It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having; or, Rhapsody on a theme by John Ashbery

crazy weather

So (I says casually), did you see the photo on the front page of the New York Times on Friday? Snow in Jerusalem. Crazy, right?

And how about that heatwave in Australia? Pretty awful.

Not to mention the soaking rains they’ve been having in the UK.

And did I mention that it’s gonna be close to sixty degrees here in Providence over the next few days? In mid-January. Seriously, it feels like late March / early April outside.

You know where I’m going with this.

We’ve done it to ourselves. We didn’t mean to do it, but we did it. We have steadily warmed our climate, and now abnormal weather is the new normal: storms, droughts, temperature extremes. 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States, by the way.

So what can we do about it?

Little enough. The damage is already done. The carbon dioxide is already out there, and the ozone is already torn up.

Good night and good luck, human race.

(But let’s end with something nice. I started with a John Ashbery quote, so let’s have the whole poem, and think – or hope – that humanity might not die out completely, or might at least leave behind something beautiful.)

(Something like this:)

It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having:
Falling forward one minute, lying down the next
Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers.
People have been making a garment out of it,
Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning
At some anonymous crossroads. The sky calls
To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray
Of morning corrects itself as you stand up.
You are wearing a text. The lines
Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need
Any other literature than this poetry of mud
And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily
Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had
A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to
Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody
Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,
Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots, for all we know. 


A bumper crop of weeds

Such a crop of weeds we’ve had this year!







There’s a yard down on Cooke Street, a few blocks from our house, with weeds like nothing I’ve ever seen. Some of them are eight feet tall. There’s dwarf dandelion (it seems silly to call it “dwarf” when it’s that tall, although “dwarf” refers to the flowers, not the plant), and some pokeweed, and other things I don’t know the names of. I actually own a copy of the “Golden Guide to Weeds,” and I stillcannot figure out what some of them are. They are like props in a horror movie, or background scenery in an episode of “Lost in Space.” They tower over me. (Fine. They’ll be dead in a few months, and I’ll (probably) still be here. So let them tower.)






I loveweeds. I love the way they sprawl and occupy the space they’re given. I know they can be parasites, but they’re often lovely. (My father, a farmer at heart, hated weeds, and hated it when he saw me playing with things like quackgrass and cheat. I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong.) I love the resilience of weeds, and their vigor. Many of them are annuals: they grow from seed in a single season, and die. Imagine that! All that growth in a single year!





And they are common, and friendly, and green. They mean no harm. (Most of them, anyway.)





And why do you suppose we’re getting such a nice crop of them this year?





We’re getting warmer hereabouts; we’re getting a climate that’s more like the mid-Atlantic states. Climate change, you know. And the landscape, and the greenery, are responding with gladness.





Lovely weather, if you’re a weed.





(Not sure if it’s so good for us people, though.)

The truffle crisis


As you may or may not know, there is a truffle crisis in Europe.



The European black truffle, Tuber melanosporum, is cherished by gastronomes everywhere. It has an indescribable flavor and aroma. It is rare and cannot be cultivated easily. It is hunted by dogs and pigs, which dig them up, but which are not allowed to eat them. (Apollonia tells me that the pigs are given acorns as a reward. Do you call that justice?) It grows symbiotically with the roots of certain trees, usually the oak.



(There are also white truffles (Tuber magnatum), and pecan truffles, and Oregon truffles. Go read about them on Wikipedia.)



The European truffle crop has been much smaller lately, partly due to climate change. Given how much demand there is for them, this is a problem.



There are also Chinese truffles (Tuber himalayensis / Tuber indicus). They grow much more easily than their European cousins. They have little or no flavor. They are being brought to Europe, and mixed in with European truffles, the way cocaine dealers mix flour or sugar in with their product.



Also: the spores of the Chinese truffle are beginning to escape into the local environment, and Chinese truffles are now growing in Europe. It is feared that, like kudzu, the Chinese truffle will crowd out the aristrocratic European varieties.



(I have never knowingly tasted a truffle. I think I’ve had things with truffles in them, but I have no clear recollection. Apollonia tells me that her Italian relatives have whole rooms full of them, and eat them like apples, but I am never sure how much faith to put in her little stories.)



I have given before the recipe for salade Rossini.  I have never made it. Perhaps I never will. But I like reading (and thinking about) the recipe:



·       Potatoes cooked in chicken stock;

·       Mussels (a third less than the potatoes);

·       “As many truffles as the budget will allow, sliced and cooked in champagne”;

·       A nice fruity vinegar and olive oil and salt and pepper and some tarragon over all. 



It sounds delicious.



Children: don’t allow the Chinese truffle to ruin our imaginary salade Rossini. Insist on the black European truffle.



Western culture depends upon it.



Summer heat


It has been very hot in Providence this summer.  This week was pretty awful: mid-90s, high humidity. The air was like the water in a dirty aquarium: warm, and thick, and most likely toxic. Yesterday morning, walking to work, I was sweating like a Teamster. I was carrying a blue-covered library book, and when I got to work I found that it had left blue dye all over my lovely rose-pink shirt. At one point downtown I realized that the temperature inside my body was almost the same as the temperature outside my body; I had the creepy feeling that I didn’t know where my body left off and the outside world began.



I know, however, that we have it easy compared to other parts of the country. We haven’t had any really horrible storms (although lightning did strike our building a while back). We are not spontaneously combusting, like Colorado. We are not getting flash floods, like Arizona.



Still, it’s pretty icky and nasty here.



I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, green and mild, where 80 degrees was considered steamy. (On my first trip to the Northwest with Partner in 2001, we were in Seattle during a (mild) heatwave – mid-80s! – and everyone was apologizing to us for the heat.) Then I came here, to Southern New England, where the winters are bitter and the summers are ferocious, and I suffer every day. (Except during the long beautiful autumn and the brief gorgeous spring.)



I take it easy on these hot days. I drink lots of water and move slowly. (Last summer, I nearly dehydrated myself on a hot summer day, and came close to collapsing. I will not do that again.) On Monday, one of my student employees, an athlete in training, overdid it during an afternoon workout; he spent the evening retching and the next day recuperating. (I told him to hydrate and not overexert himself. These kids don’t listen to me. I lectured him on this yesterday, and he heard me out very meekly, but I doubt that he’s learned his lesson.)



Global warming? Oh, wait, we call it “climate change” now. Nah. Couldn’t be.



As I said to Apollonia the other day: this is good practice for Hell, when we finally get there.



From the Book of Jonah, Chapter Four (King James Version, naturally):



So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city. 

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. 

But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 

And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. 



Speaking for myself: I would be exceeding glad of a gourd right about now.



Skunk cabbage


I wrote a blog not long ago about how warm the winter and early spring have been here in southern New England, and how all the plants are confused and blooming out of season. 



It was an apocalyptic screed, and I wanted to write something more mellow to counter it.



Early flowers are not entirely a bad thing.  They are lovely. Right now, in early spring, the magnolias are blooming on the Brown campus.  The azaleas are blooming near my office building!  I’ve seen dandelions in bloom!  And there’s something in the grass outside our apartment that looks almost like carpet bugle, with tiny purple blossoms, but much smaller.



All this in early spring.



(Ahem.  Global warming / climate change / apocalypse. Ahem.)



The other day we were driving through rural Connecticut (to go to Foxwoods – why else would we be driving through rural Connecticut?), and I was watching the drab early-spring scenery rush by.  And I saw, in a low unruly-looking place among trees, skunk cabbage coming up!



It took me back.  I don’t know if East Coast skunk cabbage is the same as the West Coast variety I used to see in Washington state, but it looks exactly the same.  Those big shiny green leaves!  Those big juicy yellow flowers that smell like rotting meat!



That, my friends, is the nasty sulfurous aroma of rebirth.



Welcome, Connecticut skunk cabbage.  We’re very glad to see you. 



You’re the real herald of spring.



All the pretty little flowers!


The weather this week has been unbelievably warm for Rhode Island in March.  Monday, the last day of winter, was mid-70s and balmy; I walked to the downtown library at lunchtime and had to take off my Mister Rogers sweater when I got back to the office.



(I say not a word about climate change.  Not a word. I said to Partner the other evening: It’s done.  There’s nothing that can be done at this point, nothing more to be said.  The climate’s changing.  We may as well use up all the fossil fuels as fast as we can, because it won’t make a bit of difference. Oh kids. I hope we’ve got a couple of decades left before we all go phffft.)



The vegetation hereabouts – I can’t even tell you.  It’s in total confusion.  I think the snowdrops committed suicide, I never saw them bloom.  The big witch-hazel tree on the corner of East Manning and Ives is still squeezing out red/yellow blossoms, even though it usually blooms in the January snow.  The crocus (croci?) are on fast-forward: the leaves came up, then the buds swelled and bloomed in a day or two, and now they’re drooping in the heat.  Daffodils realized that it must be spring and bloomed almost literally overnight.  Tulips are leaping up a month early.  Vinca is already blooming (doesn’t it usually wait until May?).  The magnolias on the Brown campus are blooming here and there.  Forsythia is coming out.  The violets in the lawn outside aren’t blooming yet, but the leaves are turning peculiar colors.



(But most of the trees aren’t budding yet.  It’s a strange combination: sunny warm balmy weather, flowers in the grass, and no leaves on the trees.)



(And I see on Facebook from my friends in the Northwest that it’s snowing.  In mid-March!  In the warm sweet welcoming Northwest!)



Everyone’s predicting a hot humid summer.  I don’t know.  I’m picturing one of those stormy summers, with a thunderstorm every evening and lots of hurricanes gestating in the Caribbean.



But who knows?



Enjoy the pretty flowers, kids.  Enjoy the pretty flowers.


Northwest winter


You are sick of listening to me moan and groan about the unseasonal weather, and climate change, and all such hippie tree-hugger liberal talk, I know.  So I will zip my lip and say no more.



(Rhode Island has hardly had any snow this winter so far, by the way.  Our winter has been positively balmy.  I walked downtown with no coat – just a sweater – the other day.  The grass is still pretty springy and fresh in most places around Providence, and I’ve seen things blooming.  In January.)



(Oops.  Zip the lip.  Sorry.)



This winter reminds me of the typical Northwest winter: cool, cloudy, dark, often foggy and rainy.  It’s the kind of winter that engenders “cabin fever”: you stay inside with your loved ones, waiting for spring, until you just can’t stand them any longer, and then you get out the shotgun.



Dark foggy weather doesn’t frighten me.  I grew up in the Northwest.  It’s nothin’.  By April, we’ll be tearing off our winter underwear and dancing among the daffodils.  For now –



Well, but still.  You have to make it through the darkness.



A few years ago, Partner and I were driving through rural Oregon.  It was midsummer, and the hills were covered with beautiful firs and pines, and the sky was wonderfully blue.  “I could live here,” Partner said.



“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m picturing this in mid-December.  You wouldn’t even be able to see those hills, the fog would be so thick.  It’d get light around ten in the morning, and dark again by four in the afternoon.  From November through mid-February.”



Partner regarded me mildly.  He has only ever seen the Northwest in summertime, and I think he has only ever seen it rain there once, one day in Portland.  He doesn’t really believe me.



But oh yes it’s true.



(Oh, did I mention that it’s snowing in Egypt this winter?  Yeah.  Oh, and they’re having a huge and extremely unseasonal windstorm – with hundred-mile-an-hour winds – on the central Oregon coast.)






(Enjoy the future, kids.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.)


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