Turning up the heat

It’s hot. Maybe not when you are reading this, but it has been hot this summer, and is likely to be much hotter, much more frequently in years to come. I’m reminded of Greta Thunberg’s words, when addressing the Climate Change conference at Davos in 2019 – ‘Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.’ I’m old enough to remember the heatwave and drought of 1976, the scorched grass, the anxious domestic dictats about bathwater (I don’t think we had a shower in those days), and the sense of release and comfort when it did rain. The smell of wet grass, and pavements, and the grateful earth. I remember it – or do I?

We know that memory can play tricks on us, and if we repeat a story often enough, it can embed itself as a memory, even if the facts are a mixture of recall and re-creation. As you age, memory sort of changes shape, and can fade, or distort. The issue of memory came up in some of the recent events run by LCI and its partner organisations. So, apparently 1976 wasn’t that hot – at least, not according to the scientific data.

Each of us will have our own response to feeling hot – for some it’s great, summer has finally arrived; it may recall the warmer climate of another country where you grew up, or liked to visit. It may be a huge challenge, especially for people whose health is affected by the heat. One of the weird aspects of long covid is that there seems to be quite an overlap with one cluster of symptoms to those experienced by women going through the menopause, when feeling very uncomfortably hot can be a real challenge. Since having long covid I’ve certainly enjoyed swimming in sea water of a temperature which would previously have left me satisfied with a very quick paddle!

The extreme heat of summer 2022 has brought about an early, ‘false’ autumn, affecting the trees. I get very obsessed with trees, and have recently read two amazing books about them, The Hidden Life of Trees, and The Overstory, one a scientific account and one a novel. As so often, what I was reading sent me down rabbit holes of my own investigations. I think I am right in saying that the glorious colours of autumn leaves are always there within the leaf. It’s just when autumn comes, and the tree gets dehydrated and weary and starts needing its winter hibernation, it stops making the chlorophyll that produces the green colour, and then it prepares very carefully to conserve its energies and fluids for the winter. It also creates a sort of perforation at the end of each leaf stem, so that in time, the autumn gales will whisk the leaves away and protect the tree from being blown over by the weight of its full canopy. Even as the leaf falls, the necessary preparation is being made for the next year’s leaves. That got me thinking – what colours do we ‘conceal’ inside ourselves, what bits of ourselves are just waiting to be shown, maybe through relinquishing something which has had its season? How does apparent loss lead to growth and a new sort of life? Can we accept a sort of seasonal as well as linear change in our own lives as we age? Do we resonate with the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3: ‘to everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.’?

Here’s a poem about appreciating what trees can teach us (and maybe a nod to the new season of Strictly!)

Winter Trees

You are so beautiful, up to your ankles

in your own radiant litter;

look how you hold your form each day

beneath the sun’s brief glitter-ball twirl,

how you tease us with flashes

of coloured underskirt, which swirl

when your limbs quiver and bend.

Next season’s brilliance waits

in the wings; without abscission

there can be no new growth.

That pinkie-nail sized horseshoe of darkness

on the sleeping ash which we took for a scar

is its own banner furled, poised

to unwrap itself for spring’s applause.

Hannah Stone