Milkweed pod
For the last few years, the farmers in Kenya and Uganda have told us sad stories of crop uncertainty.  The term “farmer” includes most folks because they grow local in what we might call kitchen gardens, to meet their own needs.  Located on the equator as they are, daylight and night are as regular as their clock and seasons vary only by slight temperature changes, alternating in a regular pattern between the rainy and dry season.  Watching the weather closely, people planted their crops just before the rain was expected to get its full effect.  But now, the seasons are scrambled, rain unpredictable and uncertainly reigns: longer dry spells, harder rains, precious seeds lost, larders empty.  In the bush country there is no supermarket to supplement what you cannot grow.  Bartering goods between neighbors stops when they have nothing to exchange.  People who live close to the land will suffer the most by climatic changes. 

I also live close to the land.  My husband and I “grow local” and harvest enough to feed ourselves and many more.  But my body will not suffer if our crops fail.  But this fall my heart aches for the flowers that are already gone.  In a small way, I share the uncertainty of change.  For ten years I have watched the rhythms of the fields and took comfort in their predictability.  I wrote my book, All Nature Sings, in 2008 and verified the changes by months in 2009.  Now we are living in the summer of 2010 and both the timing of plants and blooms as well as their life cycle is greatly altered.  In the light of climate change, the summer Botany research student did a geo-map of flowers and their timing to compare to the two preceding years.  He concluded that blooms appeared about three weeks early this year.  My own cursory research on the subject is aided by iPhoto on my Mac, which dates each photograph.  

My sense of timing has been violated this year. In years past the tall grasses have always appeared among blooming wildflowers—this year most flowers have already dropped their petals and gone to seed.  The prairie coneflower died early, which somehow affected their seed production.  My husband remark the other night that the goldfinch that usually flit through the prairie all fall, have left us. I look almost longingly for the invasive purple vetch that always draped itself over other stalks until the cold weather came.  Blooms that greeted me earlier and earlier this year, should have been a clue—this year defies prediction. 

Today, I notice another oddity: as the milkweed pods are drying and cracking open in one place, new plants are sprouting elsewhere.  Along the perimeter I’ve seen lone black-eyed Susans and single coreopsis.  They are mixed up too; maybe they think it is spring. 

Uncertainty is unsettling.  My little waves of angst in the face of change helps me to imagine the total upheaval of people in Pakistan fleeing their flooded fields and to feel the pain of African farmers.  I never realized how changes in climate could affect your psyche.  I thought I knew the moods and manners of this land; I rested in the solace of anticipation of the next beautiful sights unfolding.  All that changed this year.  Would I be prepared if floods or drought or pestilence overtook us and remove more than beauty—our very livelihood?  With every twinge of uncertainty, I pray for those who speculate no more but face the daily challenges of change.