I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I was just home, and reveled in the depths of the blues and greens and whites of my mountain home. August adds a fourth color – the lions-mane gold of the grass fields baking in the summer sun.
But August in the Northwest is brief, and so much of the rest of the year I was trained to expect the muted grays and greens that are so much a signature of the region. You can go weeks with a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier, and never once see it through the clouds. I grew up with both times to go outside and venture down towards the creek to the remnants of a former era, and to plan to hole up in my room with a good novel and a steady rain tapping on my roof and walls. And the balance of my life tipped more towards novel-reading than train-track-travels.
I still look to rainy days as times of rest and contemplation. They’re times to shut off the extrovert and welcome the introvert. I crave that time to read, to think, to contemplate poetry, and to feel deeply. I spend my whole life talking and acting. I need time to listen and think. And I need rain to do so properly. (Although snow will do in a pinch, and fog can also fill in.)
But it hasn’t rained. This summer has stretched out hot and humid and gloriously summery. Night after night has been punctuated by the whir of the AC drowning out the sound of the crickets. The skies have gone overcast, but the rain has passed us by. In fact, my corner of the state is in an extreme drought – the penultimate level before you get classified as an exceptional drought. Trees are dying. Plants are withering. Grasses have gone sere. The land is baking under the heat.
And it’s not just Massachusetts. I went to California this spring – in what was supposed to be an El Nino deluge. I was shocked at what I saw. The air in the Central Valley was thick as sin and hung darkly over the even rows of orange trees. As I climbed up out of the groves to the woodlands, the trees stood stark orange corpses. The drought had claimed them, and was growing. The paths that should have been impassible with snow stood wide open in late February, up in the heights of the Sierra Nevadas.
Finally, I went home to Washington. The Evergreen State still surely holds it’s name. But drought was being felt there too. The burn bans were on. The firefighters were tense, waiting for the spark to begin their fighting once again. Even the lush lands of my youth are dry.
Then, down south, the word came that floods, unheralded by named storm, had swept over the same battered folk who had suffered in Katrina were being drowned again in the relentlessness of the water.
I feel the wrongness of the lack of rain in my own home, and where I grew up. I’m sure those down south are looking at their lands and wondering where the line is between land and water after all.
Humans have always felt powerless against the weather. It’s always been one of those factors outside our control – almost reassuringly so. I wonder if that’s not really at the root of why we have done nothing in the 30 years since we were told that our actions would change the weather. Perhaps we didn’t believe we really could change the weather? Perhaps we saw our actions as immutable as a rolling storm – nothing we ourselves could stand against. I understand, somewhat, why the world hasn’t come together to prevent our actions from changing the face of the world.
But what I don’t understand is why we haven’t prepared for the change we know was coming. What do we need to do differently as the sea levels rise? Which cities need to be abandoned, or protected? What steps have we taken to resettle the inhabitants? What seawalls built? I’m frankly gobsmacked that massive new development has been done just bare feet above sea level, on fill, in the Seaport District of Boston. I’m not entirely sure all those buildings will even be finished before they’re swamped. Those future residents will at some point have a nasty surprise, but we pretend like that’s an unknowable future instead of the near-certainty it is. We know it will happen. We even have a good idea of when. We just want to pretend it won’t.
I desperately wish I know what I could do to fight this. The voices that have been raised to warn have been laughed down, and beaten down over decades. The small economies of a single household pale by comparison the the vast wastefulness practiced by others. Keeping the thermostat at 68 in the winter means literally nothing – taken by itself. I wish that I had solutions for this problem, like I wish I had for so many others.
But I will say this – do not be surprised. Our world is changing. The Northwest Passage has been created by melting ice. The seawaters are rising. The rains fall more in some places, less in others. If you will not work to prevent it – and we have not – then we must work to live in the new world we have created.
And every hot day without rain just reminds me of it.