OP-ED: Summer with Attitude

by Walt Amses

I’m wading cautiously into the pond for the first time in six weeks, purposely trying to savor every inch of silky water as it envelops me, as though I’m in the throes of some new-age baptism.  Rehabbing a surgically repaired knee has kept me high and dry for well over a month,  and now, as the bright yellow school buses make their appointed rounds, I realize that as summer ends for students across Central Vermont, it’s just beginning for me.

As the crystal clear pond creeps up my lower back, I feel a small chill, certainly not from the water itself—it’s warmer than anyone can remember—more likely it’s the contrast with the air temperature that’s pushing 90 and me, at 98.6, coupled with an out-of-whack dew point for the umteenth time in several weeks. Certainly it’s been a summer to remember; or forget, depending on your tolerance and at what level you lurch from comfortably warm to hyperthermia.

During a weekend radio show I did for several years, while delivering the forecast on especially humid days, I’d joke that it felt like Rangoon, which I never really believed. It just sounded emphatically sweltering. But after having traveled to Rangoon (now Yangon) in Myanmar—which used to be Burma—and experiencing this very juicy Vermont summer, I’ve decided the north country wasn’t anything like Rangoon/Yangon. This year, it’s actually been worse.

This is a serious bummer for anyone who emigrated here from gridlocked metropolitan areas of the south, fleeing months of just such conditions. After our own liberation several decades ago, we relished every cool breeze as a small victory, reveling in 50-degree summer nights—“good sleeping weather”  as we used to say wistfully (and infrequently) back then—but our wrestling with choking traffic or steamy public transportation appeared distant memories.  And for a while they were.

Although temperatures everywhere have been inching up the past several years, July 2018 arrived with singular vengeance, stringing together a series of days with highs in the ’90s and withering humidity, relegating Vermonters to a quest for water like migrating wildebeests.  The relentless heat set several records in Burlington, including the daily average temperature of 76 degrees, most days above 85 degrees (21); and the warmest night in the city’s history on July 2, a Brooklynesque 80 degrees.

Usually when I’m feeling borderline hysterical about some aspect of the weather I chat up Roger Hill, who operates “Weathering Heights” in Worcester, providing forecasts to a variety of media outlets and outdoor entertainment venues. More often than not he reels me in with reassurances such as, “Yes, it will eventually snow,” or “Of course,  the leaves will change,” but during a conversation earlier this week he was every bit as concerned as I was about the heat, but also the long-range implications.

“Since Irene” (which ravaged Vermont in 2011) Hill explained, “we’ve been pretty lucky, dodging many of the conditions that devastated the rest of the country, but this is turning heads, and we’d be wise to take notice.” Even the usually cooler, hilly north central areas of the state were no exception, especially in the humidity department and, unfortunately, according to Hill, this may very well be the “wave of the future.”

Struggling to find an upside, an obviously frustrated Hill said, “Enduring weather like this would be far easier if we knew it served as a wake up call.  Scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is real, and we will soon reach a tipping point if we haven’t already. Meanwhile, the administration in Washington and the party in power act as though environmental regulations are the problem. It makes me furious.”

I lean forward into the sublime water, pushing off with my good leg, and momentarily I’m weightless, gliding suspended, as free as I’ve felt since the injury yet, perhaps because of the knee itself or my sobering exchange with Hill, I’m more fully aware of both my own vulnerability and how this pristine, glacial pond, like so many similar treasures, might very well be threatened in the not too distant future.   

A clutch of vibrant, red maple leaves dots the shoreline as I lose myself in a late August daydream, valley mists that mark late summer mornings, the inexorable march toward the autumnal equinox, and how some things inevitably change while others need to remain exactly as they are.

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