Changing Along With Climate Change
When I sat down to write this post, I found myself getting sidetracked more and more readily, always a sign of reluctance to come to grips with something. There are so many things that are hard to think and talk about, and some days it seems like pretty much everything is connected, and not in a heart warming way. Long ago, John Muir wrote that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” For many years, my self soothing pre-sleep practice has been to meditate lovingly on forests and bogs, mountains and plains, rivers and streams, beaches and shorelines, all kinds of plants and all kinds of critters, from bees and birds to elephants and whales. These days every such thought leads me to tears, because every natural environment, every waterway, every population is affected by a deadly, interlaced chain of human mistakes and greedy misbehavior. I find it heartbreaking yet I don’t want to lapse into cynicism or despair. The world does not need more cynics or depressed people but Gaia Mom can sure use more friends willing to change our ways to reduce the burdens we heap on her.
Change feels important as well as inevitable. So much has changed, ecologically and socially, in just a few years. So much more change has been building for decades and even centuries, right in our own backyards. When I first arrived in Washington State, nearly 50 years ago, I fell in love with the climate. West of the Cascades, temperatures were mild all year round. Back in the 70’s, even the snowiest Seattle winters were easy on New Englanders like me, since ice and snow typically melted off within a few days. The mild, moist winters were ideal for growing winter greens and planting and transplanting ornamental trees and shrubs. Up to 100 inches of rain and abundant snowpack in the Cascades (long among the snowiest places on the planet) filled rivers and streams and ensured ample summer water for our abundant lowland gardens. That was then. This year, during June’s “heat dome” event, a little town a few hundred miles away in Western Canada was the hottest place on earth. Western Washington was hotter than the Sahara Desert.
Changing To Simplicity
East of the Cascades, temperatures are growing even hotter in summer and colder in winter. Summer drought is increasing, and winter storms are growing stronger. South of us, Oregon and Northern California reflect a similar climate split along mountainous backbones, and their coastal climates offer a glimpse of what the Maritime Northwest may be like, not in decades, but in just a few years. All of us living along the West Coast are faced with the same general situation, and all of us need to change our ways. We know what needs to be done but it’s hard to change old habits of doing exactly as we please without a thought of the effects. We love to travel, we love to enjoy marvelous imported food and wines, we love to shop online, then toss out our excess stuff, from clothing and housewares to furniture. We love to crank up the heat or the air conditioning so we can wear whatever we choose, water huge lawns, drive huge cars and trucks (usually almost empty).
I’m often reminded of my grandfather’s stories about growing up in Northern Montana on the family dairy farm, walking to the one-room schoolhouse, growing most of the family’s food each year. Even when family farms were common, food security was dependent on the weather, but the family with a few cows and lots of chickens could usually get by and share with neighbors even in the lean years. Then, destructive plowing destroyed America’s Great Plains, washing topsoil into the sea, soon followed by excess artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides that now pollute every major waterway in North America. I doubt that many people would be willing to return to the farm, even if they had the skills, which very few of us do anymore. However, we can all take a clear look at our buying behavior, painful as it may seem.
Can We Retrench?
In Persuasion, my favorite of Jane Austen’s books, the foolish, spendthrift head of the family finds the idea of retrenching their unsustainable lifestyle to be outrageous and beneath his dignity. These days, dignity doesn’t seem to trouble our society much but the idea of giving up anything pleasurable definitely gets a lot of people defensive and upset, if not angry. I suspect that entitlement is a disorder, like addiction and hoarding, that’s socially contagious, but supposedly happiness is too; maybe by being as peaceful and happy as we can manage to be, we can sow seeds of a less contentious culture? I gotta say that folding my socks doesn’t make me joyful (sorry, Ms. Kondo), but living more and more simply actually does leave me feeling lighter and less stressed out. Perhaps by reducing the amount of waste we produce, whether food or clothing or excess stuff, we can influence others to similarly lighten their own load?
As someone who is perfectly happy to stay home most of the time, I may not truly grasp the need many folks feel to roam around the country or the world. Having traveled a lot for work, I personally think the entertainment value of travel is overrated. With a world wide pandemic still roaring away, frivolous travel feels irresponsible and dangerous to others. Like I said, I don’t really get it. I’m trying not to be judgmental, as that feels corrosive to my spirit as well as other people’s. Instead, I’m working on paying more attention to my family and friends and less attention to the news, actively listening to everyone I meet up with, and being present instead of distracted. Good goals, right? How about you? What’s helpful for you in these troubled and sometimes terrifying times?
Peachy Peace Muffins
Noticing that Granny was in a bit of a mood today (she’s a very astute five year old), my granddaughter decided we needed to bake something to cheer us up. We enjoyed a perfectly ripe peach from a neighbor’s tree at lunch, and decided to use another one to make something yummy. The resulting delicious twist on my usual muffin recipe has added oatmeal for body, two eggs for protein and extra richness, and yogurt and milk for an especially tender crumb. When we tasted them, warm from the oven, I told my girl that I felt more peaceful after cooking together and she said “Then they must be Peachy Peace Muffins!” and so they are.
Peachy Oatmeal Muffins
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon and/or cardamom
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted or very soft
2/3 cup yogurt
1/2 cup rolled oats or raw oatmeal
1 cup milk
1 chopped ripe peach (about 1 cup)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with muffin cups. Sift together dry ingredients (flour through sugar), set aside. Mix together the butter, yogurt, eggs and oatmeal, then blend in dry ingredients, thinning with milk (start with 1/2 cup) to make a fairly thick batter. Stir in peaches and spoon into muffin cups. Reduce heat and bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes or until tops are firm and sides lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before eating or it may be hard to peel off the muffins cups. Makes 12 standard muffins.
Peace be with you!