This winter is very disconcerting to me. The very essence of living in northern Minnesota is what we who endure it call, with only half-jest, the “death spike” of early January, when the temperature routinely goes to -30 and seldom gets above 0 for weeks at a time. Cars break down, heating systems implode or explode, travelers die, the ice on the lakes thunders and groans as the frigid temperatures cause it to shift and contract.
Horrible though it is in many regards, something indelible is imprinted on the psyche when you step outside into the ghostly silence of thirty below and stare up into a midnight sky filled with stars as white and lifeless as crystals of ice. The crunch of a boot on snow becomes as loud as a rifle shot, and everything seems at once impossibly close and hopelessly distant. We are transported to an unknown place, and all bear common witness to an undeniable and inescapable truth.
Not so, this year.
I go outside in my tee shirt. I look at ground only thinly covered with snow. My car starts easily, I drive to a town where shoppers’ minds are on the next purchase rather than on the great, looming cold and the shapeless winter. We, as a community, bear witness to nothing in common other than the strangeness of the weather we are experiencing.
And this story is being repeated everywhere.
Something is happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
Well, I’m afraid we do know what it is. And I’m afraid it is happening so quickly that we may not be able to stop it. For reasons that elude me, there continue to be people out there who are more angry at those who call attention to this change than at the causes of the change itself. I hear right wing talk shows with their legion of angry white males screaming about left wing conspiracies and natural temperature variations and doomsayers. I see people who are so myopic as to celebrate the warm winter because it allows them to play golf all year around.
Meanwhile, the branches on the trees that frame our dirt road are beginning to bud. Birds that should not be here are hopping and pecking at the earth. Their internal clocks are confused, and they will die when a cold snap hits.
Last summer, the water in our lake went down to unheard of levels. With little snow and little ice, it will be even lower this year. There were almost no mosquitoes, meaning there was little food for the creatures that depend upon them for sustenance. All up and down the chain of life there are small shocks that will too soon reach critical mass.
I am deeply and profoundly bothered by all of this. This is our world, this is what we are passing on to our children. I am neither the first nor the last to say it, but some great national, even international, will must be discovered to redirect our thinking and galvanize our energies.
This is not about politics. This is about our responsibility to the seventh generation.
It is strange and unnerving to be facing a day when I will walk outside in shirtsleeves, fearful of seeing a green shoot poking through the ground.