Ill Winds of Change

The wind is not my friend, and, yet it is.

While I loathe its bite on bare hands and the angry howl of it overhead, I often consider the powerful metaphor it offers as I feel it and hear it and resent it in my life at the moment.

Wind is a symbol for unseen forces that move the ships of our lives; and winds are the gods of the sky–a pantheon whose cast dwell in varied halls by longitude, latitude and altitude.

There is an order in the chaos of moving air–predictable patterns (and their aberrations like renegade bubbles of the polar vortex) that we can actually visualize now, realities aloft that we could only imagine and deify not so many generations ago. We know the demons and gods in the near-space above our heads.

We comprehend this planet today at a level of detail unimagined by the storytellers of simpler times–times when we were surface watchers only. Just a generation ago, we had no eyes to see temperatures, atmospheric gases, wind velocities and the bigger “logic” of moving oceans of air overhead every hour of every day.

And so I keep coming back to a kind of grounding in pondering the state of the planet by looking down on this immensely complex web from space, moving in real time, viewed by lenses such as WindTV.

The illustration pictured here shows the circumpolar jet stream at an elevation of about 25 thousand feet. We can understand so much of the nature of Earth’s nature just recently, and with that knowledge comes responsibility.

The more we know, the more we understand. The more we understand, the better we can predict. The better we can predict, the better we can serve, informed by our knowledge and by the reverence and cautions such understanding gives us.

These are facts, truths of physics and mathematics and integrated by  the memory and integration of our silicon brains–realizations that we would not possess without this new way of seeing the truth of our precarious place in the ecology of a burdened world.

And all the sadder that the plan is to dismantle science in the pursuit of what’s best for Earth and the people it houses. The plan is to act against what we have come to know is the prudent way to treat our water, our soils, our air for the health and common good of all of us.

The New Plan is business as usual, retelling the old and broken story, acting as if the goose can forever lay the golden egg of profit for some to the detriment of many.

From now through what remains of the current epoch of civilization, we can’t say that we did not know what we should have done to sustain the livability of the planet.

We can’t plead ignorance of the fact that our collective actions and inactions have made the entire planet unstable, collapsing or collapsed, for those functions we have taken so for granted–goods and services once provided by the intact planet  that teeming humanity requires to prosper, even to survive.

I am thankful to have lived in a time when we have grown so quickly in our coming to understand the workings of this place so that we nurture a true reverence and awe for this unlikely rock in space. I celebrate it, even as I mourn, and an ill wind blows.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It is indeed amazing that we have expanded out knowledge of our planet so exponentially in the last 20 years due to our technology explosion. It will give us real-time reports that will keep those who want to know the truth apprised. We will do what we can to shape policy accordingly. Don’t give in to despair. God is still there.

  2. Surely sadness is the overwhelming weight I feel from our indifference to the wonder of this place and to the damage we inflict by our excesses and our arrogance, and this response is offered in place of honor to God and obedience to care for the created and sustained order. No, I don’t despair. My hope is not in the perfectibility of man. We show every day that we are not capable of such in our own strengths and by sheer intelligence and will alone.

    I confess I am finding it hard to find joy or peace in the current world while my kind is at war with it. I also fail to see that my reach goes beyond my tiny community, after being convinced for so long at the power of language and image to bring about positive change from this keyboard. So I am feeling more isolated and helpless and pointless than at any other point in my adult life.

    So this tells me something about how I ought to use my limited hours, keystrokes and neurons at this personal and societal age. I don’t know what that something is quite yet.