Tag Archives: New Year

Still Subtle and Various and Human

Still Subtle and Various and Human…    —by Jinny Batterson

The year 2016 has provided quite a roller coaster ride, especially in U.S. politics. Now that the year is nearly done, I’m trying to be more philosophical about this year’s largely negative political campaigns and their outcomes. While trying to avoid stereotyping anyone as a typical voter in any contest, I did pay attention to one exit polling result: the lopsidedly large majority of those who cast their vote for president as a way of fostering change. 

What gives me some hope for positive change is that recent conversations I’ve been having with family, friends and acquaintances of various political persuasions have been getting deeper without getting rancorous. My sample size is small. However, among those with whom I’ve gingerly broached the subject of American politics, what stands out are the variations in both motivations and reactions. I’ve not found consensus. Nevertheless, the opinions I’ve heard are more subtle and more nuanced than much of what I read and hear in the media, neither entirely elated nor entirely despairing, but somewhere in between. 

Though in theory I’m now part of the older, wiser generation, I find myself wishing that my parents’ “greatest generation” were still around in large enough numbers to impart wisdom and to exert more influence on our media mix. The views of some live on in their writings. I like some of the lesser-known volumes authored by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Though her early life was sheltered and privileged, she came to maturity as global politics darkened during the 1930’s. After the kidnapping and murder of their eldest child in New Jersey in 1932, she and her aviator husband Charles Lindbergh for several years sought solace and privacy in England  By 1939,  Anne was back in the U.S., tending a growing household while struggling with her husband’s strong isolationist opinions, viewing events in Europe with increasing alarm. Parts of her journals from the period were published much later, in 1980, as War Without and Within. I found the lead-in to her entry for September 2, 1939 especially compelling:

“The Germans are steaming ahead into Poland; all negotiations are off. Even the news becomes not diplomatic but military, not subtle and various and human but clear and cold and metallic.” 

Tomorrow we’ll start 2017 with a fair number of possible problems and threats on our horizons. We will also have various experiences, opinions, and expertise with which to cope with them. Some choices will seem stark; others may be difficult. Still, we have the capacity in coping with lots of our issues to recall that we as Americans, and as citizens of the world, can be subtle and various and human, if only we choose to do so.    

New Year’s Lettuce

New Year’s Lettuce     —by Jinny Batterson

Last month’s weather was much milder and rainier than is typical for the part of the U.S. East Coast where I live. Usually by January, the surface of the ground has frozen several times, and any plant without a lot of frost-hardiness has succumbed to the cold. Its remains have either been spaded under or relegated to the compost heap.  Not so this year.  Yesterday morning, New Year’s Day, I visited my local community garden and picked several salads’ worth of still-thriving lettuce, arugula, beet greens, and spinach.  Fortunately, the kale, mustard and collard greens that can withstand nippier weather had taken our December heat wave in stride. I picked some of them, too. 

In December, 2015, our local area had high temperatures well above average for 26 of  31 days. Although no new temperature records were set, existing record highs got tied six times. On 15 different days, it rained a measurable amount. Our December precipitation total was about 6 inches, over twice the norm. The 2015 total precipitation was about 57 inches, nearly 15% above normal.

Many years ago, when global climate change was a somewhat arcane topic, a meteorologist friend explained to me the difference between weather and climate. “Weather” describes short-term phenomena like an extra-warm December, an exceptionally strong hurricane, a freak snowstorm. “Climate” tracks longer-term changes, covering decades, centuries, millennia, even geological epochs.  So I don’t know whether last month’s unusual weather was necessarily linked with climate change—the coincidence between the onset of our sub-tropical fortnight and the signing of the latest global climate accord in Paris could have been just that: coincidence.  Nonetheless, the happenstance has gotten me wondering what further climate change preparations I can make as an individual and as an activist. How can I better adjust to whatever longer-term climate changes are likely to be irreversible?  How can I help frame better policies to help mitigate the changes still susceptible to concerted human action?   

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture maps of plant hardiness zones, issued in 2012,   are on average half a zone warmer than the previous set of maps, issued in 1990. Advances in information retrieval and in data mapping since the previous maps have made it possible to note much finer local variations in climate than was previously true.  Very small temperature gradients can make the difference between New Year’s lettuce and New Year’s dead plants. Gardening practices that buffer temperature and rainfall extremes can both lengthen the growing season and maintain healthier plants throughout it.

I’m not great on New Year’s resolutions, having lived enough years to know that mine tend to peter out in late January. Still, since gardening is for me more pleasure than chore, this year a garden-related resolution is one I may be able to keep: Maybe I can learn more about lettuces and some “new to me” plants that I may be able to grow with a bit of tending as our global climate gets on average warmer, but more erratic. For 2016, I’ll research and plant small quantities of a larger variety of  vegetables and herbs. I’ll pay closer attention to the weather, doing my best to provide shelter, seedling to harvest, from extremes of heat, cold, flood, and drought.

Perhaps lettuce and gardening provide germs of a couple of more general resolutions worth adopting:

1) Let us, those of us who play with words,  resolve to use fewer bad puns in our 2016 blog posts.

2) Let us, all of us, also resolve to nurture at least one living thing with more care than last year, be it ourselves, a child, a tree, a windowsill herb, or this complex, varied, ever-changing planet we live on.

Language Lessons

Language Lessons             —by Jinny Batterson

(On the occasion of Chinese New Year, January 31, 2014, ushering in the Year of the Horse. A memento of sorts, too, to my intermittent efforts to make progress in learning Mandarin Chinese, along with my ongoing struggles to read people’s moods appropriately.)

Chinese, such a difficult tongue to master:
Is this syllable spoken slowly, or faster?
First tone, second, third, or fourth, falling?
Is it “apple ping” or “bottle ping,”
Or maybe even “TV screen ping”?
Past leader Deng Xiaoping,
Current president Xi Jinping,
Or some less known local student Ping?

Emotive language harder still to learn.
Is the reason for your stoic scowl concern
At the widening rich-poor gap?
Or did our waitress,
Flustered in this festive season,
Accidentally spill hot coffee on your lap?