Some cultural references indicate that to talk about the weather is to talk about nothing.

Maybe this notion relates to chit chat about warm, sunny days. What is there to say? Calm skies and gentle breezes don’t create a run on pantry staples and ice melt.

The rain, snow and frigid temperatures Northeast Iowans have experienced the past several weeks make it tough to dismiss weather talk as trivial.

We seem to have replaced “fall” and “spring” with “drenched” and “muddy.” What’s worse, the term “flooding season” has crept into our vernacular.

It’s not surprising then that the natural world and its elements have long been the focus of human thought, conversation and even worship practices. Our surroundings are integral to our patterns of work, play and community life.

Since ancient times, humans have rooted religious beliefs and rituals in seasonal changes. In Greek mythology the “Horae” explained human dependence on environmental influences. These goddesses of the seasons also maintained a sense of order. (The word “hour” is derived from “Horae.”)

Ancient communities also observed seasonal changes as sacred times.

The spring equinox occurred earlier this week, marking one of the two days of the year with equal hours of day and night. NASA noted it was the first time since 1981 there was a full moon during the spring equinox.

In keeping with pagan traditions, druids gathered for a sunrise celebration at Stonehenge. Persians observe Nowruz on the equinox, which is the start of the new year. The Hindu festival of Holi also takes place at this time, indicating the arrival of spring, color and love.

The Jewish holiday of Purim is a lively late winter/early spring observance that commemorates the salvation of Jews in ancient Persia. It is commonly associated with the Book of Esther, and some scholars believe it’s even older and may be tied to Babylonia or Greek spring festivals.

There are many examples. Our individual experiences with environmental influences and extreme weather conditions also provide insight into how such events can have an impact on physical and mental health.

Exposure to natural light and ability to be outdoors also impact physical and mental well-being. Consider the recent shift to daylight saving time and how it impacts everything from our increased ability to work outdoors to overall mindset.

We each have a body clock. This circadian rhythm is a natural, internal system designed to regulate feelings of wakefulness over a 24-hour period, notes the National Sleep Foundation.

Each person’s circadian rhythm is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus of the brain. It’s the reason humans are most alert when the sun shines and sleepier in its absence.

Survivors of extreme weather events like flooding or tornadoes will be at increased risk for psychological distress, such as anxiety-related disorders and substance abuse, according to National Wildlife Federation.

Meanwhile, extreme temperatures stress the cardiovascular system and other parts of the body, according to the Journal of Biometeorology. While this includes both hot and cold temperatures, the overall mortality rate is higher in winter. (However, instances of violent behavior increase during heatwaves, say University of California at Berkeley researchers.)

Multiple studies show destructive weather events bring out the best in many of us and trigger our ancient community spirit tendencies.

Selfishness does occur during such times, but it’s not the norm. Weather-related crises mark a time when more people feel empowered to call out bad behavior and encourage others to pitch in.

Natural disasters inspire us to action, whether we’re survivors or observers. In the past, perhaps neighbors have helped you in such times. Or maybe you’ve made donations to disaster victim funds, assembled relief kits or filled sandbags.

We can’t control wind and water, but people do rally in response. That’s hardly the stuff of small talk.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karris



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