Hurricane Irene may have lost its strength as a hurricane before reaching NYC, its winds damaging little in the shuttered city, but the storm dumped copious amounts of rain across New England, which caused already swollen rivers in Vermont and New Hampshire to overflow their banks and wash angrily through town streets, flooding basements and carrying away anything that would float and much that would not. Although Irene’s winds did tear at trees and cast limbs to the ground, the breath of the storm was not as fearsome as were the torrents of rain released. Falling to already saturated ground, the rain caused as many damaging floods as did the storm surge that pushed ashore as winds propelled the rain inland. The power of water.
These are all simple facts, not very enlightening or earth-shattering, but in these days of climate change perhaps more important than they seem. As I walked along the shore, watching the seagulls tumble and dive, I wondered about the increased vulnerability not only of coastal regions to inundation but also of inland regions, such as Vermont and New Hampshire, because of rising sea waters due to melting arctic ice, which has been disappearing at unprecedented rates this summer and is now nearing record lows. That the melted ice is causing sea-level rise is a given, and that the sea-level rise affects the capacity of storm surges to flood coastal regions is obvious. I'm not a scientist but it seems to me that the increased moisture in the atmosphere can lead to greater snowfall and thus greater saturation of inland ground and the swelling of rivers as the snow melts. Certainly that was the case last winter. So perhaps it not so surprising that in this time of climate change a storm such as Irene would cause rivers to overflow their banks, and I wonder if such storms, such flooding, will become more frequent in the near and far future if we do not work assiduously to slow the melting of the ice. Human activity is causing that unprecedented loss of ice, and human beings can stop it, if they would change their habits.
What if we were all to use only of the earth what is absolutely necessary for life? What if we could learn to live more simply? I wonder if now, in these days of late capitalism at a time when many pundits still believe that our faltering economy can only be repaired by more consumption of manufactured goods – spend money to make money, buy, buy, buy – if the necessary changes will happen. I wonder if the many will ever ‘buy’ the notion of living simply, enjoying quiet pleasures rather than seeking exotic entertainments.
I watched as a white heron waded near shore, walking close to children splashing in the shallow waters. Neither bird nor children paid much mind to the other. The heron went about his business of looking for food; the children were enchanted by the peace of the day, enjoying the water and the sun. These are simple joys but satisfying. I enjoy the gentle winds and the laughter of the children, and when the heron takes to the sky, I catch my breath as wings expand to sails.