Few hikers are on the Cross Plains segment of the Ice Age Trail at Hickory Hill, each a solitary walker like me. Our interactions are all the same. Without stopping, we step to our respective sides of the trail and say hello. They say, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” or “Lovely day for a walk,” I concur, and we continue on our ways.
Years ago, in my study of Romani (Gypsy) culture of the horse-drawn-caravan era, one source said the Roma didn’t routinely comment on the weather. What’s the point? Anyone can see whether it’s sunny or raining.
So why do we mention it so regularly? To stay civil toward a neighbor or cousin whose opinions annoy us? To defer a difficult conversation? To tune out others, like Mabel’s sisters in The Pirates of Penzance, who shut their eyes and talk about the weather to allow her new romance some privacy? Although avoidance can be a motive, weather talk often expresses something more positive.
A friend used to describe “Nice day!” as meaning “I see you. Do you see me?” I’ll go one step further. It’s a celebration of what we have in common, too rare in these days of defining ourselves and others by our differences. Sure, how someone votes or worships or feels about masks is part of who they are—but so is their love of dogs or sweet corn or the rustle of autumn leaves. For those of us on the trail in this moment, what binds us is our shared delight in a lovely September day.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.