Long, long time ago, I spent a few months in Germany with my Mom, Dad, and younger brother. Dad was an exchange professor under a program set up in gratitude for the Marshall Plan, and he went on a lecture tour that included a stop in Freiburg. This is in the heart of the Black Forest, and while Dad did his science thing, Joe and I wanted to go walking in the forest.
A very nice old guy at the hotel’s front desk explained to us how to get to the trail head, and further assured us that though it was cloudy, the day would be lovely. His system for predicting the weather consisted of peering out a certain window through a certain hole in the trees at a certain hour of the early morning. After decades of collecting data, he had great faith in his system.
We did not get rained on, and the Black Forest is lovely, dark and deepl.
When I travel across country, I notice stuff: How are the roads? Are there any fancy new interchanges under construction? How many over-sized loads do I pass in the course of a day’s driving? When I finally, finally get to the hotel, is the parking lot nearly empty or crowded?
I’ve been doing this for decades, and my horseback survey generally points in the direction of the nation’s economic health. People don’t buy boats or new combines when times are hard. Hotels don’t fill up, major construction projects don’t get funded. A few years back, I was hearing a lot of headlines about economic recovery, but my roadtrip indicators said the recovery hadn’t reached the provinces yet.
We all have this kind of radar. As the mom of a school aged kid, I knew she was getting sick when her eyes were shiny, though I’ve never seen that symptom described in any medical literature. Often, Herself wouldn’t yet feel under the weather, but I knew she’d wake up the next day symptomatic.
As a writer, I love these kinds of details. I can convey to the readers, “lousy economy” by describing potholes and empty hotel parking lots without ever using words like recession, depression, or downturn. The sensation of a car hitting a pothole at speed–the sound, the inner wince–is universal. Four potholes is proof of either an awful winter or not enough budget for repairs.
The tricky thing is paying attention to the information that will clue us in, and ignoring the noise. The old guy at the hotel desk had the same shift, day after day, and only one window to look out of. Still, he had to go to the trouble of connecting the weather dots, testing his hypothesis, then refining it.
Do you have some horseback survey data that you’ve learned to rely on? A canary in the coal mine or weather prognosticator that’s unique to you and your experience? Have you ever had that kind of information and ignored it, much to your regret? To one commenter, I’ll send an advanced reader copy of “Too Scot To Handle.”