Year by year, we are losing the seasons that have marked human culture, animal migrations, and the cycles of plant life for thousands of years.
Spring comes to the Arctic 16 days earlier than a mere decade ago, according to a recent article in The Guardian.
And it’s not just the Arctic, as any careful observer can tell you.
I have a memory of driving through a snowstorm in the canyon along the Rio Grande on April 20th, 2001, rushing to get back from Taos early enough to cover my then-small lilac bushes, which were just tentatively putting out delicate leaf buds. When my parents visited at the end of April, they were disappointed that none of the trees in Santa Fe were yet in bloom. In those days, every fruit tree burst into bloom all at once around May 7th. That was also the last year I had a good apple crop, except for one freak year in 2016 when the tree bloomed early, but the last frost was a month early as well.
In recent years, it has become routine for my apple tree to blossom sometime between the first and second week of April. Usually, the tender blossoms freeze. These are not particularly late freezes for our area, where the average last frost date in historical record was May 15th. The real problem is that many species of trees bloom early now—four, in some years five or six, weeks before they used to less than 20 years ago—due to the freakishly warm winters that have become the New Abnormal. The day before a recent mid-April freeze, it was nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature plunged to freezing one night, then as low as 24 or 25 for the next two nights.
Since not all the buds had opened, there is perhaps some hope of apples. A couple of days after the freeze, a cloud of bees sucked nectar from both fresh white clusters and brown, frost-blighted blossoms, hopefully pollinating the tree.
Miraculously, my wisteria buds somehow survived several nights of cold temperatures to bloom in scented purple splendor, albeit three weeks earlier than they used to. In this drought-stricken year,there has been a surprising display of lilacs—two to three weeks early—though the heat, once again in the high 70’s, and perhaps the extreme dryness as well, has caused the blossoms to cycle through their blooming and dry up in about a week.
I sometimes wonder if I am the only person on the planet who notices these things. Am I being gaslighted by the corporate media, made to feel crazy by reports that, with the exception of some independent media such as Democracy Now, rarely connect extreme weather events with climate change?
Is no other gardener observing? Is no one else keeping records? Does no one else have a memory?
Or is the reality just too horrible to contemplate?
I have long felt that we—all living beings on this planet—are suffering an inexorable and exponential loss of so many of our cycles. We no longer have a proper cycle of seasons, in any hemisphere or bioregion. Most of the Southwestern US this year had virtually no winter, except for a few days here and there of cold weather, and almost no precipitation since last October. I don’t even call what we experienced “winter,” but rather refer to it as “the dormant season.” It’s hard to rejoice in spring without having had a proper winter, the quiet time, the time of inner reflection.
The birds are confused, nesting far too early, when frosts and harsh winds can make survival of fledglings difficult. Some years I’ve even seen birds build nests in the lingering warmth that plagues autumn. In recent years, I scramble to put out sugar water for the hummingbirds, who sometimes arrive before flowers bloom.
The glorious intertwined and interdependent cycles of birds arriving at the perfect time to find their favored foods, caterpillars or insects, have collapsed. Instead, there is a dissonant mismatch between species whose cycles are responsive to light—which hasn’t changed—and those responding to heat, which is badly out of balance. Guided by the lengthening days, birds sometimes arrive to find that the caterpillars they eat have hatched weeks earlier as trees leafed out, their cycles hastened by the New Abnormal of premature heat.
This year, with the extreme drought, I’m not even seeing many mice or pack rats around. I’m afraid that my resident bobcat mom, Bella, may have moved on, looking for a kinder environment. I worry that she might encounter hostility along the way, since bobcats are highly territorial. I haven’t seen her for months, and since it’s been so dry I’m not skilled enough to see if she’s left any tracks in the dusty greenbelt behind my house. I’m hoping that she’s denning somewhere nearby. Perhaps I’ll catch a photo of her drinking at the birdbath on my critter cam.
I recently traveled in Egypt with a spiritual group doing prayers for all the Earth, and there too saw the breakdown of cycles. Since my father was an amateur Egyptologist, I knew of the fabled yearly inundation of the Nile since early childhood. When the rains began at the Nile’s source in central Africa, the floodwaters made their way down to the desert. For thousands of years, the rising of the star Sirius on June 21, the summer solstice, marked the time when the rich silt would be carried downriver to fertilize the crops in the “black land” of Lower Egypt.
The Aswan High Dam, completed in 1970, put a stop to all of that. Modern Egyptians traded the benefit of hydroelectricity for the loss of fertility, and perhaps a far greater loss of cycles. Today, one million tons of artificial fertilizer per year substitute for the natural annual deposit of 40 million tons of rich silt on farmland.
It was unseasonably hot some of the days I was in Egypt, and choking air pollution is simply accepted as a fact of life. The population at the height of ancient Egypt’s power is thought to have been about 10 million. Today it is 101 million, mostly stretched along the Nile and concentrated in Cairo, a city of 24 million.
A culture that worshipped Neters—deities representing principles of Nature and often depicted in the shape of animal-headed humans or human-headed animals—has today lost much of its former biodiversity. Lions no longer roam the land of the fierce healer, the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet; crocodiles no longer sun on the banks of the Nile near the temple of Kom Ombo, dedicated to the crocodile-headed god Sobek; and no ibis flies past the graceful bas reliefs of the ibis-headed Thoth, god of Wisdom who gave the gift of writing to humanity.
But still we have the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, and the monthly cycles of the moon waxing and waning. Floating up the Nile, south towards Upper Egypt, visiting many temples before dawn, our group was keenly aware of sunrises and sunsets. Once we were out of the pollution of Cairo, we could again see the stars. On either side of us, scenes spooled out like old-fashioned reels of film, timeless views of boats filled with sugar cane, egrets landing in banks of tall reeds at dusk, colorfully painted Nubian villages, and the graceful sails of feluccas catching sun and wind.
For me, one of the greatest teachings of Egypt is that of Ma’at, the unbegotten goddess who embodies the principle of Balance. Ma’at is Truth, Justice, and Cosmic Order. Sometimes depicted with wings, and sometimes simply as a woman, she always has a feather above her head. On her scales, she balances this ostrich feather against a human heart at the time of a person’s transition into death. A life lived in kindness and balance makes his or her heart as light as a feather, allowing entrance into a peaceful afterlife. But if a person’s heart is heavy with the imbalance of selfishness and cruel deeds, the heart is thrown to the Devourer Ammit, a frightening female deity who is a composite of crocodile, lioness, and hippo.
On a macrocosmic level, we live in a world swinging wildly out of balance. Last week, the Hawaiian island of Kauai experienced unprecedented floods, with rain falling at a rate of 50 inches in 24 hours, while we in the Southwest beg and pray for even a drop of moisture. A bushfire recently threatened the suburbs of Sydney in what should be their autumn, echoing the horrific fires of northern California and the central California coast last year. People in the Northeast are rightly weary of snow—though I envy them—and a visitor from Seattle remarked on the unusually constant rain in the Northwest, to the point where the land is water-logged.
How do we bring the Earth, the eco-system, the climate, back into Ma’at, into Balance?
A closely related question is “How do we counteract the imbalance of 5000 years of patriarchy?” My slowly emerging answer is to fully embrace the Divine Feminine—no matter one’s physical or chosen gender—with her qualities of courage, nurturing, peaceful resolution of disputes, a love for the Earth that gives us life and abundance, and the ability to flow with the element of water in all its forms. If, as a world culture, we collectively embrace the Divine feminine and the healed and transformed truly Divine Masculine together, we recreate Sacred Balance, constantly flowing, seeding and reseeding life itself.
In this embrace, we find and reclaim our lost cycles. We attend and honor the moon’s phases, perhaps even plant according to them rather than according to agri-business.
Perhaps one day we will even reclaim the seasons. Although many tipping points may have already been reached and passed, by choosing right actions we may still be able to reverse and heal the damage already done to the planet’s biodiversity and to its sensitive climatic balance. What if Regenerative Agriculture were implemented on a massive scale? Could we restore a healthy atmospheric balance within decades, even in the lifetimes of some of us now in our older years?
“Everything seems impossible until it is done” is a saying attributed—perhaps incorrectly—to the late Nelson Mandela. Remember that a few decades ago, banks of computers with less computing power than your cell phone took up whole rooms. Doesn’t it seem absurd that we are still using fossil fuels to run internal combustion engines—essentially a 19th century technology, despite a few cosmetic design changes? Why are we still flying in planes using greenhouse gas-spewing jet engines, a mid-20th century technology that also seems to be stubbornly stuck?
Returning the world to Ma’at is paradoxically a daunting task, and one that can be accomplished instantly. Consciousness is the wild card, the joker, the jangleur, the Fool in the Tarot who can either end it all or bring all into balance and healing. Consciousness— not only human, but that of the animals and plants that share their world with us, and of Gaia herself—is never factored in to the computer models of climate change, biodiversity loss, economic “growth,” or ecological devastation or renewal. It is our collective consciousness that has the potential to create both spiritual and practical solutions to transform devastation to renewal, harm to healing, and imbalance to Sacred Balance.
It begins with each of us choosing consciously to align to balance within ourselves. We have the power to allow the wild swinging of the scales inside us to become the stillness of balance. That is the place where magic can occur.
We can and must reclaim and restore our cycles. Let us honor and celebrate the ancient marking days, the Solstices and Equinoxes and the cross-quarter days of the Celtic calendar, even though the world of Nature has fallen badly out of synch with the Earth’s journey around the sun.
Last night was the Eve of Beltane, the celebration of the hieros gamos, the Sacred Marriage, in the northern hemisphere. Though the blossoms that should be tender in their potential have already bloomed and faded, the sun still moves towards its northernmost point, and the memories in other dimensions and Timelines forever leap handfasted over Beltane fires, make love with the Green Man in the woods, and dance merrily around May Poles.
And we have not lost the daily cycle of sunrise and sunset, nor the patterns of the stars. The ancient Egyptians called the polar stars, which never set, the “undying stars.” Normandi Ellis writes in Dreams of Isis that as a result of a life lived in Ma’at, “a mortal man or woman became one of the Imperishable Ones, a beautiful circumpolar star in the belly of the sky.”
So in this constancy we begin each day anew, the Sky Goddess Nut giving birth again and again to hope as the light of the sun, the life-giving principle of Ra, returns to light our way through a new day, a new cycle, a New Earth.