“Do you remember when we used to look forward to summer days like these, Barnaby?”
Elsie and I, out on our regular saunter, have popped into a local coffee shop to escape the sweltering heat and suck up an iced beverage as well as the air-conditioning. It’s hot. Hot and humid. Mind-altering sticky, muggy. Tropical.
“Bring out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” Elsie sings. She breaks off a piece of cheddar chive and scone we’re sharing, eats it thoughtfully and follows with a sip of her drink. “A few days in, we’d start to get all hot and bothered. Tis the season for carnal nights, remember, Barnaby? The hap-hap-happiest time of the year!”
For the record, the ‘we’ Elsie refers to here is that of she and her late husband, Phillip, less than a year dead now.
“Summer heat, boy and girl meet,” Elsie sings some more. “But ah! Oh, the summer nights. Whoa, whoa, whoa.”
Elsie still in a period of mourning. Undulating bouts of grief and nostalgia, dark and deep. The past vividly intense with loss. The present, the future, cannot hold a candle to it.
“Now though, Barnaby,” Elsie says, “we just dread it, don’t you think? Summer. How bad is this going to get, we wonder. Who’s ever heard of 50-degrees Celsius outside of Saudi Arabia? How many people are going to die on the streets or alone in their hot box apartments? And the fires, Barnaby! All these wildfires. How on earth did we become fearful of summer?”
Elsie is not wrong.
These days are not those days.
Summer seems less idyllic.
Perhaps though, it is our age not the age. Summer’s made for children. Released from school, from custody, from the tyranny of schedules and time tables. Time to let lose a little. Strip down and bask in the sunshine. (Don’t forget the sunblock. A little order’s in order.)
Summer’s death for us old people. Rules must be followed for the elderly.
Wear a hat. Don’t exert yourself too much. Remember to hydrate, yeah? Are you feeling dizzy? You look a little dizzy? Find some shade, sit down. You might have sunstroke.
Could be we grow afraid of the summer because we grow afraid of everything.
On the other hand,
Large swaths of the country remain on fire, uncontrollably so in some cases. I don’t remember previously these things called ‘Heat Domes’. Heat domes and other Weather Events. Tornadoes where they don’t naturally do their twisting. Droughts. Droughts followed my torrential floods. The undeniable melting of the Arctic permafrost.
“It was the hottest week on record, Barnaby,” Elsie tells me. “Seventeen plus degrees on average around the planet. Celsius. And I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
The bad news does keep on coming. There’s no getting around that, it seems. No let-up. No respite. No best of times to match the worst of times. Bleak times for our bleak house.
“What did we do wrong, Barnaby?”
There’s a joke somewhere in here about Icarus getting too close to the sun but I am not the one to make it.
“We put ourselves in the centre of the universe, metaphorically speaking,” Elsie says. “Proclaim to be the king of the jungle with dominion over all that we see and what have we gone and done?”
We have not been good stewards of the lands, seas and air. Just look around. Feel the heat as Robert Palmer once crooned.
And we’ve mismanaged the property willfully too, knowing full well the consequences of our inaction for at least 50 years now. Back when Richard Nixon was president, we were being warned that our lust for unbridled economic growth was not sustainable. Back when we were kids but still old enough to understand that our behaviour, good and bad, had repercussions, good and bad. We had choices to make. Choices deferred or made poorly, selfishly.
“Now I’m reading about them mining the ocean floor, Barnaby!” Elsie informs me. “For nuggets of minerals for electric car batteries and solar panels and whatnot. We don’t even know what else is down there!”
“Do you think that’s why the orcas are attacking boats, Barnaby?”
I would like to think. Although, rational me believes that’s a little too metaphysical, too anthropomorphic. Assigning too much human agency to nonhuman beings. Although squared, maybe that’s been the source of our problem, conveying too little agency to the nonhuman world. That, and rampant greed, of course. Our insatiable demand to be living the easy life.
“Need Not Greed, should be our new motto, Elsie.”
My timing is unintendedly unfortunate, the quip coming just as Elsie lifts the last bit of the scone to her mouth. She makes a point of setting it back down on the plate between us, playfully, and then dabs the nonexistent crumbs from the corners of her mouth with a napkin. I push the plate along the table toward her as a mock show of contrition. Elsie pushes it back in my direction.
“At this stage in our lives, Barnaby,” she asks seriously, “aside from continued good health, what is it would you say we actually need?”
“You mean, aside from a sliver of our youth back?”
Elsie scrunches up her face.
“One time through’s plenty enough for me.”
She picks up the last piece of the scone and pops it into her mouth.
“But the knees of an 18 year-old, Elsie. Think of the possibilities.”
Elsie just shrugs.
What do we actually need?
Those of us born into the habitable, aerophilic slice of the swamp of life, born at that particular golden mean of history, not too cold, not too hot, none of it our doing, we just showed up and started taking. Taking it all for granted. The forever forward march of progress and the bounty that would be rightfully bestowed upon us. Our birthright.
What do we actually need?
“If you ask me, Barnaby. What we need most right now is maybe a little humility. Our generation. We need to acknowledge that we’re leaving this place in worse shape than when we found it, don’t you think?”
That would be difficult to deny at this moment in time. 40-degrees plus Celsius with the humidex. Etc. & Etc.
Leaning across the table toward me, Elsie whispers: We need to admit that we fucked up. Big time. “Wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, they do say the first step in righting things is admitting to your mistakes.”
“More humility and less beef,” I add, dusting my hands of crumbs, balling up the napkin and dropping it into my empty cup.
Elsie looks at me quizzically.
“A little play on words,” I explain. “Less beef, beefing, complaining. More listening, more humility. And we could also do with eating less red meat.”
Elsie gives it more thought than it’s worth.
“More humility, less beef,” she restates, making it her own. “I can see that on a t-shirt.”
“An ethically-sourced cotton t-shirt,” I suggest.
With that, we both groan up to our feet and make our way to the door, back out into the Inferno.