This so-called “Global Warming” which some lamebrains continue to insist does not exist mugged Connecticut but good. Hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens were plunged into darkness for days on end. I could be petulant and condemn the Connecticut Light and Power Company and its handmaiden, the State of Connecticut for my recent return to domestic primitivism and business shutdown. I could decry Government inefficiency and sloth or Corporate indifference each time I lugged another galvanized bucket of flush water up the hill from the Sprain Brook. Believe me, about the 10th bucket up the hill to flush the wife’s toilet or wash the dishes, one is looking mightily for an eye socket to thrust a crooked thumb deeply into. Being a man, I sucked it up and squatted in the woods with the Bears while keeping my complaints to myself, until now. After all, the fruits of modern life are not guaranteed. Men Haul, it is our job. For too many years, we’ve hauled more than we reason, for better or worse but now the worse seems to dominate. We are actively hauling ourselves into perdition.
To be sure, my problems are minor in comparison to the catastrophe just experienced by the Oaks, Magnolias, Birch and Cherry hereabouts. These species were mauled roundly by wet snow and left a shattered wreck. 80 to 100 year old oaks careened down off the rain-soaked hillsides, taking everything with them. If they did not topple over, they still stand, like mangled amputees. “Widow-Makers” will be dropping for months. The only benefit of a sunroof will be that you might catch a glimpse of movement before the six hundred pound branch drops out of the sky into your lap after mangling the sainted GPS.
A mature cover crop climax forest has been whipsawed at vibrant maturity. Nature giveth but then, nature doth take away. Increased sunlight penetration will no doubt unleash a vigorous round of invasive species expansion. Then again, the young Maple and Beech beneath the toppled oak will grow more quickly now. However, anyone who might care for the beauty of our individual trees must weep for the special burden borne by the Druid-endorsed species of the venerable species Quercus, whether Red, Scarlet or White. Quercus took a rabbit punch and these noble trees will not soon recover. I uncovered a young one from beneath the broken pines and it will now aspire to meet the standards of its broken forebears after a hundred years goes by. Forests exist in our quarterly human increments but they do not live that way. They live without deadline or quarterly report. As a result, they are far more grand than anything we uncomprehending humans could devise. Sure, they are a tad messy and decay is actually production in a fluid assembly line of death and life but in the end, they simply grow and adorn our lives in an un-returned gift.
Ten days in this day and age is a long time to go without the automatic comforts of the modern era, particularly when nights dip into the low twenties. Fortunately, I designed my little imported Finnish Pine Palazzo with an eye out for interruptions. A venerable and beloved Vermont Casting Wood Stove with several seasoned cords always at the ready, a romantic array of candlelight flickering off the Baltic Pine paneling, proper insulation and a gas-fired range allows easy passage through the intermittent power outages which occur in the hills of southern New England.
This one was different however. Very different. So different that a new definition of difference is composed.
It started on the Saturday before Halloween. Forecast to buckle down after nightfall, it beat the predictions and descended around noon. I watched the squall line approach across the distant hills while heading toward a lunchtime meeting in the next town. Taking care of business and then advising my clients to eat and run back to New York, I skidded home through the wet cement mix and began to ponder the hunkering down of a classic, if early New England Nor’easter. The Oaks were still in their full russet glory underneath the first wet flakes.
Power outages in these Litchfield Hills are usually intermittent and only mildly irritating. I once stood out on my porch in order to listen to the chorus of nearby generators filling my Nettleton Hollow sound chamber and scoffed at their profligate efforts on behalf of empty houses owned by weekenders. Hurricane Irene changed this. An electrician is going to get a nice Generator contract from me.
One would think a single natural climatic disaster is enough per year. My escape-travel budget only affords two. But we’ve had at least three.
The first one involved epic snows and consistently cold temperatures that scuttled barns all over the region. In more than one instance, collapsing barns killed and injured livestock or demolished equipment. My own customarily trusty metal roof held onto the snow and ice all winter instead of shedding it as designed. During the first thaw in February, the frozen mass began to slip off just as I was fleeing to the Gulf Coast to escape the icy grip. Landing in Fort Meyers, my first call was from my son who proceeded to inform me that the shedding ice had torn off the electrical and cable service as it came down and just to make a point, a plate of ice plunged through the windshield of the Concept’s Passat parked in the drive. This is never a good thing when the ongoing skirmish with said wife is why her car has to be parked outside and my antique Buicks inside. An electrician and plate glass installer later, we had recovered. Spring was long and chilly but the return of the sun was a delight. I do, however, miss the lost barns mightily.
Then, after a wet spring, a two-month long mid-summer drought ensued only to then evolve into a regular deluge before Hurricane Irene came through. We had a 2” rainstorm the day before Irene that was lost in the shuffle of records. A few days after Irene, another massive storm dropped several more inches of rain. Suffice to say, we are a delighted recipient of an average of 42” of rain annually but received over 30” of rain in the month and a half before fall arrived.
That is a lot of water.
The weird weather this summer produced a major defoliation of the Maples, an ill omen but it saved these trees from the oak’s fate. Just as our forests have been kicked around, so too are our river’s and stream’s benthic environment the sufferers of an epic catastrophe. Gravel deposits and bank erosion have completely re-arranged our local streams. Huge uprooted trees litter the beds of our waterways. A massive Sycamore lies atop the stone dam in Roxbury and shows no signs of leaving, yet. Some of these logs will no doubt come into use as battering rams sometime in the near future. Vegetable crops were also hit hard. Our usually abundant heritage tomato crop was a bit tepid. Corn, on the other hand, was not bad. In the cruelest disappointment though, The Concept sent me to four separate farms in search of beets for her annual winter pickling to no avail, the crop was bad all around. January is always made a little more tolerable by rich purple beets. Not this year.
Then we had Hurricane Irene. We dodged a bullet but power was still out for days and after a serial tree-blocked trip to the coast, I had the rare pleasure of a rescue by client’s Limo after my car conked out on the Merritt Parkway at rush hour. After the fourth dark night, the wife and I fled to Nova Scotia on pleasure trip, escaping from the mess.
A month after the rescue by client’s limo in the recovering aftermath of Hurricane Irene, all Hell broke fully loose. There were some warnings of it. Talk of strong winds and wet snow but in this new era, experience was out the window and we were on our own. 30” of rain within 40 days followed by this wet snow was a disaster in the making. About two in the afternoon, the first big oak broke loose from the rocky hillside about a hundred feet south of the house and took out the power lines before we had a chance to glean our full supply of well water. An hour later, another huge oak, a scant 50’ from the house careened down in the gloaming. At that point, I assumed sleep would be fitful.
We live amongst the trees here in New England. Massive trees averaging eighty to a hundred years old grow all around us here and we love the stately Arcadian verdure they afford. Here in southern New England, we live at the collision of Mid-Atlantic and New England habitats. Oak and Maple collude to create one of the most remarkable forest environments on earth, however tainted by the paltry Barberry or Bittersweet interlopers. One of the most crowded areas of our nation is made more hospitable by a verdant growth of stubbornly rich forest. Bear, Turkey, Deer, Catamount and Bobcat cross your path within an hour’s drive of Gotham. I always love it when a Bobcat turns foursquare about as you cross their path, giving you a stern Travis Bickle of “you talkin to me?” The return of a diverse wildlife population to this formerly cleared zone is a remarkable thing. The other day, I was treated to the rare sight of a bright white Albino Squirrel twitching along a log near the road. Over all this teeming mammalian life, stands the noble architecture of our forest. One cannot live with trees and ignore their noble beauty. In this storm however, they were live ammunition.
Time passes slowly when the snapping of large trees sounds like gunfire all around you in the dark. I lay in bed wondering if we might be smart to descend to the basement but thought better of it and slept fitfully as the cracking and thudding sounds filled the dark night. Weirdly, the Northern Lights were particularly prominent after a major Solar flare and so the breaking power lines flared on and off as the Northern Lights pulsed in the clouds and the snow built up and the trees came down. It was a waking dream of dull fright.
The morning after was a wonder. Dawning in red, thick snow draping all, a lovely calm was present over the disaster but on inspection, we were trapped by a massive tangle heaped across the drive. No matter, a little fire in the stove, coffee and some eggs and bacon would intervene. Fed, girded, we ventured out.
Trees, large trees, noble trees had dropped all around but had remarkably spared the house. Three big Eastern White Pines had snapped off 40’ in the air and brought everything with them across the drive. To the south of the house, the scene had all the charms of a bomb blast with my best standing oak crop now on the ground. A 40’ long top of a 14” caliper White Pine had snapped and driven itself firmly into the ground like a mammoth spear, narrowly missing the septic line. It reminded me of Hunter S, Thompson’s “Large Negro Shinbone “ from the “Curse of Lono” and so was named such until removed. Had it come through the roof, it would have plunged through both the mattress and me until the basement floor stopped it. A client advised that this would have been an abuse of a perfectly good mattress. My favorite Jonathan apple was a snapped pile of mush beneath the pine. Another favorite Beech was toast beneath the fallen oak. Fortunately, my White Birch arch over the drive survived unscathed if a little more arched, as is its delightful wont.
We lived now in a wrecked forest, but this is only the beginning.
Nettleton Hollow Road was impassable both north and south. Wires were down everywhere and the first people venturing out were private contractors summoned by the weekenders with orders to hack a way through to civilization. It took many days before the utility companies arrived, some from as far away as Vancouver or Missouri. Connecticut Light and Power was rumored to have been slow to pay after Irene. On road trips southwestward, it took at least 5 days before I saw convoys of trucks approaching the State from points west.
For 10 days, we listened to the officials describe their challenges and quantify their response but in the end, Corporate-Government speak is entirely insufficient. We need to understand that this beneficent climate of ours is in a period of profound flux and no amount of promotional gloss or strategic planning will make it go away.
It is a matter of physics. Water, in climate, is like gas on a fire. Via burning petrol together with the mysteries of climate cycles, we have seen a lot of water unleashed into the water cycle. It is a matter of increased energy now, of the disastrous kind. I really do not care if our burning of petroleum coincides with a natural climactic change or if, indeed, we are substantially to blame. It is, as they say, what it is. Do we need to keep ignoring it, refuting it and then watching the carnage unfold at great cost? Or, do we commit to the sapiens honorarium and actually begin the difficult yet rich task of dealing with the hand dealt?
We are here, within our disaster-rich environment, staring into the face of one of the biggest potential economic windfalls in human history. While we cling stubbornly to a paradigm of diminishing and dangerous returns, we delay the opportunities presented by a necessary scientific innovation that respects our environment rather than simply plunders it. An authentically free society would embrace this change. But we are free only in pride. Worse yet, we continue to pay strident homage to our jailer.
As I drive about the countryside looking at the broken forest, I surmise it will adapt in the long term far better than we stubborn humans will. Climate change and roving catastrophe is upon us worldwide. It is not the gently sounding “global warming” either. It is floods, drought, tornados, wildfires, and property damage on an epic scale with a bureaucratic government–corporate combine incapable of responding to it in an efficient manner. It really does not matter why it happened but is we to keep crapping in our own nest? Given what passes for “information” in this proudly touted “Information Age”, it is my guess that “self-delusion” will be just one of the un-indicted co-conspirators in our concatenation of “information”. Unfortunately, this sorry state of affairs will likely keep us from dealing with the immediate challenges in a timely manner but more importantly, it will delay the unleashing of a vast new economic generator in an entirely “New World”. Sixty years ago, we might have been up to the challenge but by all demonstrable indicators, we are, at this time, utterly incapable of helping ourselves. Entertainment has won too many rounds against a beleaguered and commodified reality.
Perhaps the Merchandisers will mine a bright spot called “Disaster Chic”. They can come see my oaks and conjure a campaign from there. It will be a nice compliment to the vigorous “Zombie “ genre now cannibalizing the airwaves.
At this juncture, we desperately require a fusion of political philosophy, political administration and business but we are awash in a fission of special interest holding desperately to failure because it pays the bills or manufactures a duplicitous poll number. Our climate will eventually have its way with us. We can be smart now and unleash remarkable economic opportunity with real human progress or we can hold onto our stubborn conceits within a deteriorating and wrecked darkness. My amputee and fallen oak is a monument to this culture’s determined idiocy. Next winter they shall warm me. I’d rather have their hundred years of solar energy cycle still standing. We keep disputing the obvious and our last soapbox will be a well-earned coffin.