Weather and Memory

Particular kinds of weather can sometimes evoke memories.

When the humidity and temperatures are high, I can feel the summers of Illinois where we would say that it was corn growing weather and that you could actually hear the corn grow.  Without central air conditioning, we would sleep on the living room floor with my grandfather’s hassock fan blowing on us.

Higher heat and humidity along with the smell of fish and ocean water evoke memories of Louisiana, Cajun accents, and jambalaya.

Drier heat brings images of cottonwoods along the Des Moines River on the western edge of the Midwest.


The first touches of slightly cooler temperatures in the morning bring memories of the first marching band practices of the fall and the promise of Friday football games and the start of the school year.

We are creatures who, in spite of all our attempts to overcome nature’s rhythms, have memories embedded in climate and season cycles.  We emotionally respond to a change in season without being conscious of it, our bodies reminding us of either the loss of a loved one at that same time of year in the past, or memories of childhood.  For several years after the floods of ’93 in Iowa, I could feel the tension in the community whenever a large storm came through, our bodies remembering the past before our consciousness recognized it.

This week was very hot and humid for New England.  One day, while outside, I felt the humidity literally roll in, bringing memories of Hong Kong where the winds could change from the north to the south, bringing in the humidity off the South China Sea.  It was a place where everyone had umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun more than the rain.  My assistant came to work on one of these hot, humid days, feeling like she had just entered into another world.  She had stopped to get gas at her local station and gave the normal greeting to the gas station attendant, as she had for many years.  But the weather evoked another place and time and led the conversation in a new direction.  The weather led the attendant back to an earlier time when he was a young soldier in Vietnam, struggling to stay alive and identify the enemy, as he made his way through the rice paddies and swamps.  The weather brought back memories of the hostility of the American population when he returned, and memories of distress at the inability of the Veterans Affairs to understand his memories and dreams.

We are creatures who, in spite of all our attempts to overcome nature’s rhythms, have memories embedded in the weather of places and times.

1 thought on “Weather and Memory

  1. Great article, Jan. It’s so totally true about smells and climate that bring back memories. Don and I often have talked about a smell or whatever that made us think of a particular trip we have taken. I am always appreciative of how that can happen!!

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