A Tale of Two Towns August 25, 2009

Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature…

The cicadas are chirping in a dark, damp night – it has been damp all summer.  I am beginning to believe it will be damp the rest of my natural life.  This summer is headed towards the history books as the coolest and possibly wettest summer in recorded history.  I feel I am living in Oregon again. Weather is the subject of conversation everyone can safely go to rather than face the high emotions of health care reform – and it is as important a subject.   Whether you call it global warming or just natural climate change, something is happening that is different and in its difference is deeply unsettling.

Friday afternoon a riptide of a storm raced through Claverack while I was beginning my way home and by the time I got home roads were ravaged by downed trees and power lines.  Cut off from home, I was offered a port in the storm by my friend Alana.

Saturday morning unveiled the extent of damage – hundreds of trees broken and fallen, homes shattered, my tree sheltered cottage lucky with only one tree down; it had fallen against another tree saving the house.  The weather service called it sheer wind; locals claimed seeing mini-tornadoes tear through their yards and fields, ripping up the landscape and their trees in a sight none remembered before – this was weather as it had not been experienced in living memory.

And that is what is troubling us all – experiencing weather phenomena that no one recalls and no one recalls being told about before.  No one I know has a grandmother who told them a story of the time mini-tornadoes ripped through the town.  Though many who lived through this last Friday will tell their grandchildren…

What is happening with the weather seems new to us.  It may just be the natural cycle of the planet – or not.  It may be global warming – or not.  The debate will go on; what is irrefutable is that what is happening with the weather has little to do with the oral history passed down to us.  What’s going on today wasn’t talked about when I was a child sitting on the steps of my parent’s house and weather was discussed.  There was a sense then that weather had a pattern, a rhythm that had gone on, if not forever, for as long as anyone remembered.

Not so today.  What is happening with the weather has a decreasing amount to do with what we have known and more to do with assimilating what we are experiencing.  Today on NPR I was listening to a report about a glacier in Antarctica, four times the size of Scotland, which seems to be in the process of disappearing – something that seems to have really started about ten years ago.  We are assaulted by stories like this – glaciers disappearing here and there, ocean temperatures far above what they were.  No adult in my childhood told me these kinds of stories.  I don’t remember sitting on the front stoop of my parent’s home being told we were moving into a new weather world that broke all the rules of all the remembered generations.  And that’s because when I was a child the weather rules still reigned – what had happened seemed likely to happen again — yet now we are living in a world where what is happening is not what has happened before.

We are living in a frightening world.  There was an ad campaign not so many years ago – not your father’s Oldsmobile.  Well it’s not your father’s weather anymore either.   Oldsmobile is gone and so is the weather we used to know.  Might be Global Warming, might just be a natural cycle.  Doesn’t matter – the world of weather is changing and it is, like so much around us, a bit frightening.

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