Friday, November 11, 2011

The edge of winter

Back in Massachusetts for a spell, after another week of wrong-season weather in Maine. It wasn't quite warm to sit outside, but for a couple of those days it felt mild and bright enough to be the edge of summer rather than the edge of winter. It was as if the Halloween weekend blizzard in New England was the shortest winter on record. Perfect weather for hiking, of course, including an especially invigorating walk up Bald Rock with friends on Saturday.

"Invigorating" is the word people usually hide behind to disguise their fear of winter. Also, "loving the change of seasons," "fresh and healthful," "pure." All of those words are true; we've evolved to be conscious of the power of abstractions, self-delusion and even beauty. We've also evolved towards helplessness. Most higher animals deal pretty well with winter - migrating, hibernating, storing up food, making weather-proof burrows and nests. Modern humans have progressed even farther; no more stocking the root cellar, drying the deer meat, banking the foundations, communing with the family in the candle-lit darkness of the evening, now we're able to maintain our lives at the same level of comfort no matter what the weather. (Some think to escape to Florida but that's just trading in the tyrannies of oil heat and blizzards for A/C and hurricanes.) But when a big storm threatens, we find we have not progressed at all. We are totally dependent on people we don't know, on systems of delivering food and electricity and heat that are foreign and unfeeling. We last a day or two and then beg help from an anonymous utility, or government. We depend entirely on switches and ignitions, and if they don't work, we don't work. How humiliating for an apex predator.

What ultimately saves our bacon is the other human trait that's evolved so well - our social safety net. To see that under attack, devolving and shamefully underfunded, now that's real fear.

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