Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Stretching the Earth's Resilience

Day temperatures reached the 70s in San Jose, California, in mid-January. This is supposed to be winter, with the parched land needing copious amount of rain, and although the balmy weather feels wonderful, the third consecutive drought looms for the state. We have had about 50% of the rain normal for this time of the year. (4.06 inches so far; normal is 7.89 inches). Sierra Nevada, the 400-mile-long mountain range made famous by John Muir’s “Range of Light” reverential musings, has a snowpack only 60% deep compared to what it should be. California’s January sunshine may be redolent of paradise but I cannot shake off thoughts of snakes lurking in the garden.

Today it is in the high 60s as I write. City officials are warning of water rationing. The hills and valleys of the San Francisco Bay Area are green but already brown patches are showing. They suggest the sorrow of teenage brides withering under harsh reality without ever blooming. Patches of yellow mustard show up here and there but where have the orange poppies gone?

Is the unusually high January temperatures a sign of global warming? The Midwest is reeling under record snowfall. It’s bitterly cold in the east coast. Rain is incessant in the Pacific Northwest. What can explain this anomaly, this wild fluctuations in weather conditions that get more pronounced every year? Something is happening to our planet. We are probably stretching its resilience to the breaking point.

I wake up about an hour before dawn. Until last year, I used to hear the cooing of a dove in the ash tree in my front yard toward the end of February. That was my sweetest reminder that spring had arrived before vernal equinox in March. But this year I heard the dove on January 29. I began hearing its mournful music regularly every morning thereafter. Spring isn’t silent as Rachel Carson feared it would be, but certainly it arrives early, early, early!

The night sky removes the sadness I feel at the increasingly ephemeral nature of winter and spring. On the same day that the dove began to coo for the first time this season, I saw in the evening a most stirring sight: Venus shining gloriously above a three-day old moon. The following night the two celestial bodies traded their positions. The night after, the moon separated even further from the evening star as it gained weight and steadily climbed the sky. The sight of stars blooming in the garden of the sky all night long is profoundly moving. The anxiety of mortgage payments, unfulfilled dreams, even intimations of a fragile earth, fade away, replaced by a joy that comes from knowing that I am not alone but is woven into the fabric of this vast, mysterious universe.

No comments: