Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Winter Blues

There is nothing scarier, for me, than seeing a man who tends to stay up into early hours of the morning holed up in bed, huddling under the quilts shivering, at 9pm.

But that was because MH was reacting to this intense period of sub-normal cold that has been afflicting New Jersey and the rest of the eastern half of the country.

(photo by Margo D. Beller)
When you hear of people dying in Tennessee from hypothermia or getting into accidents because they are driving fast on ice-covered roads, you know something is not normal.

When it is warmer in Anchorage, Alaska, than it is in Morris County, New Jersey, something is not normal.

When the New York Times devotes space to an article in its science section on what to call people who do not believe we have climate change or global warming or whatever it's hip to call it at the moment, something is not normal.

We know about the winter blues, that depressed feeling you get because it seems to be so dark for so much of the day. SAD is the acroynm, and it is appropriate. But this is beyond SAD.

Here we are at the end of February, two months on from the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter. There is more light during the day, starting earlier in the morning. Cardinals, titmice and other birds are singing, calling or drumming out territorial warnings based on the length of daylight, not the temperature.

(photo by Margo D. Beller)

We humans also sense that maybe spring is just around the corner. But for the last month, it has rarely been above freezing and my area is still blanketed by the snow from several storms that fell earlier in February. I can't keep up with the birds (and squirrels) hitting the feeders for food. I have to bundle up and put on my boots to refill feeders on the coldest mornings, and handling metal feeders is no fun even with gloves on.

It is hard just to take a walk - how warm should I dress? Should I wear boots or can I get away with shoes? Is the neighbors' sidewalks shoveled out? What is the windchill? I am sure got a lot of traffic over the past month.

Back to MH. Today he told me he just couldn't handle the cold - not the fact we keep thermostat at 66 degrees or so to save money but the cold in general. He said he felt the need to go upstairs, lie down and pull up the covers.

In effect, he went into temporary hibernation, just like the bears, chipmunks and many other woodland creatures.
We humans still have that instinct, to sleep through those times of intense cold and long darkness. We tend to eat more and exercise less and eat more "warm" meals with starches than "cold" meals of leafy salad greens. We eat too much, get lethargic and, at least in my case, sit in a chair near the heat register and let the sun shine through my windows to warm me.

So while MH's behavior was unusual for him, it actually makes some form of sense.

(photo by Margo D. Beller)
So does the reason for the sub-normal cold afflicting us this year as it did last year. Last year we learned about the "polar vortex" and how the air that normally flows over the north pole got bent out of shape, if you will, because of shifting wind patterns.

Now we are learning about melting polar seas and how that warming - that global warming - has pushed down the jet stream over the eastern half of this country while the western half has gotten next to no snow and is warmer than usual, which means another summer of drought. Cold comfort to my friends in New England buried under feet of snow right now.

Global warming, climate change - call it what you will, it is there and it is real. It is creating extreme weather. It is putting ice in the deep south and creating hurricane-force winds in deep winter. It created several feet of snow in one Buffalo snowstorm this winter and has created dangerous windchills over New Jersey four times in the last two weeks.

This is not something we can get under the covers to avoid. But I fear it may already be too late to repair the damage.

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