- Weekend of extended late November weather suddenly reminded everyone of the true season. It’s been deep summer for so long that many turning points to autumn passed unnoticed. Spartina grass is almost done with seeds and beginning to shade orange-brown , for example. Some leaves have hardly had time to begin turning colors before they were ripped down by fierce winds.
- We think of seasons by average _ a perfect summer day, a crisp fall afternoon _ but no day is truly average. Natural cycles are determined by far more than mere temperatures, and proceed along almost heedless of how warm or cold it may be. On the other hand, I tend to ignore everything except how warmly I must dress. A fault in my makeup, aggravated by our technological isolation from those cycles. No complaints, of course.
While walking woods, inspecting leaf,
Each flower, mushroom, bird, and beast
Looking up, I’m struck amazed
Fields, not forests, meet my gaze.
Strolling sandy shore in dreams
Lost in fantasy’s bright gleams
A splash of wet shocks thoughtful train
When did the sunshine turn to rain?
Toiling troubled on some task
All concentration focused fast
Hours speed in heedless flight
Suddenly long day is night
Compartments sharp, division tight
Twixt field and forest, day and night
By logic crisply boxed in mind
But nature blends, obscuring lines.
- Not all the signs of autumn are purely natural. This boat yard was recently an empty lot, and now is quickly filling with craft wrapped against the coming weather. For each area filled thus on land, an empty space is left in the harbor, so that view becomes more open. Marinas busily scrape and wash the bottoms of each vessel as it is taken from the water, covered with an accumulation of algae and barnacles.
- Besides that, all I really need to do is look at the people, including myself. I’ve been wearing long jeans instead of shorts for some time, usually with a sweatshirt, occasional light gloves, sometimes even a heavy jacket and wool cap. A few die-hards will run until snow in nothing but shorts and tee-shirt, but this time of year more and more pedestrians give in and subtly wish summer goodbye as the temperature dips and a chill north wind becomes a daily presence.
“Water looks pretty clean today,” remarked Josh when I passed him near the head of the harbor.
“It usually does clear up this time of year,” I noted, “when the algae stop blooming, I think.”
“Surprised there aren’t more oil slicks, though, with all these boats.”
“I’ve been noticing that there seems to be a lot less junk floating around as well.”
“Maybe things are getting better.”
“They say there were whales in Long Island Sound this summer. Seals too.”
“No lobsters, though,” added Josh.
“Yeah, hard to tell. Lots of fish, but maybe that’s just cause the ocean’s so bad with all the little plastic pieces. Sometimes I do hope we’ve turned a corner.”
“You’re too much an optimist.”
“Hey, look at China. It turned into one big 1960 Pittsburgh with smog and polluted rivers, but it looks like they’ll end up cleaning it up almost as fast. The air and water is certainly better around here than it was twenty years ago. I can dream.”
“Me, I think it’s too late, like the climate scientists say. We’re travelers in the desert who suddenly start rationing water halfway across, but we should have been doing so from the beginning of the trip.”
“Today is nice, the water’s clear, the sky is blue. Enjoy the day.”
“Oh, I suppose, I suppose. See you tomorrow.”
- Doesn’t take keen observation to see increasing patches of color _ some brilliant _ on scattered trees. Nor to notice that most ground plants are blending into a mélange of brittle browns. Over the next month, seasonal cues will be increasingly obvious, some almost brutal. Not only visual, of course, a fair amount of wind, rain, and temperature will get into the act. And the sun _ already rising later than most people, drifting southward at an alarming pace, and setting way too early.
- I try to enjoy each day and season as it comes, so I do not live in keen expectation nor dread of winter. I can’t help hearing other people expressing relief that the cool air has finally arrived, or fear that snow and cold will soon block the highways. For us, in this time, in this place, it is far less fraught than it was for our ancestors. We don’t worry if the food supply is sufficient and has been properly preserved, we don’t measure the woodpile to be certain there are enough cords to be chopped later, we don’t anguish over the last of the fresh vegetables we will eat until next summer. Most of us have it remarkably easy, which doesn’t keep me from complaining. Human nature.
- Worries of human-induced global climate change are shrilly echoed in most media, except for anti-science purposely ignorant folks who have their own reasons for things to remain as they are. We are assured that we are reaching tipping points, statistics of melting glaciers and rising temperatures are paraded before us, and computer models show increasingly dire outcomes. Logically, it is hard to disagree that something is going on, possibly something bad.
- And yet _ well there are always Cassandras and prophets of doom. Most of them slink back down from the mountain caves when their predicted end dates come and go. Computer models just don’t work with the vast chaos of large systems of weather and society. Tipping points are just dramatizations of dream visions. No computer model can give you the exact local temperature an hour from now, and it gets worse from there.
- Extrapolations are horrible, scientists will claim, because of “black swan events” like meteors or varied output from the sun or whatever. But there are always such events. What would be the effect on global warming of, say, a plague carrying off eighty percent of the humans? Historic recreations of society give no clue what we might do _ no model in 1910 could have predicted the next fifty years of war; no model in 1960 could have predicted that humans would avoid nuclear war, let alone engulf everything electronically.
- So, we are right to be skeptical. And sometimes humans do change. Our environmental awareness is better, pollution is less, resource usage per capita is stabilizing. Amazing things seem to happen when we recognize true dangers and concentrate on them.
- But right now, who knows? Some even assert that global warming is holding off the return of an ice age. And it is hard to seriously believe that changing all my lightbulbs and lowering the thermostat will make a dent in a world of war planes dropping bombs and spewing gasses from their exhaust.
- Sometime in the last month, this old pine slipped from dying into death. For the entire summer that seemed inevitable, yet there was still some shock at its final loss. Soon it will fall, or be cut down, and another scene will be replaced.
- I always enjoyed this one tree of its type, reminding me of old Chinese ink paintings. Layered in snowfall, standing firm against the north wind, glistening from rain, needles and cones framing lovely views. And now _ well I have old pictures, and memories, but they slip away. The gap between life and death spans far more than simple cessation of certain chemical processes, even for a tree clinging to the harborside.