Articles

West then East

I’ll be in the Portland, Oregon area from mid-March to mid-April. Then, in early May I’ll be in New England for a week. Does anyone want to have me do a reading or a speaking visit to their book club, bookstore, school, library, or other civic venue? If so, send a note to knerburn@kentnerburn.com. We’ll see if something can be arranged.


What’s cooking…

Next post I’ll tell you about some interesting developments in my writing life. But, for now, this hard winter has gotten me thinking, and I want to get those thoughts off my chest.

This winter has been a tough go, no matter where you live. I have found the harshness and extremes more than a little disconcerting, and nothing I read, see, or feel in my bones makes me think that this is simply a rough patch in the cycles and seasons of normal climatic variations. I am convinced that our hand is on the scale in this instance, and I worry for the children that we of the older generations are so obstinate, naive, and short sighted as to not act in their best interest by doing something about the contributory environmental factors that are under our control.

But we don’t. We dither, blather, pontificate and equivocate while our children grow up into a world that is more invested in invented sectarian divisions than in real dynamic action to save the earth that we all call home.

Call it befouling our nest; call it what you will. But when the snows are burying us and the cold is freezing us and the seas are surging beyond their normal bounds and the earth where things are supposed to be green is thirsty and brown — well, it is hard to just switch the channel and, as Leonard Cohen puts it, spend our time “getting lost in that hopeless little screen.”

I just got back from out west, where three days of deluge brought the Sierra snow pack from which California gets most of its water up to 17 percent of normal. I’m used to seeing the hills of northern California as green as the hills of Ireland. But this time I saw parched, arid hillsides so devoid of grasses that ranchers were keeping their cattle alive by feeding them hay from the back of pickup trucks.

And when I got back here to Minnesota people were wide-eyed and hysterical from the relentless and record-breaking cold. Just yesterday I was up in Duluth, a hauntingly tough and hardscrabble city on the edge of Lake Superior, and they had just hit their 61st consecutive day of below zero temperatures. For those of you who don’t know what that means, stick your hand in a bucket of ice water and hold it there for two months. You’ll start to get the picture.

I wonder what it is going to take to get our attention. Sure, we’ll all benefit if we each use low energy light bulbs and recycle our plastic bottles. But this is something that requires visionary, coordinated, action, both within and among governments. But we have become so wary of government meddling in our lives, and the center has been pushed so far toward the political right, that we no longer see this as even desirable, much less possible.

I just worry for the children, and just wish that we could point a path toward meaningful action that would call forth their visionary impulses rather than their cynicism or moral despair. But we’ve reduced them to just trying to survive, and focused their attention a new generation of hopeless little screens.

I don’t wish to become curmudgeonly, but neither do I wish to be blissfully naive. The paradigm has to shift. I keep doing what I can through my writing, and I’m sure you all do what you can in your own way. But the drumbeat keeps getting louder, and this winter has made it louder still.

It is time, as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke puts it, that we must change our lives.


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