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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Racing Darkness

Air Date: Week of

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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg reflects on the coming winter.


CURWOOD: As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg has been preparing for the long winter ahead. This year, he says, the familiar routine feels changed.

KLINKENBORG: For some reason, every stage in this advancing season has brought with it a feeling of incredulity. A few weeks ago it seemed unbelievable that the leaves should be turning so soon, and then that they should have dropped so promptly. Now it seems incredible that snow should have fallen out of the goose-gray sky, skidding eastward toward the missing sun.

I wake up thinking "December already," and realize that “already” is a word that's been with me all autumn long, always measuring how far behind the season I feel. The weather has been anything but harsh. Even the few frosts so far have been less than militant. But I seem to be holding back, feeling a reluctance about winter I've never felt before.

Usually there's something purely pragmatic about that feeling: a long list of jobs that still need doing. Nearly everyone who lives in the country feels crowded for time. "Racing daylight" is the phrase I hear, and I hear it from men and women who have been working outdoors this time of year, racing daylight their whole lives. There's something different in the way they say it now. You hear hesitation from the most unhesitant people.

It takes no imagination to stay synchronized with the shifting of the season, with the retracting daylight, or the sudden gathering of a wet morning wind that gets behind your ears and under your hair when you feed the animals. You don't have to pay attention to keep up with the calendar, but you do have to be ready to part with the days that have already passed.

September took far more than a month this year. It probably took two months. The one our bodies lived, and the wholly different month we lived in our minds. Some of the reluctance that comes with this autumn is mere uncertainty, a sense that no one really knows the score. Going into winter takes confidence, even in a normal year-- even if it's nothing more than confidence in one's own preparations. That's not good enough this year.

I find myself wanting the world to be right with itself again, even if only in the wrong old ways. In the heart of the reluctance I feel and hear in the voices of my neighbors, there's a longing for the inconsequential summer we were having not so many weeks ago. Longing is probably too strong a word. Better to say that the memory of what was, for many Americans, an uneventful August exerts a certain attraction right now. But the present is irrefutable. The leaves won't rise again except on a cold wind. Before long, I hope, that won't seem so regrettable.


CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for “The New York Times.” You can hear our program anytime on our website. The address is www.loe.org. And while you're on line, send your comments to us at lettters@loe.org. You can reach our Listener Line at (800) 218-9988. CD's, tapes and transcripts are $15.00. You're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.



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