Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Where’s winter?

I’ve been thinking a lot about photosynthesis lately. Well, not really. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about sunshine lately, but I heard someone on the radio mention photosynthesis in conjunction with this lovely spring weather, and I thought, what the heck. It’s a phrase we all learn in elementary school, use it a couple of times a year until we graduate and then how often can you use it in conversation? Unless your career goal is botany or science teacher you probably never use it again, and seldom think of it even though it is the backbone of energy and necessary to all life (kind of like breathing … who ever thinks of that?) but it was a good way to get your attention!

Hasn’t this been one strange weather year, starting about Halloween? We should have been forewarned when the kids didn’t have to wear snow boots and gloves to trick-or-treat but I don’t think anyone could have foretold the really bizarre weather this winter. We have had more consistent snow since Easter than we had all winter, and if anyone was measuring, probably more inches, too, although at least it was gone before noon on most days.

I think our calendar has slipped a few weeks. How exact can a document be that depends on adding a day every four years, unless that year is divisible by 100 except when it is also divisible by 400? Come On! Pope Gregory XIII did a calendar adjustment in the 1500s that adjusted the length of the year by about 20 minutes, then in the 1700s Britain adjusted its calendar to match the rest of Europe. People there went to bed on Wednesday, September 2 and got up on Thursday, September 14 resulting in a calendar year that was 11 days short. It took awhile but eventually the U.S. followed suit and decided to start the year on January 1 instead of March 25.

Is it any wonder it doesn’t snow in December or the salmon aren’t arriving on the day the calendar says they should be here? As one friend stated, “The salmon are on time; the calendar is off a bit.”

Everyone who has lived in Alaska very long has heard the story of our tropical beginnings and how we got the oil. Sometime in the far distant past Alaska was balmy and warm. Why or how it changed is up for speculation, but change it did over the millennia and Alaska became a deep freeze. Some people speculate that the Earth shifted on its axis, thus changing the perspective of the tilt toward the sun and changed the climate all over.

I’m not sure if I follow that line of thought, but recently, the Inuit Elders from Greenland, Canada and Alaska wrote to NASA telling them the skies have changed and they can no longer predict the weather as they used to do. Apparently in the past they have been expert and accurate forecasters. Their environment has changed: ice melting, polar bears congregating, winds rearranging snow berms; and they suggest the change is due to Earth’s shifting slightly because the moon doesn’t rise in the same place as in the old days.

Scientists have also recorded a slight shift they attribute to earthquake activity. The shift realigned the Earth in relation moon and stars and the Inuit can no longer rely on their ancient knowledge to help them foretell the whales returning, the ice receding, and other things they depend on from year to year to live in the (very) far north.

Currently the Gwi’chin, an Athabascan group in the Alaskan Interior, are concerned about how climate change is affecting the caribou herds and salmon runs, changing their way of life. And there is probably no doubt that is happening, but an anthropologic study tells us that Athabascans exist all along the way to the tip of South America. Our Gwi’chin are simply the last of the immigrants across the Bering Sea bridge as earlier groups moved on for various reasons, not the least of which might have been climate change that moved their traditional food source south.

Whatever the cause, it has been one strange winter. I’m not an advocate of global warming, but I certainly do believe in climate change. I think it is a normal cycle in Earth’s existence and has nothing to do with man being on Earth. Whether we can temporarily do anything about it is up for argument, but, in the big picture I rather doubt it. Man has created his own problems with climate change, by turning deserts into orchards, then being surprised when Mother Nature decides to turn the land back to desert, or changing the channel of a river, then not understanding when it decides to go back to its natural flow.

I think man forgets sometimes that his mandate was to tend the Earth, not subdue it.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at vewalters@gci.net.

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