30-year-old Bronwyn Artair, feeling out of place in her doctoral program in Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, drops out and takes a job as a TV meteorologist, much to the dismay of her mentor, Diane Fenwick. After a year of living alone in Southern New Hampshire, enduring the indignities of her job, dumped by her boyfriend, she discovers her deep connection to the natural world has given her an ability to affect natural forces. When she finally accepts she really possesses this startling capability, she must then negotiate a new relationship to the world. Who will she tell? Who will believe her? Most importantly, how will she put this new skill of hers to use?
The following highlights are from a conversation with Cai Emmons about her novel, Weather Woman. Click the link above to hear the full conversation, or subscribe to our podcast.
What’s the weather pattern closest to your heart?
I think I would have to say blizzards. I really loved blizzards as a child. Watching them come down, you could always tell that the best ones, the deepest ones, the longest lasting ones were gonna be the ones with really tiny, dry flakes and I remember watching them mount up, move higher and higher and at a certain point you would be pretty confident that there would be no school the next day. And I remember waking up in the morning and listening to the school cancellation announcements. But it wasn’t just about no school, it was about the excitement of the weather phenomena materialize and transform the landscape. It was really beautiful, I really loved it. I would have to say that’s closest to my heart and I kind of miss it living out west that we don’t have or at least where I live we don’t have those kind of blizzard.
You call Bronwyn (protagonist) earth sentient and have you known anyone with this quality?
I mean that she is highly attuned to all the sensations that greet her body, that her body greets. She is aware of slight changes in the humidity and in the atmospheric pressure. She’s also attuned to wildlife and the landscape in general. And when you were asking about my relationship to Brownyn, I feel to some degree attuned in that way—nowhere near to the degree that she is—but I feel very aware. I’ve always been very aware of changes in the weather. Of how the air feels on my skin. Of how it feels to go into the water and have it swirl around. I love those sensations.
Eileen Polluck blurbs the book and writes, “Its’s a riveting tug-of-war between science and intuition…” What’s your sense of how to utilize both science and intuition, or emotion, in order to address the challenges we face in the 21st Century climate extremes.
Excellent question. I think one of the things people don’t realize is that intuition plays a role in science. Almost all scientists approach what they’re doing from some point of having a hunch about something. The hunch, then, gives way to an educated hypothesis and then the hypothesis leads to data gathering and experiment and on and on. We tend to only associate scientists with the data gathering aspect of the process. I was interested in exploring and giving some validity to intuition. Now as it’s posited in the book there is a tug-of-war where you have Diane arguing for data and Bronwyn believing in intuition or having come to the point where she operates and validates her own intuition after having been very data driven. Clearly there is a role for both of these as we go forward, but I think in terms of the one that has been undervalued, at least by the leaders of our community, I think intuition has been undervalued and particularly in relation to the earth and the way we’re navigating climate change and the way we’re taking custody of the earth—which is not very well. Most of us, we don’t need data to know that intuitively. We go to a beach and we see its junked up with all sorts of Styrofoam and plastics and we see a gull pecking at the plastics and we know this is not good.
I’m not arguing for operating only with intuition, but I am arguing that we should all be more attentive to intuition. There’s so many things, technology for one—a big one—which takes us away from validating our senses, validating our gut level sense of what’s good for us and what’s good for the earth.
About the Book:
30-year-old Bronwyn Artair, feeling out of place in her doctoral program in Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, drops out and takes a job as a TV meteorologist, much to the dismay of her mentor, Diane Fenwick. After a year of living alone in Southern New Hampshire, enduring the indignities of her job, dumped by her boyfriend, she discovers her deep connection to the natural world has given her an ability to affect natural forces. When she finally accepts she really possesses this startling capability, she must then negotiate a new relationship to the world. Who will she tell? Who will believe her? Most importantly, how will she put this new skill of hers to use? As she seeks answers to these questions, she travels to Kansas to see the tornado maverick she worships; falls in love with Matt, the tabloid journalist who has come to investigate her; visits fires raging out of control in Los Angeles; and eventually voyages with Matt and Diane to the methane fields of Siberia. A woman experiencing power for the first time in her life, she must figure out what she can do for the world without hurting it further. The story poses questions about science and intuition, women and power, and what the earth needs from humans.
Click here to view the book's theatrical trailer.
About the Author:
Cai Emmons is the author of the novels "His Mother’s Son" and "The Stylist." Cai Emmons holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, and two MFAs, one in film from New York University, one in fiction from the University of Oregon. She has taught at various colleges and universities, including the University of Southern California. Since 2002 she has been teaching fiction and screenwriting at the University of Oregon. She is a winner of the Ken Kesey Award for fiction.