Thursday, September 14, 2006

A change in the weather

The hot weather returned for one last fling, and we reached 97 on Tuesday. But it was a brief fling, dropping to the 70s by late afternoon. And today the fog hung around till noon; the temperature barely broke 70 all day.

Yes, the weather is changing. Last week I gathered a record crop of tomatoes and cucumbers; today, the first bean crop. Tomorrow, the winter squash. I expect the tomatoes will taper off from here on out as the nights grow cooler.

The creek is barely a trickle in this, California's dryest season. Six deer--two does and 4 fawns--huddle in my back yard, their ribs showing, denied the bounty of my newly fenced, irrigated garden where the tomatoes still flourish. The deer are right up against the fence, and I go outside to make sure they are not getting in. Unlike predators, which limit their population growth when prey is scarce, deer go on multiplying until actual starvation takes its toll.

When I came here 30 years ago, there were no deer within the city limits, and no need to fence the garden. Now the deer are part of the scene, trotting down city streets at dusk to feed on freshly watered suburban landscaping. Did you know that deer were once an endangered species? The predators are also returning--there have been mountain lion sightings near the edge of town and the occasional blood-curdling cry of coyotes.

So not just the weather is changing. There is a years-long cycle of change in the animal landscape, the creatures reclaiming the land that they lost over the past 200 years. We see more possums, more raccoons, skunks, foxes and badgers. Interlopers have also claimed territory: flocks of marauding turkeys and raucous crows add to the din of leafblowers on early mornings. The turkeys represent the conquest of a continent by an east coast native that was nearly wiped out by the 20th century.

Now we learn that the weather is in a longer cycle of change--one that will be irreversible in our lifetime and perhaps in the span of mankind's lifetime. And the latest news is that it's happening faster than we ever thought possible. The beloved landscape of northern California--redwoods, firs and oaks--will give way to some new ecosystem--whether tropical or desert, we don't yet know. Probably the centuries-old redwoods will last our lifetimes and maybe our children's, but the oaks are already dying. Disease has decimated groves here already stressed by a falling water table and increasing air pollution.

(Ironically, air pollution is one of the few things that counter global warming, the particulate matter deflecting sunlight even as it shortens the lives of those vulnerable to lung disease.)

Against this impending catastrophe, we blithely live our lives, driving wherever we please and in whatever vehicle we choose, buying vegetables shipped from Chile and plastic junk from China. We imagine life going on as always for our children. We are a short-attention-span nation; we will not pay heed until it's too late; then we will wish we had bought land in the Northwest Territories or Siberia. Perhaps in a couple of thousand years the redwoods will thrive again on the coast of Alaska. We will not be there to see it.


Post a Comment

<< Home