Many years ago in a geography far different from the current one, I stepped out into the morning air to go to work and the air reeked. There had been a hard frost, actually a killing freeze, in the night and all the growing things had died at the same time. The words “dead vegetation” rang in my head as a description of the powerful scent that filled the air. (Later in the day I realized that “Dead Vegetation” would be a great name for a rock band.)
These days we say “climate change” whenever a weather event happens whether it feels ordinary or strange. I think we may have had a frost sometime during the week as the tops of the rosemary plants I was hoping to use for while longer were dead. The bright neon-glowing fuchsia impatiens in two flower pots as well as those I’d planted in the ground which had bloomed spectacularly since spring, were also stripped and seemingly dead but even so, I cannot declare we’ve had our first frost because last week brought fifty mile per hour winds in the form of a nor’easter. Forty eight hours of screaming wind and waves, a power outage, and a cold house left me feeling raw inside. It really did seem as if the storm was going to bring the ocean up on to the lawn or rushing at the house. But it didn’t. This time.
A new acquaintance came to visit the house for the first time and her words echoed those I’ve heard before: “You said you lived close to the water but I had no idea it was this close.” Later, I looked down the row of seven houses between here and the state park and realized for the first time that this house, although a bit higher up, sits closer to the water than any of the others. In the 1970’s when it was built, as close to the ocean as possible was considered marvelous. Now, no one would consider this a suitable, mortgage-carrying build any longer and if you could manage the finances of building it on your own you’d still not be able to buy property insurance. There is also the possibility that legislation is now in place to prevent the possibility of such ocean proximity. Even though I have loved living in this location I still believe that the State should have made this whole piece of rocky shore into public land for all to enjoy rather than defaulting to private ownership on both the north and south sides of the narrow, tiny (and gorgeous) state park they saved as wild. It’s an East Coast problem I think, this concept of gobbling up oceanfront as private property thus denying public access to what should be available to all whereas the western lands facing the Pacific seem to have been (mostly) held for public access. No one should get to call a piece of shoreline “mine”.
We are now looking upon our past choices with fresh and worried eyes because we fear what’s coming. Having used “Nature as a toilet” (as said by the U.N.’s Secretary General Guterres, at the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit, COP 26.*) we are just starting to glimpse a future that may not include humankind’s survival.
The fierce winds of last week’s nor’easter so battered everything growing on the north and west sides of the house I cannot tell if it was a frost or the wind that killed the plants. Even the tall and seemingly strong Japanese Knotweed up against this side of the neighbor’s high wooden fence is lying broken on the ground. It is suspicious that the same neighbor has seemingly untouched bright blue hydrangeas on his (wind protected) side of the fence making me doubt that we’ve had a frost at all but there is lots of dead vegetation over here and it’s time to tear out the annuals and empty the pots.
It’s hard to say goodbye to summer and turn to face, yet one more time, that winter fierce ocean.
*We face a stark choice. Either we stop it – or it stops us”, he [Guterres] added, delivering five key messages…
“It’s time to say enough. Enough of brutalizing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning, and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that our planet is changing before our eyes from melting glaciers, to relentless extreme weather events.