Still Hope

The hot weather — 90+ degree highs for several weeks in Denver, in mid-September! — coupled with the continuing isolation of the pandemic has me thinking about the apocalypse. Wildfires ravage the west, leaving destruction, homelessness, haze and foul air across the country and flooding locally. Drought has decimated the Colorado River and dropped many reservoirs to record lows. Hurricanes and storms are causing massive flooding across the south and east coasts.

I read these days that we’re no longer doing “climate change,” but “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown.” Whatever it’s called, it seems to be getting worse and I’m not confident that any of us has a handle on how to stop it. There seem to be ample climate-change deniers to oppose doing anything useful to help.

At home, I’ve tried to do my bit by minimizing our outdoor watering. I care less about the lawns (as my neighbors have probably noted), but I want to keep the trees and shrubbery alive. Our ancient towering pear tree is producing a spectacular harvest of pears this year, unfortunately most are unreachably high up in the tree and frankly, tasteless. I’m hoping this is not a last gasp attempt to prolong its own life or the lives of its progeny pear trees.

As the environment changes, some animal and plant species either change, migrate or die (ask any dinosaur). That includes humans, by the way. Migration is already disrupting lives, and in some cases, causing wars— whether due to climate change or political disruption. Things are going to hell in lots of places. It’s only a matter of time until we reach the point of no return for some critical aspects of our ecosystems.

Even the things we can do individually seem too small to make much difference. Reduce power and water use, recycle, compost organics, drive less, use electric vehicles (still uses energy from coal, oil or gas), get vaxxed/social distance/wear a mask, plant trees, install solar and wind power, eat less red meat, and do more yoga (I just threw that in for good measure).

In the ‘70’s I worked on the Navaho Reservation in the northern Arizona high desert and one winter we had massive rains that flooded a large swath of the land that I worked. Since most roads were dirt or gravel, travel became nearly impossible, so many Navaho were stranded, unable to access firewood to stay warm or cook food, much less travel to stores or for health care.

It was a bad winter, and the flooded Lower Colorado River flood plains took months to dry out. Springs were flooded and many were unusable, greatly complicating the ability to haul water to homes. Food, water, income, and medicine were in short supply. For many Navaho, it was the apocalypse.

Eventually, spring came and with it, warmer weather, bluer skies and a lot more sunshine. Then the silver lining was revealed: Due to all the rain and flooding — it seemed as if every single plant in the desert had been just waiting for enough moisture to bloom. And bloom they did! The reservation desert was carpeted with flowers of every color in every direction. Some days, I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, overwhelmed by the exotic scents, becoming lightheaded as I drove through the blooming fields.  The colors were incredible and the intoxicating perfume and stunning colors put the past winter soundly away.

There was still hope.

I keep that spring in mind these days, as I try to maintain my spirits in the face of the present chaos. The politics seem overwhelming, as do the climate change-induced drought, wildfires, flooding, storms, immigration, ecosystem disruption, pandemic, and human inaction.

I’m only human — so I must be an optimist. There still is hope for us, we just need to act on it.

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