- Last year, rosebuds had been blasted black by mid-October, permanent snow-cover settled in shortly thereafter, and by now everyone was fervently awaiting a January thaw that never arrived. In contrast, Huntington Harbor’s first hard freeze is predicted in the next few days. Roses, weeds, birds and squirrels take it in stride. People worry.
- Averages, like the Equator and hope, are useful imaginary mental tools that help us make sense of and survive in a chaotic universe. But meteorologists, mathematicians, physicists, and digital wizards who mistake their equations and models for reality are as dangerous to our mental health as any other completely certain religious fanatics. We need to live as squirrels or birds, not as models. We ought not waste too much time (although some time may be useful) worrying about temperature and rainfall variations or limited projections of possible futures.
We dream first flakes, white whisper, settle soft
Instead sleet sting, cold chop, deep drift
Wisdom’s beauty simmers slow
- Even at twelve degrees, underlying ground remains warm. Only a skim of newly-formed ice coats the sweetwater pond. Tender green weeds and leaf buds have been flash frozen but so far show little damage. As with many fatal trauma victims, the full effects of injury will only show up later, either when plants wilt and shrivel in the first thaw, or later in spring when blossoms and leaves fail to develop.
- I admit that although I enjoy seasons, this unusual late onset of winter suits me. Although there is still plenty of time for cold and snow, days are already notably longer as spring rushes closer. Both artificial calendars and solar activity increasingly signal more benevolent weather in the future. I snuggle into my parka, content with the way things are going.
Joan and I watch bandit pigeons and more desirable cardinals, bluejays, and woodpeckers diving, strutting, and chasing each other for a chance at the birdfeeder. “There were a lot more birds when I was young,” she remarks.
I groan sarcastically. “Oh, yeah, and the winters were harsh, the summers long , and spring filled with fresh flowers and no showers.”
“Well, I remember deep snows.”
“But that’s the trouble with the past,” I note. “Since we have sixty-odd years of seasons, we select out the few that made an impression. And that’s before we begin exaggerating.”
“I guess. But winters were colder, I know the snow was intolerable even to my parents when I was little.”
“I’m sure you remember it that way. But the last two years just now have been no picnics. Our kids will surely remember them as being as bad as anything you can think up.”
“With global warming, that may be the only snows they remember anyway.”
“There you go again. Why does everyone always want immediate apocalypse? I doubt our immediate descendants will live through either an ice age or a fire age. Things change a bit more slowly than we expect.”
“I don’t know,” Joan says stubbornly, “last year to this year is a pretty drastic change. And the storms around the world seem to be getting a lot worse.”
“I’ll agree with you there,” I admit. “Who knows?”
We turn back as the birds suddenly scatter, frightened away by the neighbor’s prowling old yellow cat, which seems not to notice the cold at all.
- Each season has nearly unique lighting effects. Winter light is affected by dry atmosphere, ice particles in high transparent cloud layers , and low sun angle. The lovely pastels which result are easily contrasted with stark bare branches. Real photographers capture it better, but anyone can observe just as well by simply taking some time.
- We each choose how we wish to focus our spare moments. Some try to connect with the electronic networks, being aware of sparrows falling in far off lands and wondering what it may mean. I prefer to force myself into the cold, enjoying solitary moments at a deserted beach with only gulls for company. Well, it is true that there is a scattering of cars back in the parking lot where people eat lunch or talk on their phones _ Long Island is a crowded place. But I had the sands, the shells and the sky to myself for a few delicious moments.
- No day is absolutely average, no season repeats exactly. We think our perception of time is reality, and our lives are the measure of normal. But nature moves more slowly than any of us. Except, of course, for its occasional massive demonstrations.
- From the standpoint of seasons, and years, and centuries, humankind is like those speeded pictures of scurrying ants, rushing about building mud mounds, fighting, and moving on. Once in a while the mound is flattened by buffalo, or flooded, or attacked by an anteater, but generally it comes and goes regardless of monsoon, snow, and chill.
- We consider our works as mighty and potentially eternal. We proudly point to the Pyramids or to the ruins of the Colosseum as proof. Yet we could as easily remember drowned Alexandria, volcano-choked Pompeii, and the vine-covered ruins of the Mayan peninsula. All destroyed, all deserted, all irrelevant to the humans that came afterward.
- That is why most scenarios _ especially psychological scenarios _ of the future are wrong. People may or may not fight to preserve Venice, Shanghai, or New York. They may simply move inland a bit as the seas rise. They might even move undersea as the temperature and winds rise. They will look back at the ruins and think it applies to them as little as the Pyramids do to you or me.
- We are aware finally that the climate itself changes faster than our ancestors thought, even though they lived through such events as the Little Ice Age. Only the perception of average stability is completely false. A big volcanic outburst will chill the world for a while, unusual sun activity may heat it, and a flip of the magnetic field would wreak merry hell on our comfortable illusions.
- So enjoy the media comparisons of today to the average, worry about lack of rain or too much wind if you will, but none of it really is as it seems. And the future is as unknown as ever it was.
- Short sharp January freeze thawed already. Seems strange to see the harbor so empty, prepared for bad weather that seems perpetually predicted next week. People are equally confused, some in heavy coats, others jogging in shorts. Plants as uncertain as humans, but ducks are probably just happy to have so much open water.
- Weather announcers try to scare everyone, particularly with wind chill factor. Since there is always some kind of breeze along the shoreline, I mostly ignore everything except a howling gale, and base my outerwear protocol on absolute temperature at the house. I find that dressing properly, no matter what the season, is required for maximum enjoyment of my daily stroll.