I just knew it was going to happen. I looked out at the small Japanese cherry tree we have growing in our backyard, and I said to my husband, “If this warm weather keeps up much longer that cherry tree is going to bloom.”And sure enough, I looked out at the tree today, and it has at least twenty blooms on its spindly branches. If I look out across the backyards of my neighbors, every cherry tree in every backyard is in bloom, some fully so. The trees, it seems, are as confused as we are about the weather. We dress in short sleeve shirts instead of woolly, warm sweaters, and the trees deck themselves out with blossoms, instead of taking their usual winter nap, and waiting for spring to call forth their awakening with blossoms and leaves.
As happenstance would have it, I have just finished reading Flight Behavior by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. Her prose is a delight to read. I savor the words like sweet candy on my tongue, as I read such phrases as, “She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace.”
And so begins the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, who, at the novel’s, beginning, is engaging in her own flight behavior, trying to run away from a life she fell into by circumstance. At the same time, she discovers a host of monarch butterflies nesting in the trees on her family’s land, butterflies that are also confused in their flight behavior, choosing the mountains of Tennessee instead of the warmer climes of Mexico to weather out the winter months.
And just as the butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis when it has matured and is ready to take flight, so does Dellarobia as she faces the growth and changes this visit from the butterflies brings to her life. The two story lines are woven together in a larger tapestry encompassing faith, climate change, relationships, responsibility, love, life, birth and death, and all is examined with both honesty and humor by Ms. Kingsolver.
Dellarobia, her young, precocious son, Preston, her disapproving mother-in-law, and her faithful but distant husband, as well as the scientist who comes to study the butterflies, all emerge from their winter, their life chrysalis as spring arrives, changed and armed with new insights and knowledge which force them to face matters long ignored and deeply buried.
And in this small microcosm Ms. Kingsolver has created, we see ourselves. Climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it is a reality we will have to deal with. We will have to change our attitudes for whether or not we are the cause of the changes, it is obvious something is happening and as stewards of our world, it is up to us to figure it out. Hurricanes and tornadoes are stronger and more frequent, temperatures more mild in the south well into December, droughts plague many areas on Earth, other places experience floods. Firestorms rage , heavy snow falls, ice caps melt. There is no doubt the climate has become destabilized. What this means to our survival as well as the other species inhabiting the planet with us, and on whom we depend for building materials, drugs, food, etc.must be determined and steps taken to turn things around before it is too late.
On our visit to Alaska this year, the naturalists at the Mendenhall Glacier explained how the glacier was receding faster than expected. On our whale watch they talked of ecosystems and how the very large depend on the very small for survival. And the very small are speaking out, their story one of over-use, or over-development. Why are the tree frogs disappearing.? and the bees? Where have the masses of krill, which feed the mighty whales gone? Why is the cherry tree blooming in December? And what will the polar bears do when the last of the ice shelves melt? What will we do?
We can choose to be believers in a prosperous future, as Ms. Kingsolver writes in her collection of essays, Small Wonder:
…we are much to clever an animal, it seems, to kill ourselves now. This is the lot I was cast, to sit here on this jagged point between two centuries when so much of everything hangs in the balance. I get to choose whether to hang it up or hang on, and I hang on because I was born to do it, like everyone else. I insist that I can do something right, if I try. I insist that you can, too, that in fact you already are, and there’s a whole lot more where this came from…
….What I can find is this, and so it has to be: conquering my own despair by doing what little I can. Stealing thunder, tucking it in my pocket for the long drought. Dreaming in the color green, tasting the end of anger…..Maybe it doesn’t cost anything to hope, and those of us who do will be able to live better, more honest lives as believers than we would as cynics…Maybe life doesn’t get much better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow…
Blossoms and butterflies. Small Wonders.