Steven Pavlos Holmes, Massachusetts

Unlike most things that you’ve probably read about climate change, this book is filled not with science and politics but with stories and poetry. The writings collected here are not intended to convey new facts, to prove any particular theory, or to make predictions, though you may find any or all of these in them. Rather, they convey something more amorphous, individual, and emotional, even spiritual: what it feels like—for these authors, at least—to be living in a world in which the climate seems to be changing as a result of human action, and what those changes and those feelings mean for us, for our understanding of our place in the world, for our perceptions of ourselves as ethical beings, for our hopes and fears for the future. And though we think you’ll learn a lot about the world from these stories, what’s most important isn’t whether you believe or agree with these reports from other fields, but whether they resonate with what you yourself are seeing and feeling on your own turf, in your own life.

Since the following essays, poems, and short stories were written at different times over the past ten years, in different places and in response to different experiences and events, you may or may not see the same things as are described here when you look out your own window. Moreover, we all should keep in mind the distinction between weather—i.e., what is happening today, or this season or year—and climate—the longer-term patterns unfolding over decades. Indeed, as I write these words in the winter of 2013, my fellow Bostonians and I are slogging through yet another cold, wet, snowy winter, no different from many in the past, with surely many more to come; but I still find myself feeling a sense of surprise, and relief, that such a winter can follow on last year’s unseasonable warmth and the wimpy winters of the past few years. At the same time, reports from elsewhere—of floods, drought, tornadoes—remind me that even if things seem normal where I am right now, strange things are still happening in the world at large. And although anomalous weather events can’t be tied scientifically to global warming, they often are experienced as part of the same emotional reality, evoking and contributing to a deepening sense of unease. Amid such uncertainty and unsettledness, each of us is challenged to put together our own experiences with what we hear from others into a larger picture of what’s going on, and to think and feel our way beneath the facts to a deeper sense of what it all might mean.

In recent years, in the face of emergencies from fire to terrorism, many of us have learned to value the first responders, those equipped and resolute people who run toward rather than away from a disaster, who brave the fire and smoke and confusion to do what they can to help people in need. The writers in this collection are our emotional and cultural first responders to climate change—the ones who, with skill and insight, are showing up at this disaster, still in the making; who brave the fear and guilt and confusion to do what they can for people in need. And we are all in need.

On a personal level, over the years of working on this project, I can’t count the number of times when, in the midst of the activities of an ordinary day—walking outside to a soggy snowfall, perhaps, or to a hot morning, doing the laundry or mowing the lawn—the words and images of these authors have come back to me like well-known songs, guiding me to broader understanding and deeper insight; to tears, to anger, to despair; sometimes, indeed, to a more honest and grounded depression, but at other times to the realistic courage and renewed commitment that come from a sense of companionship and community. That’s the kind of book this is—one to be not just read but lived with, one whose heart unfolds further with time and experience.

So, as you read this book, we invite you to put aside for a moment any scientific debates and political arguments you may have heard about global warming, and open yourself to human stories and to poetic imagination. If you wish, imagine yourself somewhere you feel comfortable and relaxed, awake, and alive—maybe curled up in a favorite chair, maybe out for a walk in a favorite field or forest—talking with a new friend, someone with whom you’ve enjoyed a few casual conversations in the past and with whom you’re glad to have the chance to talk at more length. You find you have a few things in common, some shared joys and struggles around family and work, maybe a common interest in the natural world, a love of words and sly humor. As your conversation grows deeper—as you settle deeper into your chair, or venture farther into the forest—there comes a pause, not because you don’t have any more to talk about, but because you trust each other enough to stop talking for a while, to simply be together in these familiar and beloved surroundings. In the silence, you notice your own breath, feel the warmth in your legs and arms, feel the beating of your own heart. Then, out of that warm, companionable quiet, one of you starts talking—you may not realize who—about something else you have in common, something you both have thought about but don’t quite have the words for, something you’ve often wanted to bring up in conversation but for which you never felt the time was right. Looking in your new friend’s interested and caring eyes, you think:

Well, now’s the time; it’s now, or never.

Together, eager and afraid, you plunge into your stories.

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Copyright © 2013 Steven Pavlos Holmes