Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 16, 2012

THE NATURALIZED MID-AMERICAN: Climate change is not a fairy tale — we’re losing winter


— Last weekend we went to see the classic Christmas fairy tale “The Nutcracker” at the Morris Civic Theater. The whole experience is kind of like a fairy tale. Everyone is dressed up, some to the nines. The near-opulence and decorative architecture of the Morris Civic building feel almost magical when you sit down at the top of the balcony, and see it all spread below.

The lights go out, the room is quiet, the music begins, the curtains open, and then you’re in another time and world. There are magicians, monsters, fairies and princes. It was as much fun to watch my kids’ faces as it was to watch the ballet.

Magic and beauty and adventure are the fun parts of a fairy tale. But they’re only good if there is an opposite of those, as well. That’s kind of what driving home after the show is like. It’s getting dark already. Cold rain is falling. The country stretches of forest and farm along U.S. 20 are gray and black and bleak. The oppression of winter is in the air, lurking just on the other side of the holiday season, waiting for its turn to swallow us up. We hold it at bay for a little bit, with our candles and decorated trees, family gatherings and a few days off from work. But then the winter closes in.

This is depressing to me. Winter didn’t used to feel this way.

I suppose part of it has to do with getting older, and not having anyone to bundle me up and send me out with mittens and friends.

Year by year, I recognize that it also, by in large, has to do with the fact that winter is not what it once was. It’s not cold enough, it’s not snowy. Yeah, there are difficulties that come with snow and cold, but I would still prefer those to mud and mud, and more mud. Call me a Grinch. Call me a Scrooge. Call me naïve. What I find depressing about winter is that we’re losing it. I think we’re wrong not to mourn this loss, even if it is too late to do anything about it.

In a fairy tale there would be an old crone, or a wretched frog, or a bright bird that would give a heroic task. The deep sleeping winter giant of the far north would have to be wakened. On the way to find the winter giant, great perils would be overcome. In the end, the giant would be revived, delivered from some sinister enchantment, winter would come again with banks of snow and deep cold, allowing plants and animals and people to rest and reset themselves properly before the coming summer. Balance would be restored.

But there is no golden task to complete. It’s too late to bring real winters back to the Midwest.

My kids may tell their kids, “When we were little we actually went sledding on snow,” just like I tell them about ice skating on a frozen pond.

It’s really sad to me. We are losing more than just snow and ice and hot chocolate; we’re losing more than we can appreciate. This feels like the part of the fairy tale where despair sets in and you accept that nothing will be the way it should be.

It’s hard to know how the climate change story will end. It’s hard to see any good way for this downer of a column to end, as well. That’s part of the point of fairy tales, however, and of the whole Advent season. How can this possibly end well?  

Something beyond us is required. Something which is at once normal and unexpected. A faint flaring in the conscience. A small fire deep in the woods. A strange star moving across the night sky. And yet, something is required of us, also. The outcome of the story depends on our ability to recognize and respond to the light when it appears.

The old rhyme says:

Little light,

Little light,

Deep within the blackest night,

Steady, waiting for my sight,

Little light,

Little light.