Several people have asked in the last week what changes I have seen in my course of the planet over the past century. I remark on this as I sit on the banks of the Red River in the waning April days of winter in an unusually prolonged cold season.
They inform me that the climatologists think in terms of thirty year periods in describing climate change. I can lay claim to witnessing three such periods, from the 30’s to the 60’s, from the 60’s to the 90’s, and from the 90’s to the present.
In the first period I thought that I would live forever. I marked the tenure of the human on the planet as eternal.
At the end of that period someone invented the term “global warming.” I hadn’t noticed it, but I accepted the wisdom of far wiser heads that my own that it was true. We all sat down and read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
During the second period someone invented the term “climate change.” They invented television to go with it, and they showed us videos of calving glaciers. I had visited glaciers myself, and had not seen them calving, but I believed that reporters were honest, and that the conclusions of wiser heads were well considered. We all sat down to watch Al Gore’s presentations.
During the third period I have become convinced of my own mortality. I have market the tenure of the human upon the planet at a million years —not much, I admit, considering the tenure of the dinosaurs. However, they were not saddled with greed. I expect we will wipe ourselves off the planet, and the earth will reclaim and replenish herself.
In all of this, what changes have I seen in my tenure here. I have noticed and been saddened by some losses.
For half a century we lived as a family under canvas one month out of each year, on the shores of Leech Lake. For over a decade I enjoyed the melodies of the redstart on those shores. Then they disappeared never to return.
I remember elms on those beaches, then they disappeared, never to be reseeded.
I remember the red-headed woodpecker in central Minnesota. They disappeared, and I have not seen them since.
I used to thrill to the song of the meadowlark on the prairies. They have completely disappeared for me, and I miss them.
In sitting in nature and letting her speak to me, I have seen changes constantly. She is far, far older than I, and she has taught me that the one constant I can depend upon is change. And so she goes on year after year, decade after decade, thrilling me with her change. I shall not outlive the dire consequences of our tenure upon the earth, but I only pray that people of goodwill will cause the consequences to plateau, that we may enjoy this garden to the end of our time.