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Leaning into the Wind

Leaning into the Wind: A Memoir of Midwest Weather

Susan Allen Toth
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
https://doi.org/10.5749/j.ctttszxm
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttszxm
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  • Book Info
    Leaning into the Wind
    Book Description:

    Leaning into the Wind is a series of ten intimate essays in which Susan Allen Toth, who has spent most of her life in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, reveals the ways in which weather has challenged and changed her perceptions about herself and the world around her. She describes her ever-growing awareness of and appreciation for how the weather marks the major milestones of her life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9547-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. A Note to Other Midwesterners
    (pp. xi-xii)
  2. Leaning into the Wind
    (pp. 1-11)

    Racing black clouds, brilliant patches of blue sky, frosty mornings, soft dissolving nights: as I look back, I often see moments in my life in an aureole of weather. I think of a long-ago love affair that disintegrated on a hot humid afternoon, my failing first marriage punctuated by thunderstorms, my struggles as a single parent crystallized in a snowdrift towering over my freezing daughter, a terrible parting miraculously eased by the promise of that same blanketing snow.

    Weather saturates my memories. Was the sun shining that afternoon? Were the stars blinking that night? Was I uncomfortably hot, or shivering...

  3. The Weather Was Full of Promise
    (pp. 12-23)

    When i was young, the weather was full of promise. Early fall winds in Ames, Iowa, whispered of cascading leaves to be kicked into red-gold storms, the faint flickering glow of leering orange pumpkins on black Halloween nights, and the sudden sparkle of silvery white frost on wet green grass. When winter puffed and blew soft snowflakes against my window, I knew my sister and I could soon shape it into downy cushions, scooped-out caves, and tottery snowmen. In spring, just in time for May baskets, rain melting the last smudges of snow would quickly unveil quivering delicate snowdrops, Dutchman’sbreeches,...

  4. Other Weather, Other Places
    (pp. 24-38)

    I do not always feel pleased or excited by Midwest weather. I don’t even like it all the time. Sometimes, in fact, I hate it. Then I want to flee—now! this moment! Since my imagination can travel far and fast, I have stored a number of possible escapes in a phantasmal Pandora’s box. On some July mornings, heavy and stifling as wet wool, I think longingly of Mendocino, a four-hour drive north of San Francisco. I also think of Mendocino in midwinter as I stare out the window at newly gleaming ice and wonder if I dare try a...

  5. Storms
    (pp. 39-54)

    All year violent storms can sweep over the Midwest, sudden onslaughts of thunder and lightning, wind, rain, snow, sleet, hail. But I remember one particular storm as if it has compressed all the others into a single mesmerizing hour. When I think about my first marriage—what went wrong and why I left—I keep coming back to a late afternoon in June. I did not recognize what was happening until many years later. But I think I passed a landmark, a point of no return, during this summer storm.

    “When the funnel hits, we’ll have to crawl out a...

  6. Down in the Basement
    (pp. 55-60)

    Storms still frighten me. I only enjoy those I watch from someone else’s house. Under another roof, I don’t worry about falling trees, cracked glass, and lethal lightning. For some reason I feel destruction is more likely to strike me when I’m at home. Hiding elsewhere, I think I have temporarily eluded fate. Shielded by walls and windows not my own, I listen and watch, as if admiring close-up fireworks.

    Frightened or not, I am not sure I would want to live entirely without storms. Since those spectacular outbursts have been part of my life, the seasons might seem intolerably...

  7. A Window on the Weather
    (pp. 61-74)

    One cheerless march morning, I turned the newspaper page and stopped at a somber photograph. A middle-aged, grizzled man was stooping over a fallen cow, staring down at the dying animal with tight-lipped helplessness. Behind him I could see miles of empty Nebraska plains, shrouded with snow. The man had a jacket on, but he looked cold. Above the accompanying story, the headline read: “Poverty on the Farm.”

    It was a sobering piece. After putting the paper down, I went to my kitchen window. Outside in our compact, neatly fenced yard, the rainbow-colored windsock was twisting gently. We too had...

  8. Weather Words
    (pp. 75-84)

    Several years ago, when our doctor told me gently but firmly that I had high blood pressure, I panicked. It was not just that I felt damaged, old, and fearfully mortal. But, as he went on to explain that he would now prescribe a little of this and some of that, and eventually we would control this problem, I had almost stopped listening. I had fastened on the words, “high pressure.” I had heard those words of warning all my life.

    High pressure: that was how I learned to describe the academic institutions I chose, my often tense life as...

  9. Things That Go Buzz in the Night
    (pp. 85-92)

    My husband, james, does not understand why I do not always love summer weather. But then he never gets bitten by bugs—mosquitoes, yellow jackets, gnats, black flies, horse flies, and other, unidentified pests who appear out of nowhere, strike, and disappear. He walks across a meadow of ankle-high grass and remarks on the breeze, the dark-blue sky, the beautiful evening. I walk beside him and think of ticks and chiggers.

    Everything bites me, everywhere. When I was a little girl, my mother constantly had to daub Mercurochrome and Gentian Violet (whose names were impressively medicinal) on the countless bites...

  10. A Cold-Blooded Woman
    (pp. 93-96)

    I can’t just blame the bugs. Something unpleasant happens to me in the peak of summer. For most of the year, I am a fairly reasonable woman. Oh, some days I can be rather irritable (“My service-tag number is 7GT68491, and my computer has justcrashed again!”), and I certainly do snap occasionally (“You mean you invited them for dinner tonight ?”). But I basically consider myself as settled and accepting—maybe not always calm, but, yes, mostly content and fairly reasonable.

    As high summer approaches, I begin to change. Like a werewolf during a full moon, I turn...

  11. Garden Weather
    (pp. 97-110)

    On the first day of spring, I am on my hands and knees in my garden. Like many Midwestern gardeners, I define spring not by a specific date on the calendar but by the weather. If I can dig in the dirt, spring has arrived. Sometime in April, even in March, winter’s snow—gray, compacted, icy—will finally have melted. On several chilly days to come, a few flurries will whiten the ground, but they won’t stay long. The deep stony frost has slowly, seepingly, imperceptibly made its way to the surface and disappeared. The heavy black soil in my...

  12. The Weather Doesn’t Grow Old
    (pp. 111-115)

    Most mornings i am a little groggy when I wake up, so when I sit down for breakfast, with my husband already deep into the editorial page of theNew York Times, I reach for the local newspaper and turn immediately to the back page of the Metro section, where I can find the weather report. As I sip a mug of steaming-hot tea, I concentrate intensely on temperature, yesterday’s weather, and today’s predicted highs and lows, and slowly the morning begins to come into focus.

    “Upper eighties today,” I announce with disapproval. James murmurs a noncommittal “Really?” Or I...

  13. Who Speaks in the Pillar of Cloud?
    (pp. 116-124)

    I cannot imagine living in the midst of Midwest weather without sometimes thinking about God—or at least about a mysterious Power in the universe. When black thunderclouds overwhelm the sun and crackling bolts of electricity split the darkness, I do not immediately consider the facts of meteorology. I feel instead a tremor of fear, tinged with awe. Wandering around under an unsettled sky, Midwesterners constantly confront our puniness. A wind that whips and whirls sleet like a lash, a blowing snowstorm that wipes out the world, a sun that relentlessly dissolves solid asphalt: who can watch all this and...