Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Climate Change and the Rhythms of Our Life

The Second Annual Paddle the Pike was canceled because of low water levels in the river this year. As this was only the second time for the event, we shouldn’t read too much into it and blame climate change. However, when I hear that the sun melted the ice blocks in February during an ice sculpting contest in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin or that a winter carnival in Minnesota was cancelled due to warm temperatures and insufficient snow, I do have to think, “Ah, global warming.”

Amy Seidl in her book Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World, would agree. In beautiful prose, Seidl describes changes in her world that confirm that climate change is real. With careful observation and intelligent reflection, she describes and explains some of these changes. Hers is the first book I have read that talks about the effect of climate change on the rhythms of our life and culture.

What does this mean? In Seidl’s own words, “… our memory of what the weather once was is our strongest indication of change. And not only the weather but the events in our lives that lined up with it: strawberries, once ripe in early July are now picked before the school year ends; a child’s birthday no longer coincides with the batches of Amish peaches in the store; sledding is no longer assured at Christmas.”

Plants are particularly sensitive to even slight temperature change. Seidl explains that this has to do with the narrow range for optimal operation of their enzymes, but I can see it myself. When we moved into our first house here in Wisconsin, we inherited about 40 rose bushes, irises ranging in color from white to salmon to deep purple and many other horticultural delights. The eighty-some year old man who had tended the garden for 40 years gave me a few lessons on how to take care of my purchase- not the house, the garden. Among other things he told me when each plant bloomed.

“The peonies always bloom the third week in June,” he said.

I noticed this year that by that time the peonies in our neighborhood had bloomed and gone. Seidl gives several other examples such as maple trees and lilac bushes. I am sure those who grew up going to Rochester New York’s Lilac Festival around Mother’s Day appreciate what climate change might mean for that event, which has been held for over 100 years.

You probably have examples of your own. If you do, I would like to hear them. Perhaps we can share them with Ms. Seidl – not that she needs more to prove her point. Unfortunately, she has plenty of her own.

You can find a review of this book at the website of Orion Magazine, where you can read more thoughtful and thought provoking writing on nature and the environment.

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