The End of November

November 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

The New York Times
and other popular media are suddenly all over climate change. Sandy, of course, the talks in Doha, a delayed reaction to the huge ice melt in the arctic this summer, and a number of reports that have come out this week—the World Bank’s among them—that suggest that things are either worse than you thought, or as bad as you thought, depending. It’s a confluence of newsworthy moments, which will pass.

I had a reader respond angrily to one of my posts about climate change. There are many possibilities as to why she took it personally, but mulling it over took me, perhaps, far from the cause of her distress, but more generally applicable: this is what happens with an issue so uncertain and nightmarish. You may have believed “the facts” for years, but when you suddenly feel, on a gut level, that these what-if scenarios are real, terribly dangerous, very likely to happen—the fear and grief are overwhelming.

Some people lash out in situations like that. I tend to lash in. I start thinking about all the lost things; I feel inadequate to the urgent needs of the world; I want to hide in dreams or books or drinks or, most pressingly, the rhythm of a November walk. The luminous grey sky, the bare arms of the trees, the cold against my ears, the dirty-laundry swish of fallen leaves—this walk so like all the walks I’ve ever taken in November.

Both the lashing out and lashing in are effects of this knowledge we haven’t factored in yet fully: current climate change deniers are only the beginning. When ordinary, well-meaning people start truly imagining their children’s lives not in terms of success and grandchildren, but survival and chaos, the result will be a ferocious anger and where will it be directed?

Groups like think it’s important to identify villains—energy companies—and at first I thought that was simplistic, since we’re all complicit, but on the political level it’s astute. Blaming oneself for huge failures feels really shitty. Recognition is helpful; anger is not. But anger is a good way to bind social groups, and since so much of it will be floating around a few years from now, it’s wise to dig & fortify the channels for it now.

I’ve begun to notice the different ways people resist me when I talk about climate change catastrophe. Their words and body language evoke images: the woman who creates a moat around herself with doggie-paddle strokes; the one with an impermeable force field my words bounce off of; many who switch channels automatically to the concrete, the here-and-now of weather or action. My favorite is the people who say, “I don’t allow negativity in my life.” Yeah. That works.

My ‘lashing in’ doesn’t last. In the aggregate, my reading makes me feel less self-involved. I appreciate the rain, the trees still standing, old New York brownstones and iconic modern buildings in their landscapes of sky. I want to pay more attention to the children in my family.

November for Beginners

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

Rita Dove


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