Down on the Farm: Should we worry?
Nothing like a spell of incredibly good weather to bring out the inherent pessimism of the good folks on the northern Great Plains.
As the temperature climbs into the 70s at a time when it could well be zero, the question on the street becomes: "Should we worry?"
Should we worry that the trees are going to leaf out too soon?
Should we worry that we are going to have a drought this summer?
Should we worry that the ponds are all going to dry up?
Should we worry that we are going to be smitten dead for having so much fun?
As far as I am concerned, the answer to the question, "Should we worry?" is always, "No!"
True, we may get a cold spell and some of the early leaves might get nipped. If the apple blossoms come out and then we get a frost, no apples this year. But can we do anything at all about it? No!
So, why worry?
Worry arises from the human conceit that we can control nature, or fate in general, in the short-term. We seem to think if you worry about the trees freezing, they are less likely to freeze.
Worry also comes from the puritanical notion that any pleasure today will be punished with equal pain tomorrow, and probably a little extra for good measure.
If we have a nice spring, we'll have a miserable summer. If we have a nice fall, we'll have a long winter.
An optimist could argue that this nice spring is our reward for surviving the misery of last spring. But you don't hear that kind of talk. It might bring bad luck.
Worry exaggerates our own importance in the universe.
It has even infected our religion.
In more pious times, prayer was a form of meditation on the nature of the holy. Most saints of old would never have had the audacity to pray that a blizzard would veer south and hit St. Cloud so that we can make it safely to the region final in Thief River.
But now we have people appealing to a higher power to bring rain, delay the rain, influence the election, change the MRI results, prevent the running back from tearing his ACL and make the fumes in the gas tank last until the next town.
Such whining and begging is nothing more than sanctified worry, a grasping attempt to control that which we can't.
A healthier but more boring approach is to do the slow work of changing what we can control and just let go of that which we can't.
We can't control tomorrow's weather. But we can control our long-term effect on the weather.
When I arrived in New Zealand, we weren't on the beach for fifteen minutes before my travel companion said, "you're red as a beet!"
Turns out, New Zealand has an ozone hole. Ultra-violet rays are stronger there by a long shot than in the Northern Hemisphere.
The strong sunshine in the Southern Hemisphere makes for the deepest red tomatoes I have ever eaten. It made me look like a tomato. But it also causes skin cancer. If it keeps on, it will be bad news.
Fortunately, twenty-five years ago countries banded together to pass the Montreal Protocol. It banned the production of chemicals which were eating away at the ozone layer. Thanks to the treaty, by 2050 the ozone layer is expected to regain its former thickness.
Forging such an agreement took years of study, diplomacy and negotiation. It required private enterprise to come up with an alternative to aerosol spray, which it did in a hurry.
But such an agreement would never pass muster in the United States today.
No, any change which requires long, hard work, a little sacrifice and which doesn't pay immediate dividends is scoffed at by the rabble rousers.
Instead, we wallow in short-term, selfish magical thinking. If we screw up, if we forget to fill the tank, somebody will rescue us! In fact, it will be a test of faith!
Sadly, many of our politicians, rather than leading us to solve difficult long-term problems over which we have some control, exploit the ignorant human tendency to rely upon miracles to solve short-term worries over which we have no control.
It wasn't always that way. And that worries me.