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Burlington Travel Writer Offers Enlightenment

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It’s folly to try to predict the future.

That’s Burlington travel writer Tim Brookes’ take-away from witnessing Indian meteorologists’ attempts to forecast the arrival and course of the annual monsoon. The same conclusion applies to Brookes’ new book based on that experience, Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment.

Brookes’ schooling in the “futility and vanity” of prophesying began in 2001 with a phone call from National Geographic. The magazine’s editors wanted to know if he would write a piece on weather forecasting. Brookes was keen to do it, having been smitten by Alexander Frater’s 1991 bestseller Chasing the Monsoon. Besides, National Geographic, which had just published Brookes’ account of hitchhiking across North America, pays really well and pampers its writers with perks.

Brookes began his research atop Mount Washington in a midwinter hurricane. He accompanied a meter reader who checks weather conditions “the old-fashioned way: by going out into them.”

Exciting stuff — and soon Brookes was off to mysterious and maddeningly bureaucratic India. He had prepared to follow in Frater’s footsteps by emailing the head of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Dr. R.R. Kelkar, for guidance. The weather guru was cryptically noncommittal. But he didn’t say no, which Brookes took to mean yes.

Upon landing in Mumbai, however, “I knew immediately I was out of my depth,” Brookes recalls in an interview at Champlain College, where he teaches writing and directs a student/faculty publishing venture. Brookes had never been east of the Czech Republic. A combination of walloping heat and cross-cultural incomprehension made for a discomfiting introduction to India. And Kelkar, it turned out, had actually meant “no.” His underlings had instructed the overseer of the IMD observatory in Trivinandrum, where the monsoon makes landfall, to have nothing to do with Brookes.

His original mission dashed, Brookes improvised. He had already grown disillusioned with weather forecasting, seeing it, at least as practiced in the U.S., as an expensive obsession that feeds fears of the natural world. Besides, Kelkar and company would prove to be wrong in their monsoon predictions.

The story morphed into an India travelogue focused on what Brookes came to regard as “the miracle of water.” National Geographic never did publish the piece, and it took Brookes two years to rework it. He also couldn’t find any alternate outlets.

So he self-published Thirty Percent Chance of Enlightenment with support from the Champlain College Publishing Initiative. Brookes is hopeful it will sell well enough to persuade other accomplished authors to place quirky works with the 2-year-old publisher. “Maybe it will be the start of something major,” he suggests. “You never know.”