Column: When truths collide

  • (AP -- Natacha Pisarenko) AP — Natacha Pisarenko

  • Jon Stableford. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 11/6/2021 10:20:12 PM
Modified: 11/6/2021 10:20:12 PM

After a prolonged and dream-like fall, the early sun lit up fields rimed with frost. I checked the flower barrels outside our bedroom window expecting one kind of devastation and found another: the nasturtiums that had flowered and trailed not just all summer but deep into fall had been browsed to nubs overnight by deer, their timing too exquisite to be coincidence.

Last year our first frost came in the middle of September, but this year I welcomed the reprieve to finish tasks I’d failed to complete. I stained the house, cut next year’s firewood at a “senior” pace, and put the garden to bed, not in a rush but in stages. The warm days seemed endless, and for once I managed to drain the hoses and put them away before they were stiff with ice.

Is it OK to enjoy the lingering beauty of a late fall and not spoil the elation with worry about climate change? When Arctic air blows through the Upper Valley on a summer day, when a zephyr raises a cloud from a snowbank in February, we are reminded by experts that there is a difference between climate and weather; I remember a warm Halloween 37 years ago right here in Strafford, a night so balmy that our son, who was 10, ran wild after dark in shirtsleeves with his classmates.

But a lingering fall two years in a row suggests to us that this is not mere weather. Climate change is real and it is here. Sentinels stand on street corners with their signs, urging us to join them lest our leaders forget that now is the time to act. They are right, but my question lingers: Am I to look at the rich green of a hayfield at the end of October as a sign of beauty or doom?

The answer of course is both, but how glib that sounds, even in a world rife with paradox.

I have seen the sun drown in the Pacific and turn the whole sky purple and watched colors ripple across the walls of the Grand Canyon at the end of day, so how can it be that the most glorious sunset I’ve ever witnessed was over Manhattan as my car inched through the Bronx at rush hour? Was I just glad to be almost there after a long journey? Was the light miraculously filtered by the filthy air?

No, beauty is beauty. Why spoil the moment with chatter?

Oh, the places you will go when you think too much about colliding truths! Is it OK to read The Sneetches to a grandchild, knowing that Dr. Seuss’ publisher has ceased printing six of his books because they contain racist tropes? Some will argue you cannot separate the artist from the work, that all the work should be shunned; but with that logic, would we ever read Faulkner? His fiction shines a critical light on the racial history of the South, but his personal correspondence on race and segregation reveals him as a hypocrite.

The startling beauty of a short poem, such as In a Station of the Metro — “The apparition of these faces in the crowd: / Petals on a wet, black bough” — is utterly spoiled when your next thought is that Ezra Pound was an antisemite who made radio broadcasts extolling Mussolini’s fascist government.

If an image is clean, may it stand on its own?

In a life troubled with ambiguity, finding clarity is exhausting. Too many people turn to moral absolutism and a fingers-in-the-ears response to issues with more than one side.

To make matters worse, news and opinion are dangerously entwined and updated every few seconds for the media-savvy to confirm their polarized beliefs. In the Senate, people we elect — and pay — to make decisions in our national interest use the filibuster to quash discussion, then step into the hallways before cameras and deliberately mischaracterize the issues they refused to debate. If both sides agree that Washington is broken, how can the best solution be to elect more like-minded people? If you reflexively disagree with those across the aisle, how can you really tell whether an idea, theirs or yours, is spurious or sound?

One truth I can count on is that my location on this Earth is tilting away from the sun and that for the next two months each day will darken and cool a little more. Beyond that so much is unknown.

I hear from people I trust that we will have a snowy winter. I hope their predictions come true because I love trudging through a woods filled with snow. Whatever does happen will be weather; I will welcome or curse it according to its nature and timing. Ice is a delight on ponds and rivers, a glory when it glazes the branches of apple trees backlit by the rising sun, and a mortal hazard on steps and roads.

Then, there is the bigger picture of what we call weather, the history of temperature and rainfall over a year, a decade and a century, not just here in the Upper Valley but across the globe. Climate change is where the aesthetic yields to reason, where moral responsibility should inform the way we live our lives and the votes we cast. Clear minds are what we need to solve the threat, and a willingness to pay now for something we will not live to witness: a balmy October afternoon a hundred years from now, so gorgeous that you stop your rake to listen to the sound of falling leaves.

Jonathan Stableford lives in Strafford.

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