Just over one year ago we bought a house that was built in 1890. It boasts beautiful natural light throughout the entire house, including long kitchen windows that look out over the southern and western horizons. You don’t see a lot of windows in kitchens these days as architects try to maximize cabinet space.
While making a morning cup of tea or doing dishes at night, I have noticed these windows are situated perfectly for watching the weather roll into the valley surrounding the house. Because that is what people did in the late 1800s; they watched the weather.
When you watch the weather, you don’t have any notion of being able to change it. You simply have more information to prepare for what is heading your way. The weather can be too hot, too cold, or too wet, but it isn’t in your ability to control. It’s just weather. I imagine people worried about the weather more during that time than we do today, but it also motivated them to gather the appropriate food, heat, and clothing supplies needed to endure.
It is quite likely this charming old house got its first television sometime in the 1950s. By the middle of that decade, more than 12 million American homes had televisions in them. Before long people began to spend a little less time watching the weather and a little more time watching the television.
The TVs of the era were small, showed only black and white images, and rarely featured programming before 4 p.m. It was such a challenge to get a decent picture, your family probably didn’t change the channel very often or at all. If you didn’t like the show that was on, you either had to endure it to get to something better or get up and walk away.
When there is only one TV channel, you don’t have a sense of being able to change what is being shown. It might be too serious, too silly or too boring, but it isn’t in your ability to control. It’s just the show that’s on.
Fast forward another 70 years to today. The average home in this country has 2.3 televisions, each with access to thousands of channels. Just about anyone over the age of 12 also carries around a phone in their pocket that knows their every wish, location, personal connection, and preference. If you don’t like something being shown to you, you just click or swipe to move onto the next.
When you have an infinite number of options, you get the sense that you are entitled to experience the world in a way that makes sense to you -- that you can alter reality. That the world should never be too different, too harsh or too difficult to understand. If it is any of those things, you can just change the channel or open a new app to find something that feels comfortable to you. I tend to think the transition from watching the weather to watching our phones over the past 130 years has not served us well.
When you watch a storm roll over the mountains and into the valley around you, at first you feel small. But there is strength in this feeling as you learn you can endure whatever weather comes your way.
When you expect the world to cater to your every wish and preference, at first you feel powerful. But there is fragility in this feeling because the world can never get it exactly right.
As you enter this holiday season, I would encourage you to start watching the weather again. Put yourself in a position to look out over the horizon and feel small.
Put your phone – and with it your expectations for a perfectly curated life – in a basket on the counter. Revel in softly falling snow, even when it means another round of shoveling later tonight.
Enjoy connection and conversation, even when a colleague or family member says something you don’t see exactly the same way. May you find strength in noticing and navigating your own reaction instead of trying to change their point of view.
Cheers to watching the weather world through kitchen windows.
Mandy Fabel resides in Lander with her husband and young son. They love spending time rock climbing, snowmobiling, and mountain biking. Mandy currently serves as the executive director of Leadership Wyoming and the co-founder of the YouTube channel Granola & Gasoline.