We humans have a bad habit of judging the weather by the degree to which it influences our level of personal comfort. And so it goes that good days are dry, warm, and sunny while bad days are wet, cold, and cloudy. I have written before about the Anthropic Principle which argues that, given its capacity to support us, the Earth must exist for us. Or, to put it another way, the properties of the Earth are just so because we are here to pronounce it and, if it were any other way, we wouldn’t be. To add some perspective, consider that there are approximately 1.2 million described animal species (this number ranges from 3 – 30 million when estimates of numbers of animals yet-to-be described are included) and Homo sapiens therefore makes up less than 0.0001% of this population. Although I cannot find the data with which to carry out the calculation, I like to think about its result … I wonder, of the total number of living animal bodies, what fraction is 7.1 billion, the current human population? As you ponder this, consider that my hypothetical doesn’t include estimates of populations of plant, fungal, protistan, or bacterial bodies. If we could carry out such calculations, and especially when rounding down, one could reasonably conclude that humans don’t exist. But, given the assured knowledge that we do, let’s simply say that as a fraction of all living bodies, humans are insignificant indeed. Having drawn that conclusion let me observe the obvious, that the impact of this vanishingly small fraction has a significance far beyond its metric. Some would go so far as to call that significance, catastrophic. Forgive me though, for I digress.
Isn’t it curious then that we judge weather in the light of our own comfort? Have you ever stopped to think that other organisms, whether they be animals, plants, fungi, protists, or bacteria, might proffer an alternate view, if only they could be asked? I took this photo yesterday along the Susquehanna flood plain just south of town. A front had passed and the low which followed brought mild temperatures to the valley. Just four days ago we were experiencing negative single digits, and now the thermometer to my left reads 40ºF. The dramatic change has generated veils of mist which fill and then rise from the river course to wash into the surrounding flood plain and beyond. The farm is two miles from the river and it too is surrounded. Joanna observed that the ice, sleet, and rain, together with the sunless gray sky, combined to produce grismal conditions. I wonder what the trees would say about all of this if they could but speak? They are resting though. They are dormant. Other organisms too lay quiet. There is a beautiful lexicon which describes this period of metabolic pause, this genetically programmed state of rest; dormancy, diapause, aestivation, hibernation, and brumation all describe a time in the cycle of life when organisms enter a period of metabolic quiescence. A necessary time, not one which is chosen consciously but one which manifests via genetic expression. The recipe we call selection dictates that any organism which requires dormancy and whose genes do not contain messages of rest, will not survive. Although dormancy is a rest timed (in higher latitudes) to coincide with physiologically challenging periods characterized by a scarcity of water, warmth, and sunlight, it is also an obligate period in often complex life cycles. It is necessary and it rejuvenates … in the most literal of senses. Rejuvenate … consider the word. To make young again, if only it were so. What a wonderful way to view our current (poor) weather. It should be welcomed for it is necessary in the cycle of events which leads to seasonal and predictable rejuvenation. Now, doesn’t that put a different sort of spin on the weather? It does for me. There are good things happening, right now, and there are more to come. Soon. Just wait. Not too much longer.