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Azaleas in Winter


If my azalea bushes are blooming in mid-February when the temperatures are in the low 80s, what will be happening in my garden in July? I've heard the buzz. Haven't you?

"It's so beautiful." "I love this weather." "I'm starting my suntan early this year."

This faux spring weather troubles me more than it delights me. I remember when things were different. While living in Clemmons, NC (just outside of Winston-Salem), I frequently was rejoicing when big snows would blanket our little town and schools were closed down for days. Snow days were like mini-carnivals, without the costs.

I had a friend, William Hutchins, who was sort of an eccentric genius. While other kids were having snowball fights or building unremarkable snowmen, he was building a bobsled course in the woods behind his home. We would take our sleds, get a running start and launch onto the snow-packed trails he had engineered. Sharp turns were made safe by packed snow pressed against logs. Straightaways were sometimes interrupted by big roots, but we managed to avoid catastrophic spills, ....mostly. Thick trees lined the trail, demanding precision and keen focus. When we reached the bottom of the trail there was an amalgamation of feelings comprised of sheer exhilaration and utter relief. After the runs had worn us out, William would tinker and tweak his bobsled course like a mad scientist creating Frankenstein.

We don't need to attend university science classes or read the latest reports from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt to know climate has changed. If you over the age of 60, as I am, you just have to retreat into the bank of your own memories. You may have lived in a home without air conditioning like I did. I appreciated the attic fan that pulled the cool night air into our home. But mostly, my family and our neighbors adapted to summer heat which was tolerable. I remember playing tennis on the outdoor courts at Wake Forest University in the summer all day long with my friend Danny Waddell, as long as we had plenty of gatorade to drink. Or there were days when I and other potential teenage hoodlums would go to the Clemmons gym (with no air conditioning) and play basketball much of the day.

I can become very nostalgic thinking about those days of unsupervised sports with only your own wits and social skills to navigate the inevitable tussles or fights that broke out. But today I'm troubled more than nostalgic about the experience of higher temperatures and more severe weather patterns that are becoming the new normal. My personal experiences differentiating 1973 and 2023 tell me things are hotter. My science background and continued reading of scientific journals confirm these experiences aren't just personal. They are global.

I hope my 3 grandchildren (and 2 more on the way) can enjoy the outdoors, the thrill of beautiful (not terrifying) snow, and spaces in which they can play, explore, grow, socialize without supervision and discover the amazing world God has created. My hope has become a catalyst for advocating for a new world with clean energy, air and water.

Today I have agency. I have the power to effect change for my grandkids and others. There is another William Hutchins out there itching to unleash his genius on the snow in the woods. I want to help him and enjoy his genius. And I want to exercise faithfulness in taking care of God's planet. As someone said recently, "There is no planet B."

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