There is still a plow pile of snow tucked into a dark corner on a north facing slope at the intersection of our driveway and the dirt road. It is May 5th and the contrast of the mound of snow and the light green sheen that covers the deciduoua forest is striking. This remaining reminder of winter seems, somehow, appropriate. It’s slow demise is exactly like my fading memory of winter. Eventually the warmer weather will overwhelm my senses and cause them to be the only object of my attention. Winter will disappear into the recesses of my memory as the melting snow bleeds into the depths of the soil. Both will provide some sustenance at some level for a time.
Despite the decent snow pack that we had this winter it is already exceedingly dry on the surface of the soil. With very little precipitation this spring we are faced with dusty soils, dead and dried plant material on the surface of the ground left over from last year, and a high fire hazard. Last spring was worse in this regard. A lack of snow and a lack of rain fostered hundreds of brush fires throughout the region.
The deeply rooted trees that grace our woodlands will be fine for the time being. Their roots can tap water reserves in the soil not baked away by the sun that gets higher in the sky everyday. Those plants that rely on surface moisture, the annual and perennial herbs that fill in the blanks of our landscape, are likely to take the brunt on this parched conditions. In the short term there will be on harm, but if this dry period turns into drought, our second year in row, there will be consequences.
The interesting phenomenon relative to our yearly rainfall is that for the last decade, with the exception of one year, our precipitation totals have been near average for the year. This begs the question as to why there are any concerns at all? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is that while our rainfall totals are near average we have not been getting the precipitation during the growing season. A large part of our rainfall for the last few years has come during the autumn when plants are falling into senescence. Our botanical community does not need as much precipitation when it is entering dormancy. It needs it when it is active, holding green vegetation, and photosynthesizing.
These developing patterns may be temporary. Time will tell. Logic tells me that these abnormalities are driven by climate change. For the most part over the last ten years we have had drier summers. The bulk of the rain that we have received in the year is associated with tropical storms. Climatologists tell us that we can expect more and increasingly intense tropical storms as our planet adjusts to a changing climate. In New England we tend to get tropical storms in the late summer and early autumn. It takes the oceans a little longer to warm up in this part of the world. Hurricanes love warm water.
Still, this all theoretical. The exact reason for these changing patterns is not fully understood. It is easy to talk about what happened last year, or even the last decade. It is extremely difficult to predict what will happen next year, or even harder to project what will happen ten years into the future. There are simply too many variables. If you doubt this start following the many different weather models used for predicting weather. They vary widely, seldom agree until the last moment, and no one model is consistently correct.
I’m most concerned about the big picture. While impacts of dry climate patterns are serious to botanical communities, these changes get magnified in ecolocical systems. We live in a biological world of interdependent reliances. Dynamic fluctuations in the botanical community result in far reaching variations in the zoological and geologic parts of our ecosystem. When there are dramatic turns in any part of a living system of interpendent communities the results can be devastating.
Certainly one of the constants of our planet is change. This planet started as an active collection of star dust and gases, a boiling stew of parts held together by gravity and centripetal force that eventually came alive through the miracle of a universe where all things are possible. Water appeared, chemical reactions begot life, and through the most marvelous of all happenings this life found its way into complex organisms, all dependent on each other and all part of the greater good. There can be little doubt that as long as our planet is to function as a living entity there will be diversification.
Change is good?
That depends upon your perspective. Is this change we are going through any different or more disastrous than Earth being struck by a gigantic asteroid? Both could be considered apocalyptic. Or maybe not. The Earth will sustain life for some time into the future. It still has all of the necessary ingredients. The life may be different. The set back of climate change, just as it was after being pounded by giant asteroids from outer space, could alter everthing for millions of years. Still, the planet will remain one living entity. A life force so powerful that it will revive itself until it no longer has the necessary elements for survival.
The sad part is that this is an unnecessary change. A departure of what now is normal because the human race is too unaware, or too greedy, or just not intelligent enough to recognize our own failings. Worse, we will take with us most of the other animals that inhabit this planet and most of the botanical community that graces this Earth. Gone will be the song of birds, the whisper of a forest in the wind, the scent of spring flowers, the texture of lichen on a cool piece of bedrock, the flash of a white tail deer as it skips through a forest, and the pulse of a mountain stream as it falls from riffle to pool. The mere thought of this breaks my spirit, ruptures my heart, and freezes my brain. It is so abhorrent that it is nearly unthinkable.
The fact is that although we may have set the “stage” for disaster the play does not have to go on. Through decisive decision making and nearly unprcedented leadership we can still moderate our behavior, our insatiable appetites, and, yes, our greed so that the changes that loom will be less impactful. And life may go on, maybe not exactly as we have known it, but with enough familiarlity so that we have some level of comfort in a new world. A world that can support a semblance of our present ecosystems and still be energetic enough to allow for positive evolution. The fact is that there isn’t much time to modify human behavior. A sobering up of our species of a different kind.
On this day, only five days into the glorious month of May, I stand here hoping for rain. A gentle rain that will nourish our plants and the animals that depend on them would do nicely.
For now we’ll just have to take one day at a time.
Written for www.wildramblings.com on the 5th of May 2013.