Iowa’s jagged edges

It’s October. This is my favorite of all the months, and not just because some really awesome people were born on my birthday. No, it’s because the weather in October is about as good as it gets in Iowa. Behind us are the sticky, steamy afternoons of July. The icy, breath-stealing nights of February are still just a rumor from the future. But October … October is all about warm, sunny days, cool, crisp evenings and early mornings. At least, it usually is.

This October, the 8th October of the 21st century, has had more mood swings in its first 7 days than my Aunt Clara during a family reunion. Last Wednesday, the high temperature was a glorious 75 degrees (Fahrenheit); the low was an appropriately chilly 50 F. By Sunday, the high had soared back to 88 , with all of the humidity Iowans expect to endure during State Fair week in August. The forecast for the rest of this week? Highs in the 50s and 60s, lows in the 30s and 40s.

No one I’ve talked to over the past week about the weather (which is everyone I’ve talked to; Iowans who would hesitate before asking a cousin for their home phone number think nothing of chatting at length with a total stranger about atmospheric conditions) seems to mind this split weather personality. It’s part of the price they stoically pay for living in a place that movie stars confuse with the celestial heights.

People in other parts of the country don’t understand this — neither the weather dichotomy nor Iowans’ calm acceptance of it. Moving to Iowa from San Diego or Bangkok or Ankara is a culture shock in many ways. One of them is the sheer unpredictability of the day-to-day weather. A University of Iowa Web page that advises international students coming to Iowa City offers this sage advice: “Severe weather” in various forms — heavy snows, high winds, ice storms, thunderstorms, high heat and humidity, and tornadoes — can come at various times of the year. Being prepared with appropriate clothing, and in some cases an umbrella, can reduce your discomfort and make you safer during harsh weather.

What native Iowans know and incoming Iowans learn quickly is that the transition between seasons is never smooth in Iowa. There has never been in my memory a time when winter ended with a gradual warming up that eased into spring, or a summer that slipped incrementally into fall without the occasional reversion back to the departing season — sometimes more than one. The seasons have jagged edges in Iowa. They lurch forward and backward with a ferocity that betrays both reluctance of the previous season to go gently into that good night, and a reticence on the part of the coming season to seize the day. Maybe the weather reflects the nature of Iowans or, more likely, Iowans adapted their personalities to the vagaries of their homeland.

Jagged edges can slice and wound, draw blood from their unsuspecting victims. But they can also sharpen and smooth what they come in contact with, finish the rough surfaces and make them perfect. Does living through the jagged weather edges of Iowa prepare us to deal with the other jagged edges that we brush against?