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Outdoor Living

TIME AND TIDE As we debate the reality of climate change, the Greenland ice sheet – the second largest ice body in the world – continues to melt away.

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

With the weather up and down like this, it’s hard to know what to do. I see thick banks of dark cloud on the horizon, so make sure to take a coat. When I reach the farthest point from the car the wind changes direction and blows them out to sea, leaving me overburdened and wishing I had obeyed my instinct to travel light.
I learn, or think I do, and laugh at those same roiling heaps of cumulus while traversing the entire length of the Silver Strand. Just as I think of turning back the sun is blotted from the sky and a circular arena forms overhead, with me at the centre. Blue disappears as grey shows a black underbelly. A low growl sounds from all around, like an impatient murmur from a crowded Colosseum where the action is delayed.
It reaches a thunderclap crescendo and is done. It isn’t much as thunderstorms go, but the clouds crack to release a powerful downdraught of wind that slings summer hailstones in my face. Then comes a torrent of rain, a week’s worth squeezed into little more than a minute. There is no shelter, nor any point in running. The sun returns to set the strand gently steaming and the storm, that one, is gone to play another prank inland.
Back at home I pull up the weather charts for the day, to find a confusion of high and low pressure systems pushing and pulling as they vie for supremacy. Spawned on the far side of the Atlantic, they bring refreshing variety before spilling away to water Britain or the continent, where heatwaves and downpours continue to provide entertainment on alternate days, while further south parts of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy remain parched and drought-ridden.
Something is afoot, of that there is no doubt. We have a hundred years of reasonably accurate weather records to study. In geological terms that is nothing. Still, it should give us an idea as to what is normal, and what so many parts of the world are enjoying or enduring, as the case may be, is certainly at variance with what might be expected.
Is there more to come? I think that nobody knows.
James is sceptical. “Climate change? It used to be global warming. It’ll pass, and something else will come along to worry us all.”
I pointed out local changes in the environment, things even he has observed and passed comment on. The Blackcap, one of our summer warblers that traditionally winters in southern Europe, can be seen throughout the year. In one 1950s study only 250 blackcaps were recorded as wintering in Britain and Ireland. Now they are commonplace.
James wasn’t about to yield. “And how many folks were out looking for them 70 years back? Back then a bird was just a bird, to most people, anyway.”
I tried a different tack. “Didn’t I show you that yellow bird’s-nest growing where it never grew before? It’s spreading north as conditions are changing to suit it.”
“I never saw that before,” he admitted. “But that doesn’t mean anything. I was never looking for it, that’s all. A little flower like that could grow anywhere and not be seen.”
“Alright then, what about those big mushrooms, the warted amanita, that are growing nearby. They’re normally found where the weather is much warmer, and now they’re here with us.”
“Doesn’t mean a thing,” said James. “Nobody ever looked for them pookies either. They had better things for doing.”
“Alright,” I said, “did you hear about the Greenland ice sheets, how they’re becoming darker and absorbing more heat from the sun? It’s been going on for decades. They used to think it was soot from fires and industry, but now they’ve learned the ice is coated with an algae that seems to be new to the area. If all the Greenland ice was to melt the sea level would rise by 20 feet – around the whole world. They say we’d get extremes of weather. Hot one moment and bucketing down the next.”
“Isn’t that what we get here anyway? There’s nothing new under the sun – isn’t that what you said yourself? Look, that storm we had last night brought the river up a good bit. Did you ever see rain like it? There might be fresh salmon up. We ought to go, while it’s dry.”
“Hold on,” I said, “while I get my coat.”
“You won’t need that.”
I’m taking it anyway. We’ll make the most of our weather, whatever we get.