living organisms including the human brain. They are predicting the future production of neuro-telepathic weapons.

Imagine to what moral discussion developments like these can lead. The antagonists of abortion are already confused enough to be, at the same time, the most fervent supporters of the military, and ready to send the children they so desperately want to be born off to a killing war whenever and wherever they are led to believe Americans must defend something. They, as natural members of the intelligent design crowd, will need the support from legions of preachers and especially lawyers to wash their brains clean of any moral doubt. As always, it’s the lawyers’ future that is most rosy.

To return to the prairie — in Cowboy Speak a lawyer is a “prairie tenor,” a term also used to indicate a coyote. Because lawyers “talk tall” and “have more lip than a muley cow.” They pretend to clear muddy waters but instead create stuff “that’s too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” Anyway, if next January I start reporting that the average daily temperatures in the Flint Hills of Kansas are in the 90s, that the skies are blue 9 out of 10 days, that the relative humidity is somewhat below 15, that the sun is deliciously warm, and that Charlie Swift is totally confused, you will understand what I am saying. But I am telling you now, I don’t want y’all darned weather dis’dents over here.

Ton Haak,
Matfield Green, KS, April 2010

 Photo: Marva Weigelt, Matfield Green, KS