B. Data Collection cont.
From the very beginning of this transition from working in a rural setting (Cape Cod) to a city, I was struck at how the initial blindness of unfamiliarity of entering a new environment never really left me. The car-centeredness and my personal hang-ups about that, were part of this prejudicial blindness, I am sure. But it was more than that, as I recognize this same phenomena when I am in Boston. It’s almost like weather is hidden, harder to detect within a city environment. True, there is the physical distortion of the buildings and surfaces that create these UHI (Urban Heat Islands) which trap heat above cities. But the blindness is deeper than that.
For one, there are less visual indicators of seasons within cities. On the Cape, the seasons have a smell in the air, a feel of the wind, taste and visual quality that is unmistakable and impossible not to notice. The harsh, winter winds that bite into your face as you fight your way to the water’s edge, mixed with the strange fishy smell of the seaweed are all right in your face. Daily subtleties of weather articulate themselves much more visibly in an environment that is defined largely by the natural world. In the brick, concrete-filled land of Urbana, those indicators are either less visible or simply non-existent.
This blindness, I felt I was always carrying around with me, was only lifted on occasional moments, when weather actually became an almost physically, tangible phenomena rather than the silent background I occasionally witnessed as I lifted my head and peeked at a bit of sky between the skyscrapers. What these occasional bursts of visibility did was create a very idiosyncratic way of learning about weather. Reading weather felt more like a series of bits and pieces, in which various impressions about different aspects of the phenomenon behaved like puzzle pieces of a larger whole.
And it is this idiosyncrasy that really began to intrigue me as a sign that I was actually beginning to understand weather in a more profound way. Sometimes understanding something deeper actually has to go through a phase of not understanding it, in order to allow ideas and perspectives to re-shift their parameters through which you view them. I felt like this shift in approaching the data – not as a series of numbers that have to be explored in a set, but as a series of seemingly disconnected understandings that as a whole make up the larger phenomena called weather. Or at least my understanding of weather.