Yesterday morning I was writing at my desk, but distracted by squirrels running through the trees outside while the Swan Lake Waltz played on the radio. It didn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see a subtle choreography in their scrambling up and down tree trunks, back and forth over outstretched limbs. They all looked fat and healthy, and I thought, Ah Spring! Here at last!
We have had two springs already this year, interspersed with two returns of winter. I have felt rather sad and uncertain about the future since last November, like we are living in the end times for our world: this strange weather does not bode well and feeds the uncertainty.
Human societies have always had tales of the end of the world, and they are so often climatic. There was the great flood of Sumerian literature, as told in Gilgamesh, which was copied and some interesting details added to become the great flood in the Hebrew Bible. Ragnarok–the twilight of the gods in Norse mythology–is preceded by fimbulwinter, an unrelenting three year winter. This all arises from an ancient sense that life on earth is uncertain and is destined to end. People who raised crops for a living came to depend on the cycle of the seasons, and if there was any tardiness or latency in the return of spring it caused anxiety of an existential nature. This anxiety was dealt with mostly by appeals to the god or gods who controlled the season.
Now we understand that the seasons are inevitable cycles of nature, but the thought that the world will end in climatic holocaust is embedded in many religions. The practitioners of those faiths, taken with their own florid scriptures, hold a calm acquiescence, perhaps even an eager anticipation of the end. Evangelical Christianity or some other form of very traditional faith goes hand-in-hand with the kind of conservative political leaning that denies climate change. I don’t know how much of that denial is, at root, a belief that any cataclysmic change to earth’s ecology is part of a long-ordained divine plan, but I do know that Americans decided last fall against a government that might address the impending threat to our planet.
Even though I anticipate the coming climatic holocaust with foreboding, I don’t really spend my days wallowing in dread about it. Not many people do, as far as I can tell. Kind of reminds me of the great book On the Beach, by Nevil Shute, which was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It shows people in Australia, the last continent not affected by fallout from the recent nuclear war, going about their business as usual, rarely acknowledging their awareness that the end is coming soon. What else can you do? As the old saying goes, when you don’t know what to do, you do what you know.
And so I spend my time cooking, writing stories, writing new songs, doing the things I’ve always done. Public discourse continues to rant about tax cuts, health care, equal pay, and many other things that will simply not matter in another few years. I am aware that I started writing about the charming image of squirrels dancing in trees, and was quickly diverted to a diatribe on the end of the world.
What are you gonna do? I think it’s likely that the squirrels will survive the coming changes. I don’t think you or I will.