Like so many of our friends around the world, we’ve had weekly climate shifts this spring that defy reason, as with our political and pandemic shifts. It is the Age of Unreason, in humans and seasons, perhaps.
Last week, the days and nights were chilly enough that we used the fireplace. Our solar panels were being hooked up and an electric panel needed updating to manage that, but the electrician missed replacing the circuit breaker we needed to restart our geo-thermal heat, so the fire was a great boon through an icy night with temperatures in the 30’s (-0°C).
We’d begun to wonder if spring would ever arrive. Buds were tightly closed on trees; tulips and daffodils were barely up; nothing bloomed.
Today, the heat index will be in the mid-90’s (35°C).
So, I guess this past weekend was spring, 2022. The air temperature was mild and the world smelled new; all our old friends returned: the orioles, grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and scarlet tanagers. The poor hummingbirds buzzed in, searching in vain for blossoms to restore their energy. We rushed to get their feeders out and they quickly crowded around and regained their energy.
Spring flowers were coaxed towards opening, tentatively. We took our new e-bikes bikes for a ride on the trail, to London and back. (A very small town 9 miles to the west; to the east is Rome. Sounds impressive when we’re talking about our bike rides, right?) Afterwards, we worked in the garden together; the plants are barely peeking through the earth, but the weeds, of course, have been thriving.
So, one perfect spring weekend. And today, we’re in t-shirts, overheated and watching our spring flowers droop. The tulips opened and their tender cups were quickly steamed into petals doing back-bends. The tree leaves are unfurling, like us, into sweltering summer days. Next week may be cooler, we’re told.
I hope so.
These are rugged times: Like many, I’m still wary of catching Covid, since our numbers locally are rising again. It still shocks me when I realize I haven’t traveled anywhere for over 2 years. The pandemic continues to change the patterns of our lives, our economy, and many of our choices about the future. Climate change is–obviously–causing dramatic shifts in our weather that aren’t always predictable. Putin’s war with a country innocent of any provocation has added to the world’s chaos and further damaged supply chains and fuel prices. Our democracy is teetering and civil discourse has become a lost art.
Humanity’s response to this collision of urgencies often seems agonizingly childish. We have faced pandemics, political turmoil, and war, and survived them all, but adding climate change and its unknown rolling and webbed effects makes the future precarious and our present actions imbecilic at best. We’re scrambling, stumbling, and failing at coherence.
Rather than adapt to challenges, we pretend they don’t exist.
We pretend the pandemic is past. We pretend the Earth’s jet streams will return to a “normal” that’s vanished forever; we pretend the continued destruction of the rainforest and natural habitats isn’t happening, and that tons of plastic microbeads in the oceans don’t matter, really. We notice the bird migrations are changing, and bird flus are rising; we observe that the acres and acres of ash trees have all died, and that so many species of plants, animals, and insects are rapidly going extinct, but we pretend none of this is connected to our daily actions and inability to stop living how we like, at the pace and rate of consumption we prefer.
Possibly, we’re overwhelmed at the amount of changes taking place, but I believe we can adjust and adapt more creatively and peacefully if we see the great adventures before us and meet them with our gifts rather than our despair, anger, and sense of scarcity. Frankly, there’s a lot we accept about the way we live in the world that’s utterly boring, completely uncreative, and devastatingly cruel. We can do better.
Traveling with ill and terminal patients taught me that changes rarely–if ever–allow us to go back to “the way things were.” It’s comforting to imagine so, but that’s a form of pretending, too, since life was never perfect and never will be, and adaptation isn’t without its own comfort and joy; really, we just don’t like change and are inclined to view it as a threat to our stability and the safe circumference of what is known, what we control, however well or ineptly.
And change doesn’t come without grief; there’s always a farewell-forever entangled within the journey it presents, along with anxiety, anticipation, and a variety of other feelings. Often, we can see that a transition’s joy outweighs its sadness, so we acclimate easily, but sometimes, as with the loss of a loved one, or a long-held right, or the extinction of species, habitats, and known weather patterns, the benefits of a given change aren’t apparent or seem nonexistent, so we resist, deny, turn away, become angry, and reject what is.
I was unhappy with my recent knee surgery and mourned what I perceived to be the loss of many activities and freedoms I enjoyed. Then I located a physical therapy that worked surprisingly well, and we used the pandemic’s years of “vacation” funds to purchase e-bikes. I resisted at first, thinking they made us look “old.” Then I realized how silly that sounded and accepted the chance to get out on the bike trail again. I adapted to the change in my mobility and am happier than I’ve been in months. And knowing the motor can be used if I tire from pedaling gives me a great sense of security.
We’ve adapted to the presence of a highly infectious virus not by denying it’s real, but by staying home, waiting for vaccines, wearing masks in stores and crowds (still), and following experts’ advice to avoid illness.
We’re adapting to these climate shifts in our gardens by adding more and more plants and planting methods that feed birds, provide safe habitats, conform to swings in temperature and moisture, and still please our creative impulses. Because that’s one of the best things about adapting: the ways it challenges our creativity and the deep pleasure derived from meeting those challenges with answers that are new and co-created.
I think Ukraine has adapted creatively to the horrors Putin and his army have used in seeking to force submission and surrender. Ukraine has been strategically clever, strong, intelligent and unyielding in their resistance, and despite agonizing losses and Putin’s inhumane war crimes, Ukraine continues to amaze the world with their success. I believe they will not be defeated and Putin will be held accountable. He clearly cannot adapt to present reality, lost in past and imagined national glories as he is.
And in my country, I think we have to resist the urge to become enmeshed in violence, anger, and demonization of the other, and “do hope” instead, because hope is not a feeling; it’s an accrual of actions we choose and build upon, creating solutions where none were apparent before we applied and combined our gifts. Adaptation requires our willingness to do hope. And when we immerse ourselves in creating adaptive solutions, we have no time for hatred and fear. If we want balance, peace, joy, and community, we must be those qualities in the world. If we believe we come from Love and it travels with us, always, then adaptation is a method to co-create the ways we are always traveling from known to unimagined blessing.
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