January 10th, 2014
That shot was taken in Port Rexton, Newfoundland, on New Year’s Day—just last week. You can feel the polar vortex, can’t you? The sun is struggling to break through the icy air, and that deceptively serene sea in the distance would kill you within seconds. You can also spot a line of used fireworks in the snow. It doesn’t get much better than New Year’s by the sea, however cold, and especially up in Trinity, one of the most stunning landscapes in this hugely beautiful province. But, man, it was, and continues to be, cold. There’s some measure of comfort in knowing we’re all in this together, not just Newfoundland, but maybe fireworks on a warm beach would be even better next year.
These are dramatically interesting times. Not only has the severe weather challenged everyone’s notion of global change but it has exposed—or reminded us of–our astonishing vulnerability as human beings. I know that the Beothuks lived in this landscape not so very long ago without the benefit of wood stoves, electric heating, or espresso machines and one just can’t help but wonder how. We are so insulated from the harsh realities of nature now that staring at it through a plate glass window is about as close as we want to get. But with power outages here snapping everyone out of complacency and into discomfort and anxiety we can’t help but reflect on that vulnerability—and dependence on electricity. It simply informs every single thing we do. I was startled to realize that long line-ups at the gas stations during our recent blackouts meant people were more concerned about charging their cell phones on their car batteries than they were about refueling to go somewhere. Of course, makes sense. There was the odd and predictable story every now and then about families who welcomed the blackouts to get closer to each other but, honestly, I can’t buy that forced cheeriness for too long. Most of us shuddered into our down coats and tried to get some sleep in the relentless darkness.
And so now we are back at work, with reduced light and power in the interest of conservation. Some offices are simply turning people blue, while here in Graduate Studies we aren’t too badly off. The building seems to be retaining some heat and I don’t need to walk around to circulate my blood too often. When I do so, I try to steal a glance at our front desk at the newly arriving students from the Middle East and Africa who must be wondering what fresh hell they have chosen to study in, but perhaps they find it all exotic and wondrous. I hope so. While recruiting in China I reassured as many potential doctoral students as possible that Newfoundland was way warmer than most places in Canada. I believed it at the time. I hope they don’t come after me for misrepresentation.
I think if I were teaching these days I would devise a winter curriculum about the whole subject of 21st century survival. I’d put literature and film on the syllabus that was all about where the march of progress might be taking us. It’s taking us away from recognizing the thin line between built civilization and the realities of nature, that’s for sure. Maybe it’s taking us to World War Z.
Recent experience of cold and darkness compels such thoughts. I am sure I will snap out of it as the days lengthen and the sun reappears.
Happy New Year!