3.30.15 Ice Ice Baby
Our tiny cottage has been caught in the frigid grasp of Old Man Winter for months now. His icy breath penetrates every nook and cranny, seeping into our very bones. The spring equinox arrived without much fanfare, just an incipient thaw that seems to have frozen mid-trickle. But change is coming. The light is different, quicker and clearer, and the cold air is scented with a damp optimism. Anticipication mounts, becoming almost unbearable. Before we surrender entirely to the frenzied bacchanal of spring, let's take a moment to give the Old Man his due.
I think of winter as the season of contemplation, a time for turning inward, for bundling up and looking within. I love swaddling myself in layers of cashmere, luxuriating in long, hot showers, drinking endless cups of steaming tea and dozing in front of the fireplace. Sleeping is deeper and dreaming more vivid. Outside, the mood of nature is calm and quiet. Plants lie dormant beneath their blankets of snow and animals go into hibernation. Everything slows down.
If we think of life as a progression of seasons—from the innocence of spring (birth to age 19) to the sensuality of summer (20-39) to the energy of fall (40-59)—what does winter represent? By the time we enter our advanced years (60 and beyond), the challenge is to continue cultivating curiosity and vitality even as our pace changes. That part of the cycle is just as crucial, albeit more inwardly focused. It's an important moment to pare back what is not essential and to embrace simplicity. To seek peace and breathe fear away. Though with any luck we may be blessed with another 30 years, we will be inhabiting a different time, a different body, a different self.
It was around this time of year that my father died, 26 years ago. At 64, he had just barely entered the winter of his life. In April of 2003, my husband drew his last breath at the age of 41, the bloom of summer still upon him. I think that's partly why an early death feels so wrong—we expect to live through a full cycle, accumulating the wisdom of each season as we go. But as we evolve, and our consciousness expands, we can already begin to internalize from nature some of these lessons. We witness the vulnerability and vigor of youth in the spring; the full-blown beauty and abundance of summer; the energy and bittersweet decline of fall; and the austerity and profound silence of winter. What are these seasons, if not a metaphor for our own lives?
Oh, there are signs of spring. The red-winged blackbirds arrived right on schedule and the doves have begun their courting rituals. Soon the sun will emerge and the creeks will swell with melted snow. My ear is cocked for that crazy racket the frogs make when they're going at it in every available pond and puddle.
But it's looking more and more as though earth is approaching its own winter, the final one that will never give way to another spring. I'm talking about climate change. Sweeping, irreversible shifts that are transforming our planet. Watch the first episode of Vice this season on HBO (I highly recommend both previous seasons as well) and see the dramatic pace at which the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting. Where once a 1-meter rise in sea level was predicted—and deemed "catastrophic"—it's now looking more like a 3-meter rise by the end of the century. I don't know the word for catastrophe times three. And still our country continues to debate whether this is even an issue. It is a paradox that the inevitable can take us by surprise.
300 million people will be affected by these rising seas. Saltwater will drive them from their homes, their lands, their countries. It's already hit Bangladesh but perhaps it will have to reach Malibu before the First World finally wakes up. We're looking at a global devastation so immense that we can scarcely even comprehend the scope. I will most likely be dead before the worst of it is upon us. Until then, I will try to maintain the optimism of spring, the fire of summer, the preparedness of fall and the deep calm of winter.