The 5th of May

The miracle of life held in a winged seed from the last growing season!

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.

An unusual eight petaled marsh marigold (typically they have five).

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.

Spring is over flowing with beautiful flowers!

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.

Rain on wood.

Written for on the 5th of May 2013.

  • Wild_Bill

    Thank you Emily. Beyond caution, from this point on all of our actions must be decisive, aware of their ecological impacts, and pointed towards drastically reducing our individual, community, national, and world greenhouse gas impacts. From the simplist to the most intricate circumstances we must be mindful of our actions. And most of all, and you can certainly identify with this, for our children and their future.

  • Ratty

    The one thing I keep hoping for is that if humans have the power to hurt this planet, then they also can develop the power to heal it. It only takes one brilliant mind to come up with something to save everything. It might all come down to that hope. I recently watched a video of a man who figured out how to turn desert into fertile land. Now he’s doing it all over the world. I think we’re in for a struggle no matter what happens.

  • Wild_Bill

    Yes, I know that video Ratty. Actually this individual copied something that already existed in nature. Ironically this same individual played part in the undoing of fertile land. Still, it took courage to admit his mistake and set things in motion for healing. Our best hope, I think, is that if humans collectively take action. Our backs may be to the wall. Will we respond?

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    I wish I could say you are wrong but I fear you are right. Sadly I see less and less leadership and more and more greed. The kind of mobilization we once launched against the Great Depression or polio or TB could never carried out now they would buried under denial or the monies would be diverted to fund the politicians, their friends and the corrupt corporations that own them. I did like the photo of the water on the wood I guess we need to take beauty where we can find it in the small things and the quiet places.


  • Montucky

    Bill, I think there will surely be a dramatic change in the society of our species and when that takes place those who are closest to the earth will survive. Those who completely depend on technology, money and the practices of excess are even now living very fragile lives. How much damage will be done before that change takes place is the real question. Life on Earth has always been an issue of “survival of the fittest” and the “fittest” are probably not those who exist in the board rooms and country clubs.

  • Wild_Bill

    One day at a time, always looking for hope, an answer, or a solution. The big picture may include a revelation by humans that money is nothing. Let’s all pray/meditate for a sane world free of greed and full of regeneration.

  • Wild_Bill

    I’m hoping we can arrest the potential horrors before they begin. A quiet, peaceful, revolution that will shake up our social evolutionary cycle that puts those who are concerned for our planet on top.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    The key is leadership at every level, including the White House. I had such hope for change and feel terribly disillusioned right now… But, you’ve written a piece that speaks clearly to the need for this and, as always, very nicely written. Love the water beading on wood image. I agree with Montucky’s view… :(

  • Wild_Bill


    Yes, particularly in the environmental realm our leadership has failed us. Corporations seemingly have put there claws into the EPA and FDA amongst others. It is about profit more than it is about safety, good environmental stewardship, or even about the survival of our planet and species. This condition means we have to change how we behave, both as individuals and as a society, not only in our personal behavior, but at the voting booth. One of the human failings is that we seem to only understand the need for change after a cataclysmic event. Such a silly way to be! Thank you for the compliments. They made me feel good!

  • shoreacres

    I will confess it up front: I am not one who is completely convinced about the global warming furor that is being promoted. Or, to be more precise, I’ve seen with my own eyes that there are changes abroad in the land, but I’m somewhat cautious about laying all the blame on humans. You understand these things, so let me tell you what is shaping my view, apart from the scientific data.

    I lived for a time in Victoria, Texas. I worked a little closer to the coast, and spent much time roaming around Edna, Louise, Placious, and so on. It’s the middle Texas coast, roughly between the mouth of the Colorado River/Matagorda Bay and Corpus Christi.

    I knew many people who farmed in the area, especially along Garcitas Creek. In that area, it’s not uncommon at all for farmers to turn up anchors in their fields. Cannons have been found. They’re from the time of LaSalle, the explorer from the 1600s who established a fort in the area. In his time, ships were sailing over my farmers’ fields. Slightly later, the Spanish shipyards were at Port Lavaca, where the Alcoa plant is now. Miles and miles of rich farmland were bays – just 400 years ago.

    Another story. I used to go to my favorite 23 acres in the Texas hill country and spend time. In my living room right now is a copper basket filled with fossils from those limestone hills. Clams. Whelks. Nautilus-like creatures. Where deer, javalina and bobcat roam now, where cherry and oak trees flourish and when underground springs are the most common source of water – all of that was once seabed.

    Of course, human activity has affected our world. When I first moved here, the joke was that “the air is always greener in downtown Pasadena”. Now, forty years later, the air is breathable and you can eat fish from the bay – huge changes. And I never, ever would argue against regulation of pesticides, controlling factory emissions or any measure meant to conserve land and water.

    Still – we live in a time when narcissism is on display everywhere, and our fascination with gadgets makes us think anything less than instantaneous satisfaction is unacceptable. If you add to that mix the fact that there are people who can make great heaps of money out of scaring people to death, and who would like nothing more than to enjoy control over peoples’ lives – well. That worries me as much as the 400 ppm mark.

    Here’s my problem. I love the world. I want to care for it. I have seen the results of good stewardship and bad, and I prefer the good. I even have a mind that’s capable of grasping some of the science of all this. But I do not trust the environmental movement or our political leaders. It’s a huge problem – particularly since science and government have become so inextricably mixed, and the difference between the two can be difficult to discern.

    As one of my dear friends said a few weeks ago, “If all of these problems are so serious, why are people like Al Gore not changing their life styles?” And there you have it. I can cut back meat consumption, remember to turn off my lights and set my AC higher, but if not one of the Doom-sayers is willing to make even one change – why would we expect people in large numbers to pay attention?

    I think I’d best get off my soap box. But I worry about these things, and I worry especially that some climate change folks are driving people away from a reasoned consideration of the issues. I don’t mean you or the folks who stop by here – but there’s no question that it’s happening.

    Thanks for a great and thought-provoking entry!

  • Wild_Bill

    It is always wise to be cautious about any new idea. Beyond politics the climate change theory (no longer referred to as global warming because some areas will change but not get warmer) is overwhelmingly supported by scientists around the world. But you may be correct in endorsing the idea that this is complicated. There are many who think we should be slowly entering a cooler period. The fact is that the natural “cycles” of our planet may not be cyclical at all. The fact that certain things keep reoccurring does not necessarily imply that they reoccur at equal intervals. This, alone, makes climate difficult to predict.

    We now can measure atmospheric carbon levels well back into the past. If these measurements are accurate we are reaching levels that we haven’t seen in millions of years. This is a cascading process. As greenhouse gases build up in our atmosphere it warms frozen areas which causes methane that has been locked up in the tundra for thousands of years (and is a much heavier and more dangerous greenhouse gas) to be released into the atmosphere. The results could be staggering.

    You are absolutely correct when you imply that we don’t have all the answers. I stand on the grounds of reason. Why make it worse? So that we can conveniently ignore all that is going on around us and excessively consume not only energy but nearly every useable resource this planet has to offer? No, even if the err is on the conservative side we must strive to reduce greenhouse gas emission. In my opinion to do so is irresponsible. The gamble to not do so is absolute and utter destruction of all that we know.

    Fascinating about the sea levels along the Texas coast line. Have you ever read or heard any theories about why the sea level has decreased in this area? My first thought is plate tectonics or some sort of rebounding (happened in the north after the weight of the glaciers was removed). But I’m positive that there is much in your area of the world that I don’t know much about that might be a potential cause of such an event. And the fact that it is so recent, last few hundred years, makes it even more interesting!

    I love your thoughtful comments. Don’t ever be afraid to question any idea. It’s when we stop thinking that we really get in trouble.

  • shoreacres

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your response. More about that later. I know I have something tucked in my files about the changes along the Texas coast and the reasons for them. I’ll try and find that this weekend.

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