Will Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter Stop Meaning Anything When Climate Change Hits?
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I think I’m on to something here, and I’d like to make a prediction. I predict that the cohort of kids who are now ten to fifteen years old are going to have a very different worldview than those born just a few years after them. My kids and their friends and everyone roughly their age will, in fact, be the last human beings to remember a stable, predictable procession of seasons.
Let me put a finer point on this. My kids, who are in middle school, know that winter is supposed to be cold and that January pond ice should be thick enough for skating. They possess snowman-making techniques, snow-fort construction skills, and an elaborate ethos about exactly what kind of snowballs can and can’t be used for ambushing the friends of one’s sibling and what body parts are and are not off-limits (no ice balls, never in the face). They have methods for assessing the slide-ability and pack-ability of any given snowfall. They know which methods of tucking snow pants into snow boots work and which leak. They have strong opinions on gloves versus mittens and the proper way to make a snow angel. And yet, for the last two years, they have had almost no opportunity to exercise this knowledge.
Meanwhile, a friend calls to tell me that her otherwise very bright granddaughter, who is of nursery-school age, is having trouble learning the names of the seasons. They make no sense to her. “But grandma, you said that winter was cold!” Winter, when she said it, wasn’t. And there was the added problem of the forsythias. They bloomed this year during a warm spell that spanned the twelve days of Christmas. April showers bring May flowers. When the nursery rhymes no longer match the empirical evidence, what’s a three-year-old to think?
Here are two more stories for the record. Because of climate change, Elijah gave up on Little House in the Big Woods. He liked the first half. But the episodes involving horse-drawn sleighs and maple-syrup snow cones were too painful. He refused to read on. “It’s not that way anymore, Mom,” he said matter-of-factly, and set the book aside.
I was stunned. But then it happened to me. While rereading the poem “Corsons Inlet” by A. R. Ammons—“I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning / to the sea, / then turned right along / the surf”—which had once been the subject of my own master’s thesis, I found that I couldn’t go on. It’s not that way anymore, Archie. And how come, in 1965, you didn’t see it coming? Corson’s Inlet, a last undeveloped stretch of beach in New Jersey, was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.
I set the book aside. Matter-of-factly.
Not to say that our hearts have all turned to stone around here. Here’s my other story: After days of wild, record-breaking weather, our village winter festival was canceled because of rain and flood warnings. When I told Elijah the bad news on the walk home from school, he began to cry. I told him I was sorry.
He said, “I’m not upset about the festival. I’m upset because the planet’s dying. I know this is all because of global warming.”
This is what I heard myself say: “Look, Mom is on the job. I’m working on it. I’m working on it really hard, and I promise I won’t quit.”
And then I cried. And not only because my son believes himself to be alive on a dying planet, but because all the generations of parents before mine have been unable to deal with the facts and mount a response of sufficient scale to solve the problem, meaning that all of us now have a monumental task before us. I cried because keeping my promise makes me arise before dawn to get on buses, puts bullhorns in my hand in faraway cities, may yet land me in jail, and, in these and other ways, takes me away from my children so that I can prove them wrong.