The first snowdrop to appear on the Vineyard this year was reported last Monday by Tom Hodgson of West Tisbury, who has become the Island’s unofficial chronicler of what is thought to be a harbinger of spring.
The arrival of this graceful flower after a spell of winter weather that seemed to last less than a week provoked outcries of concern for our climate. Only the day before, after all, The New York Times and Boston Globe reported this week that 2012 was the warmest year in recorded weather history in the United States. Extreme storms are on the rise, with Hurricane Sandy of course the most recent reminder in this country. On the other side of the world in Australia, the year 2013 has begun with record heat and massive wildfires.
The Vineyard was spared many of the weather extremes in the past year, escaping the record heat and drought that scorched much of the rest of the country, experiencing only a glancing blow from powerful Sandy in late October.
But on an Island where the natural world is celebrated, there is a growing sense of things being out of order. Azaleas and forsythia are blooming in December. Towhees are scuffling and singing from the bare branches of lilacs and locust like it was spring.
The osprey returned in March last year, a full month ahead of schedule.
Gray snapper, a fish native to Florida, is finding a more hospitable natural habitat in the warming ocean water off the Mid-Atlantic states and above, scientists reported this week. Lobsters, once prevalent off the Island coast, have moved north.
But Tom Hodgson’s snowdrops were early last year too. And five years ago, their lissome stems emerged from their sheltered spot on Music street the exact same week in early January.
We have no doubt that climate change is affecting our global environment. There is evidence everywhere of rising and warming seas, shrinking ice caps, parched earth and violent storms. The problem is so vast that it is hard sometimes to grasp it.
A lowly snowdrop appearing in January may not in fact be the result of climate change at all. But it is an image at a scale we can all relate to. And perhaps begin to take small steps to deal with the larger looming issues.