The Never-ending Summer
by Denny Olson
The prospect of a coming summer has been very seductive, especially this year, with snow, rain and seasonal affective disorder every other day it seems. Like all good denizens of the northern forests, I’ve learned not to trust either the “when” or the “if” of its arrival, duration and departure. It simply isn’t reliable, by my understated Scandinavian mindset. When the rains slow in late June, and the reports on plowing the Going to the Sun Road come almost hourly, hope springs. And then, I spot an already yellowing leaf there and there, and my suspicions are confirmed – you can’t trust anything to stay around these days.
Among my friends, this year there has been a bit more whining than usual about the 105th day of January – also called mid-April. Despite the obvious humor in any situation where humans stand in front of the proverbial freight train – in this case the inexorable change of seasons — there is a serious side to this uniquely human issue of “control”. Our resistance to the reality of that fleeting time when we can eat our cereal on the back porch, just like in the TV commercials, appears to be a general human trait – but is probably more a product of Western civilization. Our stubborn attempts to imagine and create the never-ending summer have led to exponential growth in the Sunbelt states, heating and air conditioning (and their partners ozone depletion, unrealistic energy consumption, acid rain, and climate change), and an increasingly intolerant view toward our reciprocal relationship with nature. Our techno-Caucasian attitudes want to freeze-frame (and wrap in plastic containers) the things that make our lives most convenient, usually at terrible long-term cost.
The “endless summer” has likely shifted our perceptions away from the cyclic nature of all things, not just the seasons. When things are figuratively arranged in neat rows, it is easy to put cold at one end and hot at the other – or pro-con, black-white, smart-dumb, right-wrong … these dualities belie what we know about everything from the short insect-egg-insect-egg loop to the expansion and contraction of the universe every trillion years or so.
Our brains (and our computers) work in feedback loops. Linear math hides the logic of synergy, where the sum of two parts (one plus one) equals more than we would expect, as in a good primary partnership or creative working relationship. And then, there is also the concept of unity, where one cedar, plus one insectivorous sundew, plus one mosquito, are well on their way to being a single bog.
Of course, we are the superior species, with language, self-awareness, and wondrous technological feats. Well, we are, until nature steps into the picture. Simple observation (by being there) lets us watch the “reptilian” brain of a snake sense prey through vibration senses in its belly or heat receptors in its face. We watch soundless owls calculate trigonomic angles with sound waves – sonic depth perception — to precisely estimate distance to a hidden mouse. Or, we watch a satellite tracker on a Blackpoll Warbler, weighing half an ounce, as it launches out over the Atlantic Ocean from Newfoundland, over Bermuda, and alights 2000 miles later in the rainforests of Venezuela. Nature is a series of constant lessons in humility for we superior ones.
And then there is the concept of relationship. As John Miur said, “everything is connected to everything else”, but further (when you think about what you just ate, or what happens when we die), everything is made of everything else. Relationships have lost their importance in our world-view, especially those we have with the rest of life on this Planet. Relationships are difficult to buy and sell, so we have devalued them. Systems, extremely complex sets of relationships, are the driving forces of our world. Individuals, even rugged ones, are far behind in relative importance. If we insist on operating as individuals, clinging to illusions of “control”, and “superiority” – we do so at our peril. This is denial of simple reality, and the foundation of nearly all environmental issues.
Every indigenous culture has a “trickster” (Raven, Coyote, 3-fingered Rock Dwarves, Leprechauns), a capricious distributor of paradox and chaos, to wreak havoc on our illusions of control. Regarding nature, systems, relationships, and even individuals, we were never in control. We should probably get comfortable with that idea.
The “never-ending summer” is our metaphor, our story, about the illusion of control. We owe it to ourselves to relax, enjoy the sunshine when it finally comes, and humbly appreciate that autumn is right behind. Summer does go away, perhaps in a disappointingly short time, but we can adapt and enjoy the changes, and rest assured that it comes back again in another form in the next cycle.