My Turn: The last mud season

  • In this Aug. 12 photo, the retreating ice of the Pastoruri glacier is seen in the Huascaran National Park in Peru. AP

For the Monitor
Friday, March 03, 2017

It’s mud season. What usually happens in late March or early April started at the end of February. As much as some might bless the warm weather, folks who make maple syrup are cussing it. It put a damper on winter carnivals around the area; a bonfire doesn’t have the same delight when temperatures are in the sixties.

Yesterday I did the spring mucking out of the chicken coop. It’s a nasty job. During the winter the stuff freezes to the floor, so I just keep adding more shavings to the top. The layers insulate the coop better anyway. But come spring, when it all thaws, I have to shovel the mess out. I don’t usually have to do it this early in the year, but I didn’t have an excuse. Everything was thawing and the coop was starting to smell pretty bad. So I tackled it. (A friend suggested the same thing needs to be done in Washington. The shovel that can do that hasn’t been invented.)

The chickens played in the yard, scratching around on the bare stretches of ground while I excavated. The ducks waded happily in the mud and puddles. I thought to myself in between shovels full of poop-soaked shavings: Damn. It’s February. This is crazy.

If climate change is a hoax, then my thermometer is part of the conspiracy. I’ll grant you, there is a huge difference between weather and climate. Some folks don’t get this. They think a snowball indicates that the planet is not warming up. By the same token, mud season in February doesn’t prove anything either. We’ve always had years where the weather has leaned toward one extreme or the other. Weather is a temperamental thing, hard to predict. Just ask the weatherman who tries to predict it.

Climate, on the other hand, is a long-term thing. It’s what you get when you average out all the wild fluctuations in the weather. It’s why, in New Hampshire, gardeners generally think Memorial Day when planting tender annuals. It’s why, here in Deerfield, we know there’s always a frost before the fair. Of course, some years that doesn’t happen. That’s the weather. But when we don’t get our first frost until well after the fair for several years running (as has been the case), that’s climate change.

I grew up on the coast and used to bike to the beach all the time. The water was damn cold. A few days out of the year a lucky coincidence of currents and tides would warm the water enough so you wouldn’t freeze your tuchus off. But as a general rule, the north Atlantic Ocean is cold. That’s why folks prefer the warmer water of southern beaches for sea bathing. If you sample the water temperature the world over, especially where it is deep and relatively stable, you get an average that doesn’t vary much. Except lately. It has gone up. Only a degree or two, but that makes a huge difference if you understand how climate works. Small variations like that multiply until the effect is big.

For example, glaciers melting. That’s no big deal, and in fact much of western United States depends on melting glaciers for their water supply. But the deal is supposed to be that the glaciers refreeze and grow during the winter, so the summer melt can continue to supply aquifers. That refreeze isn’t happening. The glaciers are steadily shrinking. It’s real and measurable and bad news for the West Coast.

One or two hot dry summers, that’s just the weather. Hot, dry summers as the new normal is climate change.

They say everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. Unfortunately, it is the same, at least in this country, with climate change. And ironically, as little as we can do about the weather, climate is another matter. We can make the small changes that can have the big, long-term effects.

Or we can call it a hoax and ignore it until mud season happens in January. And then doesn’t happen at all.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)