Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

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9780807085974: Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

The human heart is the most sensitive instrument, and that is why Amy Seidl's marvelous book is so important, a new kind of contribution to the rapidly growing library on global warming.—Bill McKibben, from the foreword

Robert Frost wrote about nature and rural life in New England, and Norman Rockwell painted classic scenes of farmhouses and American traditional life, images reproduced as symbolizing an idealized history born of New England sights. But New England, a region whose culture is rooted in its four distinct seasons, is changing along with its climate.

In Early Spring, ecologist and mother Amy Seidl examines climate change at a personal level through her own family's walks in the woods, work in their garden, and observations of local wildlife in the quintessential America of small-town New England, deep in the Green Mountains of Vermont. 

Seidl's testimony, grounded in the science of ecology and evolutionary biology but written with beauty and emotion, helps us realize that a natural upheaval from climate change has already begun: spring flowers blossom before pollinators arrive, ponds no longer freeze, and animals begin migrations at unexpected times. Increasingly, the media report on melting ice caps and drowning polar bears, but Seidl brings the message of global warming much closer to home by considering how climate change has altered her local experience, and the traditions and lifestyles of her neighbors, from syrup producers to apple farmers. In Vermont, she finds residents using nineteenth-century practices to deal with perhaps the most destructive twenty-first-century phenomenon. 

Seidl's poignant writing and scientific observations will cause readers to look at their local climate anew, and consider how they and their neighbors have adjusted to the reality of global warming.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Amy Seidl has taught in the environmental studies programs at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont. She is currently a research scholar at Middlebury and associate director of the LivingFuture Foundation. She lives with her family in Huntington, Vermont, in a solar- and wind-powered home.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

The little crab alone with the sea became a symbol
that stood for life itself—for the delicate, destructible,
yet incredibly vital force that somehow holds its place
amid the harsh realities of the inorganic world.
Rachel Carson,
The Edge of the Sea, 1955
 
As a mother who has borne life, as a person who delights in
the diversity of life, and as an ecologist who realizes that life
in our gardens, forests, lakes, and meadows relies on the
countless multitude of species and their interactions, I am
unsettled by global warming. I fear it will have a tragic effect
on all forms of existence, including our own.
 
I chose to write this book after I spent years researching
natural systems. As a field scientist I have worked
around the world studying Antarctic, alpine, coastal, temperate,
and tropical ecosystems. These experiences sharpened
my ability to understand how natural communities
work, to identify species across taxa, and to admire their
complexity and beauty. But it was after these experiences,
when I was bound to a single place as the mother of two
young daughters and the wife of a man establishing his caxi
reer that I began to carefully observe my immediate environment.
Here, outside my door in rural Vermont, I readily
found signals that the natural world was changing.
 
It was at this point that I decided to collect my observations
about climate change in a book and call it Early
Spring. I chose the title to signify one of the strongest signals
of global warming for the Northern Hemisphere:
spring is coming days earlier with each decade. I decided
that by sharing the signals of warming from my garden and
woods, the places where I take my children to swim or
where we walk along the road and collect stones, I could localize
the experience of global warming for my readers.
Further, by describing the ecological flux that is a consequence
of climate change in the iconic New England landscape,
I hoped to engage with the significance of global
warming to all life, including our own.
 
Throughout Early Spring I apply my knowledge of
ecology and evolutionary biology to reveal the effect
of global warming in the landscapes I have studied as well
as the landscape where I presently live. To these descriptions
I add personal stories of how ecosystem health is
being altered—at micro and macro perspectives. I also examine
climate change in relation to the fact that I have
small children—Helen was one when I began this project
and Celia was six—and I relay my concern for their ecological
future and the planet they will inherit as global
warming progresses.
 
While I have spent time in regions of the world where
global warming is more rapidly affecting ecosystems, I
want to emphasize the changes I see in my landscape close
to home—in my garden, in local woods and ponds. It is in
this everyday context that I notice the world entering flux.
The timing of seasonal events, for instance, is shifting:
lilacs are blooming earlier, gardens remain prolific well into
the fall, and butterflies appear weeks earlier than previously
recorded. But it is not only the natural landscapes that are
shifting. In my rural community, cultural traditions tied to
the season are no longer assured: ice-fishing derbies and
winter carnivals, once relied upon as cold-season diversions,
are on-again, off-again, and the start of maple sugaring
rarely begins in early March as it historically did. As I
wake to these signs, I place each onto a growing list that
challenges my sense of season, cycle, and time, even my expectation
of what is true.
 
With each year I am compelled to ask: How are the natural
communities and ecosystems where I live responding
to climate change? What does a thunderstorm in January
signal? What about deluges in May that preclude spring
planting? And the absence of ice on rivers and ponds in
early winter? These are examples from my landscape—and
the natural and agricultural communities in it—that signal
that the world around me is moving into flux. As these
events collect, I realize how more and more of my observations
reflect the predictions that climate scientists are
making for New England—greater single precipitation
events, warmer nights, shorter winters, and overall more
variable weather. While it remains difficult to draw causal
relationships between global climate change and local
weather, we are able to see how our local conditions increasingly
resemble the forecasted predictions.
 
I am not alone in noticing changes in the landscape
where I live. Fortunately, there are others who have observed
and recorded changes or are currently noting and
writing about them, many for far longer than I have. There
is Kathleen Anderson, who has for thirty years kept daily
records of the flora and fauna that she sees on her farm in
Massachusetts and when particular species come and go.
There’s my neighbor Bob Low, who notes the area’s
weather and keeps an annual list of the birds on Gillett
Pond, the place where I bring my daughters to skate and
canoe. These record keepers are motivated by their enjoyment
of the natural world and also by the feeling that they
are a part of the annual cycle they document. Like the famous
conservation biologist and ethicist Aldo Leopold,
who kept records of bird and plant sightings on his Wisconsin
farm, these environmental diarists maintain a close
connection with their home environment, and their diaries
provide a history of this intimacy.
 
Now these diaries are being used to further our scientific
understanding of climate change. Statisticians and
ecologists are analyzing them for the occurrences they document,
and the presence and absence of species is being
added to electronic databases and computer models in an
attempt to see repeating patterns of change across landscapes.
Equally important, these narratives serve as a local
chronicle of how human communities are experiencing the
local effect of a global event. Indeed, the longer these diaries
have been kept, the better they are at relating how our
seasonal expectations are being preempted by anomalous
events, how the familiar is being superseded by the unusual.

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