Hyacinths in January


In “The News from Lake Woebegone” last night Garrison Keillor is complaining about the lack of a cold winter in Minnesota because it is diluting Minnesota’s claim to uniqueness as an extremely cold place. Garrison Keillor is a progressive. Yet he does not mention climate change in this monologue. Why? Does he think he does not have a progressive or intelligent audience? He has “come out” in his book, Home Grown Democrat. So what’s the problem? Denial, I think; for Garrison is a Romantic.

Last Sunday, 1.25.15, I walked outside and noticed that my hyacinths were blooming. Today I saw that the ceanothus have started blooming. They have always reliably bloomed at Ostara, or Easter. The hills are covered in that astounding spring green that makes one think of Japan. Wild flowers are blooming in the forest, blue and white and lavender, and those dark red Indian paintbrushes. All two months early. But we have not had rain since before Yule, nor are we likely to. So this is a gorgeous intermission in our drought, which will reassert itself in a week or two or four.

This is the fourth year of California drought. History tells me that this part of Northern California was a desert a thousand years ago. It is returning to desert, it seems. I used to worry that an earthquake would carve us adrift. Now I think we will dry out like a scab in this dry, dry world. Already trees are dying—the oaks, of course, from Sudden Oak Death (names help so much, even if they mean nothing)—the bays and madrones who have shallow roots. I live in a forest that is becoming a mausoleum, with hyachinths.

James Lovelock said that country people would have no problem understanding that something is going wrong. I am amazed that the public discourse still ranks climate change in the double digits as a concern. Yes, Virginia, there are still deniers. Paradoxically, some people in the northeast of the United States who are getting hard freezes and hard snow use this as evidence that there is no climate change. It’s cold, isn’t it? And wasn’t this called “global warming”? So clearly it is not happening in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. If anything, it’s “global colding.” Snow in huge quantities, black ice. Somehow this is a comfort to some folk who take it as evidence that climate change is not real. How weird, when you think about it.

It’s happening so much faster than expected. When I wake up at midnight in despair from dream after dream of how our Earth is being transformed by the self-centered capitalists who control our energy economy, I go outside. I take my flashlight. I walk across shards from Rob’s log-chopping, logs that won’t be used in any fire now. I turn the flashlight on the hyacinth, dropping to my knees, and smell its immediate beauty. In the present it is a momentary luxury. When it is Just Now, I breathe it in with deep pleasure. But I do not forget what is going on. I can’t.

Looking at the government of the United States, such as it is or may be, we can’t expect change to be mandated soon enough to save our Earth and the hundreds of species that are disappearing daily. We cannot trust the Captains of Industry (excepting folks like Elon Muck, Time Cook, and most recently Mark Zuckerberg) to have anything but greed and a two-year plan. Zuckerberg, in a swift turn toward maturity and wisdom, answered an investor who questioned his plans to help expand internet access in Africa with the lovely statement, “if you don’t like it, invest in someone else.” This is a turnabout of power that we should encourage, but it is very, very far from enough. The hyacinths are blooming in January. The natural world that keeps our souls alive is changing.

I am sixty-four years old. I am ready to take to the streets. Is anyone joining me? Would I be all alone, me and my hyacinth, with a little sign that reads “For Goddess’ sake pay attention to climate change”? Or should we say “scale back now for Earth’s tomorrow”? This is not a capitalist perspective—although it should be when you do the economics—but it is a deeply human one. We beg our masters to see farther than today, And if that doesn’t work, we must demand. It is the calling and responsibility of our generation.

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