Sunday, December 20, 2009

What Do Snow Birds, Humpbacks, and Cruiseships Have in Common?

Ah, winter. Love those change of seasons!

Living here in Hawai'i for the past 8 1/2 years has given me a different perspective on "seasons" and on what it means for them to "change." My wife and I lived for 30+ years in southern Ohio, near Cincinnati before coming here. Fall and spring were very nice. In the fall the color of changing leaves could be spectacular. In the spring the sudden reawakening of the land and the flowering plants, trees, and shrubs were deeply invigorating. But the weather for the rest of the year was varying degrees of yuck. Summers were hot and muggy, with violent thunderstorms and tornadoes. Winters were gloomy, clammy, and grey, with the occasionally blizzard or ice storm thrown in for good measure. Generally speaking about 3-4 months of the year were pretty nice, 3-4 were just tolerable, and the remaining 3-4 months were miserable.

Visitors from Ohio and other parts of the mainland U.S. are usually curious about what it is like to live in Hawai'i, and often they will ask, "Don't you miss the change of seasons?" Given what I just said about the weather in Ohio, you can probably guess my answer ("are you kidding?"). I understand the basis for the question, though, because the weather here varies so little compared to most other places. Our average shift from summer to winter daily high temperature is only about 10 degrees. In my particular location that means daily highs from upper 70's during the winter to upper 80's during the summer. The year round difference between daily high and low temperatures is only 10-12 degrees. It is rare to have a whole day without sunshine -- no dark and dreary periods. The humidity can vary considerably but averages around 50-60% and is usually moderated by constant breezes (dew is infrequent). It is relentlessly nice, in my opinion.

Actually, though, we DO have seasons here, but (a) they are obvious only if you have lived here a while, and (b) they don't involve changes from grey and lifeless to colorful and vibrant or the reverse.

For example, we know it's Fall when the number of cruise ships visiting our bay increases as they reposition from summers in Alaska to winters in the South Pacific. About the same time the snow birds from the mainland begin to arrive, and so do the humpback whales who migrate each year from Alaskan waters to winter here (smart animals). Various plants and trees that don't bloom during the rest of the year start to do so, like the poinsettias people plant in their yards. The African Tulip Trees and Jacaranda provide a refreshing change of color from...all the other color that we see all year around. The beans on coffee trees mature to a bright red color before they are picked during the fall and winter. A few plants do kind of go dormant, like the plumeria that lose their leaves during the winter (though they often continue blooming).

So, you see, we didn't have to give up changes of seasons when we moved here. We just gave up the cold, grey, nasty part.

It is also the case that we really feel the changes even though the difference might be only a few degrees. One of the downsides of living where the weather is so constant is that after acclimatizing for a few years, our comfort zone seems to shrink. Anything below 70 degrees seems downright cold. One way you can tell the locals from the tourists in the winter is to look for the ones wearing sweatshirts and jackets instead of shorts and t-shirts. Likewise, a degree or two above normal results in locals complaining about the "heat wave."

Yeah, right.

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