Same As It Ever Was

I’ve lived in New England all my life, and at this point I’ll probably never live anywhere else. This is curious, in a way, given how much I dislike being cold; but places become habits, familiar and comfortable, and they can soothe us on a subconscious level. Drive two hours to the coast and everything begins to look strange and exotic: still beautiful, still welcoming, but not quite right. Drive south, and the flora changes slowly but inexorably until it’s full of alien trees and flowers, fascinating and mesmerizing, another universe. Nice places to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there.

Humans are adaptable, of course. If I ever moved, for any reason, it wouldn’t take long for the alien landscape to feel familiar. But I suspect there would always be something when I came back here, something in the percentage of pines or the types of bushes or the density of foliage along the highways that would resonate with the most fundamental, oldest part of me in a way that nothing else does. The harmonics of home.

On Friday, temperatures dropped below zero. Yesterday, we had about eight inches of snow. Today it’s nearly 50F (10C for you metric folks) and raining, and it’s a tossup whether the rain will get rid of all the snow or just add a beautiful and dangerous veneer of ice to everything. It’s a short drive from here to state highways, which are usually well cleared; the most hazardous part of any expedition is between my front door and the main road.

The climate is changing. Hiccups like -13F to 50F in two days don’t lead to that conclusion in a straight line; bobbles have always happened. But the climate is changing, and that’s the fact of it, and sometimes I recognize that the icy, hazardous driving that comes with living on a mountain isn’t such a bad thing to deal with, given the future of sea levels. I’ve sometimes, in service of fiction, googled maps of likely sea level rise, depending on the severity of the damage we’ve done and are still doing. I write the future; I want to know what land masses are most likely to stay habitable.

Humans are adaptable, but one of our biggest flaws is inertia. We may see change coming, but we’re slow to shift. We almost never shift in anticipation. We wait for the wave to hit before scrambling for higher ground, and by then it’s too late for most of us. We have faith in some larger System that has Rules that will somehow kick in and save us from disaster. Where the climate is concerned, this takes the form of the Technology Fairy: Someone will figure out how to fix it, so we don’t actually have to change. Someday, Someone will present us with the perfect type of renewable energy/solar-powered car/efficient replacement for fossil fuels, and we’ll all be saved.

Someone is always Someone Else.

Yesterday, when it snowed, I took some time to look around. (It was warmer than the previous day’s -13F, so this was a relatively pleasant exercise.) Around here, the snowy landscape looks almost like a black-and-white photograph, untouched white against the black and gray of bare branches. When the sun comes out, it all turns crystal, and it looks unreal, like one of those old department store winter displays. And it’s quiet, in a way it’s never quiet in the summer and fall: no rustling of leaves and grass, the snow absorbing the sounds of small animals moving through the woods. It feels still and quiet and strangely safe, despite the cold.

I’ve read some speculation that the reason the whole world seems to be falling into fascism – again – is in part because those who were adults during World War II – fighting it, and surviving it – are nearly all gone. There may be a grain of truth to that. Certainly as a species we have terrible institutional memory. I remember the Vietnam War, and being terrified at what I saw on television; now, as an adult, I can think about how much more terrifying it was for the actual people there: the civilians who, like me, like most of us, just wanted to get through an ordinary day, and had that taken from them for reasons that must have seemed astonishingly disconnected from their own lives; the soldiers sent into a fuzzy-edged and ill-considered war by men with little of their own skin in the game.

History rhymes, but we so rarely notice.

The United States is not this. The United States has always been this. Both of these things are true. To paraphrase an overused meme: today, we are feeding the wrong wolf. We have always, as a nation, said the right things, and some of us have meant them, and others have said “We mean this, but only for people like us.” As a species, we are deeply vulnerable to fear, and despair, and the promise of Someone Else fixing it all.

We are Someone Else. We have always been Someone Else.

I’ve probably already mentioned that I hate the telephone. I joke about it, but it’s on the level of a genuine phobia, and it’s debilitating sometimes. It’s also my first hurdle in the fight against inertia. We still have elections, and we still have representatives, and I can pick up the damn phone and thank them when I agree and suggest an alternative course of action for them when I don’t. It’s a teeny, tiny thing, and it may be useless.

But it may not. And it beats the hell out of inertia.

Pandora’s Box had it right: hope is the strongest thing of all. If it weren’t, the despots of the world wouldn’t be working so hard to take it away from us.

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