While the unseasonably warm weather has been mostly enjoyable, it is also worrisome. And I gather, from what I've been reading in the brain science literature, that I am unlikely to be the only one who is "going there" in these unusual circumstances--our brains being wired, as they are, to respond anxiously and to look for the dark side.
So what am I worried about?
Well, of course, there's the whole global warming thing. As I shed my accustomed layers, I can't help but think of Al Gore's friend, the boiling frog. Having taking my share of science classes, I get that we shouldn't freak out about a strong trend that may prove to be insignificant in the long run. But still . . .
And then there is my immediate concern with the flora in my region, my neighborhood, and my yard. On NPR's All Things Considered last week, in a segment entitled "What's the Impact of Early Blooms?," Melissa Block interviewed Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the USA National Phenology Network. Phenology, Block informed her listeners, is the the study of the effect of climate on the life cycles of plants and animals. Phenologist Weltzin told us that
We are seeing strong trends almost wherever we look. In the last decade, we're actually now starting to be able to say OK, well, we see patterns of plants and animals coming earlier. And we have better and better climatological records, temperature records, and we can start to link those together. And there's a paper coming out it seems every week now that's saying OK, here's a trend in bees coming out 10 days earlier over the last 130 years, and we can attribute that to warming temperatures.
When Ms. Block asked "If a plant or tree does bloom or leaf out early, does that affect its seasonal cycle for the rest of the year?," Dr. Weltzin answered, it seems to me ominously, that
We don't really know for a lot of plants. And we're just starting to get that information organized. Some plants do, indeed, have a deterministic life cycle, which means that if they come up early they will shut down early. Others are indeterministic and they'll grow and grow and grow all season long.He was clearer about bugs, asserting that early bug growth is correlated with early plant growth, and that scientists are concerned about more problems from "bad bugs" this summer--like the mosquitoes who carry West Nile virus, for example.
On Monday, I opened the local paper to learn that "Wisconsin maple producers endure worst year in memory," answering Friday's question from a Yahoo contributor "Will an Early Spring Ruin Your Pancakes? Yes, apparently.
On top of global warming, plants and bugs running amok, and the end of breakfast as we knew it, there is my fear of a blisteringly hot summer. Again, I am not alone, as readers and callers, columnists and bloggers and weather analysts have expressed this apprehension. And again, "scientific" study yields little in the way of clarity or prediction. All seem agreed. This summer may be hotter than usual. And it may not be.
So to review. We are probably experiencing global warming, but we kind of knew that, right? The plants and trees are all screwed up, and we're in for a swarm of bugs, which were already in evidence in my grandchildren's backyard yesterday--several weeks ahead of schedule. And it may or may not be extra hot this summer.
All of this should probably not stop me from enjoying the blooming violets and primroses encountered on my walk today; or the reprieve from wearing the heavy winter coat I'm entirely sick of after six months; or the opportunity to sit in the grass with my summer clad grandkids this afternoon. Indeed, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom advises us to soak up such positive sensations and experiences to counteract that negativity that is our brain's natural state.
So I guess I'll just have to suck it up and deal with the balminess, the sunshine, and the gift of this crazy unseasonal season. And anyway, it's supposed to rain tomorrow.