I’m back on the road, walking faster than I could the last seven months. Ice and snow are long gone; the temperature is above 50; and even the relentless showers have abated, at least for the afternoon. Repaired quadricep is responding pretty well after 10 months and I’m thinking of hedging my bets, slowing down just a bit, but I can’t. The black flies won’t permit it, however much they’d love for me to do just that, sacrificing myself to become mid-week brunch.
Discussing mid-May black flies in Vermont has become something of a cottage industry and I’m reluctant to contribute to that agonizing genre, except I must, just to mention that I don’t remember the little bastards being able to fly fast enough to harass me the entirety of a several-mile walk. Granted, I’ve not identified them specifically and they may very well represent a changing cast of characters — an entomological gauntlet. Although there always seems to be a lot of them — there really does seem to be a lot of them. Their numbers may be unprecedented.
My hamstrings are beginning to burn as I turn “unprecedented” over in my mind a time or two, convinced it didn’t just show up randomly, out of the blue. Have I thought of it in other situations? Have I heard it used by someone recently? What else — aside from the dots encircling my face like electrons around the nucleus of an atom — is unprecedented? And finally, it hits me — almost everything.
We can certainly begin with politics, both global and domestic. Internationally speaking, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un — with whom Donald Trump claims to have “fallen in love” — is reported to have trimmed his inner circle after his summit flameout with the president, which was predictable to everyone except the infatuated couple. Although it might not quite rise to the level of unprecedented in the hermit kingdom, Kim apparently executed his special envoy to the United States, along with several others, shocking the world, redefining “special” and prompting Mike Pompeo to begin glancing over his shoulder.
Things were not any less unprecedented on this side of the pond, either, as Robert Mueller ventured out of his two-year seclusion, expounding publicly for approximately eight minutes, essentially asking the shrinking violets in the GOP what part of “does not exonerate” do they not understand. This unfiltered glimpse of reality, courtesy of the special counsel, was too much for Trump, launching the president into a tweet frenzy castigating Mueller, calling him a “Never Trumper,” suggesting his tormentor was “conflicted” over some obscure “business” dealings they once had — charges previously refuted by the Washington Post.
The president appears to have missed Mueller’s point entirely, claiming in an impromptu chat with reporters that it meant “case closed” and that impeachment was “a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.” After accidentally confirming via tweet — later deleted — that he had “nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected,” Trump angrily clarified: “You know who got me elected? I got me elected.”
Cresting a hill some miles from home, the flies remain hot on my trail, not to mention my eyes, nose and ears. I sense an uptick in their aggression now that I’m tired, as if they have me where they want me. Are they pragmatic enough to have planned this, I wonder, imagining them to be as sinister in their long-term objectives as the Taliban or Mitch McConnell. As I turn and head back, valiantly looking on the bright side, however blurry it might be through the bodies of insects drowned by my tears, I realize it could be much worse.
As we in north central Vermont whine about our favorite insects, snow two months into spring, below average temperatures, above average rainfall and weeks of overcast skies, we would do well looking south and west to understand just how lucky we are. The midsection of the country is experiencing truly unprecedented conditions as the Arkansas River and its tributaries rise to levels never seen before in recorded history, creating an inland sea over what were once neighborhoods and vast stretches of farmland.
What hasn’t been inundated by floods has been indiscriminately ravaged by several hundred tornadoes tearing through the heartland, in what has been termed an “unprecedented” outbreak by CNN, endangering tens of millions of people on an almost daily basis and prompting wide speculation about climate change. According to Inside Climate News, there is growing evidence that “a warming atmosphere, with more moisture and turbulent energy” favors such outbreaks. Additional findings point to an “eastward shift” in regions of tornado genesis, borne out by twister warnings issued in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New England.
The Trump administration’s response to the climate crisis is as unprecedented as the crisis itself: Purging Environmental Protection Agency websites of climate change references; rolling back the most significant federal efforts to curb greenhouse gasses; and, according to the New York Times, attempting to impose Trump’s hard line views on other nations, and even forcing the EPA to “abandon key aspects of the methodology used to understand the causes and consequences of a dangerously warming planet.”
Later, back home in the garden, sartorially fortified with head net, long-sleeved turtleneck and pants tucked into socks, I’m planting the last few seedlings with my friends still buzzing around my head, desperately seeking ingress and sustenance as the temperature rises to the low-70s, unprecedented, for this year anyway. Perhaps it’s the sudden heat; maybe it’s because I’m dressed like I’m cleaning out Chernobyl, but I have a vague premonition that, based on what’s transpiring right now, things are never going to be the same again. But before any anxiety takes hold, I feel strangely calm. Monumental change might not necessarily be bad, in fact, it might be exactly what the country needs.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.