Thursday, February 02, 2017

Whither Winter?

The Scotia Gamelands of central Pennsylvania after our first winter snowfall during the last week of January.

I love winter. This is probably because of my Wisconsin roots. I grew up in rural southern Wisconsin, just north of the lovely capitol city of Madison. In marked contrast to my life in Pennsylvania, the land back home was largely flat. The roads were wide, straight and true. Every intersection was perfectly perpendicular, unlike the narrow, meandering countryside roads that traverse the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania and then meet in all sorts of odd intersections.

With all of this flat open space, when it snowed in Wisconsin it also drifted in the unrelenting winds that howled in all the way from the Dakotas. The plow trucks were equipped with giant blades, and after exceptional snowfalls it wasn't unusual to see the plowed roadside banks rise up to better than half the height of the telephone wires running alongside the roads. Driving down the roads then became a weird exercise in shooting down a narrow tube-like corridor.

I love winter. And with 2016 marking the third straight year of record global warmth and early 2017 marking a continuation of this phenomenon, I'm concerned about the future fate of this season. Here in Pennsylvania, we finally got our first snowfall of a few inches last week. We got a little more this week, but then it was followed by rain (boo, hiss). We've had light, nuisance dustings of snow since late December, but this was the first reasonable amount that I could go out and work with for my painting. I'm sorely disappointed, although I know that snow alone does not signify or refute man-made climate change.

Detail from Scotia: A green fern peeks out from under a fresh snowfall.

Nonetheless, as an artist, I pay attention to the details of the world around me. I see that for the past two months of January (this year and 2016), the robins have already migrated back to my garden. I also see when the plants in my garden get an early start in the unusual warmth, lengthening my growing season but making pest management much more difficult, too.

As an artist, I also like to learn. I like to maintain a curiosity for the events transpiring around me. For this reason, a couple of weeks ago I attended the first of a series of free talks sponsored by the Penn State University Eberly College of Science. The 2017 theme is "The Quest for One Healthy Planet," and the kick-off speaker was renowned climate scientist, Michael Mann.

During his presentation, Dr. Mann illustrated how man-made influence is re-shaping the climate and our world. Did you know that absent man-made carbon contributions, we would actually be in a global cooling trend?

Based on what I've read, including the excellent but altogether horrifying "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert, I believe that man-made climate change is occurring right now, right here. I realize that some of you reading this may take offense or vehemently disagree with this, but based on things I've seen, research done by people a heckuvalot smarter then me, and my own reading, this is my conviction. In my future posts, I'll touch more on this topic. But for right now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a little more winter before we get into another sultry summer. After all, winter makes for beautiful paintings.