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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

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How to Give Thanks in a Screwed-Up World

Until mid-November, the daily temperatures in Nashville danced around in the 60s and 70s, even hitting 80 from time to time. There were still a few zinnias left in my pollinator garden, and every warm November day the butterflies found them — a beautiful question mark, several gulf fritillaries and cloudless sulphurs, a couple of monarchs, painted lady after painted lady. Not a leaf left on the maple trees, but the garden was full of painted ladies! I kept going outside to look at them. All day long I could not stop smiling.

I wasn’t supposed to be happy about this scenario. It should not be 80 degrees in November, even here in the temperate Midsouth. Migrating butterflies like monarchs and painted ladies evolved to travel along a corridor of fall-blooming wildflowers, but wildflowers are mostly gone by November. If not for my zinnias, the butterflies would’ve starved. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” said the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, at COP27, the global climate conference, in early November. It was not an overstatement.

And yet I felt so happy about those butterflies, so happy there were still zinnias blooming in my flower beds. It felt wrong to be so happy when happiness arises from a source of great pain, but there I was, feeling both the joy and the pain anyway. My father would have understood.

Lately I have come to distrust my own capacity for exultation. We had friends over to sit around the fire on what turned out to be the night the 2020 election was finally called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The relief we all felt, the jubilation, was huge and instantaneous. A great shout erupted and there were hugs all around, never mind that we were sitting out in the cold in the first place because a deadly pandemic was raging. We spent the rest of the night drinking champagne and dancing like maenads around the fire. American democracy wasn’t lost at all. Our fellow citizens had saved it.

Only a few weeks later the enemies of democracy were marauding through the U.S. Capitol, wreaking destruction and threatening much worse. People died that day, and all because a U.S. president refused to accept voters’ decision. Almost two years later, someone who believed the former president’s lie went hunting for the speaker of the House, gravely injuring her husband in the process. As the writer Jelani Cobb notes in The New Yorker, Donald Trump “did not single-handedly inject the strains of intolerance, racism, nativism, belligerence and a durable sympathy for anti-democratic behavior into the Republican Party, and there is no reason to believe that his absence would cause them to evaporate.”

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