The Weather Machine

February 23, 2012 § 7 Comments

I was in the Pioneer Square Visitor’s Center when the trumpeting started.  Having just used the bathroom, the masses of Portland pamphlets had captured my attention.  The sound of loud, recorded fanfare startled me into looking up.

The woman behind the desk cried in jubilation, “It’s the Weather Machine!”

There was nothing in sight that might be described with such excitement.

“The Weather Machine!  Quickly, run outside!  You, now!  Run!  Out!  You can’t miss this.  Run and look to the left!  Now!”

I panicked and ran, out through the glass doors, and swung left to find the procession.  Instead, I found the Weather Machine.

A pole I had only dully noted previously I now saw had a line of lights running up it, which were flashing crazily in the daylight.  Gaudy fanfare was blaring from the somewhere along pillar.

It was raining, but only around the contraption. This seemed odd.

Then, whoushhh,  water shot from the pole and pattered over the brick plaza below.  The metal heron that graced the top sank from view into a giant silver ball, and as soon as it had vanished from sight, a beautiful metal dragon fought its way out and spread its wings.  Then the dragon, too, sank out of place, and the golden spikes of a fish adorned with rays of the sun broke through into the light.  The metal animals kept exchanging themselves, the water misted down, and the music continued to assault.  It was hard to make out the flashing lights in the mid-day sun.

I did not expect this.  When I regained my senses a minute later, I noticed other people, frozen in that moment of joyful confusion when statues come alive.  “What the fuck?”

I burst back through the doors.  The woman behind the desk smiled satisfactorily.  “Did you enjoy the Weather Machine?”

It’s hard to be infuriated and delighted at the same time, but confusion is a curious creature.  “How long has that been there?” I demanded.

“Oh, since 1988.”

“I’ve never seen it do that.  No one I know has seen it do that.”   My eyes narrowed in desperation.  Was I mad?  Had I missed a singing, moving, water-shooting statue all these years?  I felt a sense of betrayal.

She laughed.  “Well, it’s been broken for years.  We just had it fixed two months ago.”

Then, she recounted its secrets.  The Weather Machine tells the weather at exactly noon each day.  It does what I saw, for two minutes, as you watch in antiquation to see what animal will come to rest.  If the pole is topped by the golden image of the sun (and, it looked like to me, a fish), the day will be sunny.  The dark dragon indicates a stormy day, and the grey heron tells of an overcast one.  If you know how to read them, the bulbs on the side light up like a thermometer, reading out the temperature.  Whether this is the expected average for the day, or the temperature at that moment, I don’t know.

I tried to imagine standing in Pioneer Square in 1988, waiting to find out the forecast.  The future felt like the past felt like the future.

Now: tell your friends, your family, strangers on the bus:  Be in Pioneer Square at Noon.  See the Weather Machine for yourself!

As I walked outside, I looked up to a bright, metal sun.  I knew it was going to be a nice day.

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