Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Mercurial Mediterranean Climate

 View of Wildcat Canyon  Berkeley, CA

In the San Francisco Bay area, we are longing for rain. We have had a scant 60 mm of rainfall this season and are on target for a record dessication. But we share with the Mediterranean a moody record of annual rainfall. Hills are dusty and gray; stream beds are dry. Perhaps the climate fluctuations from wet to dry are an organizing root metaphor for Mediterranean life--a stable instability, an unpredictable quality to survival. Water wars may have begun in the Eastern Mediterranean. Some have proposed that the repeated collapse of Mediterranean cosmopolitan cultures both at the beginning Middle Bronze Age around 2200 BCE and at the end of the Late Bronze Age at 1100 BCE may have resulted from random droughts and the consequent disruption of food and water supplies leading people to move into more fertile areas.
But drought alternating with drenching fosters in us an appreciation of change and flux and unpredictability. In the words of Archilochus, the archaic Greek poet from the island of Paros:

"But delight in things that are delightful and, in hard times, grieve
Not too much—appreciate the rhythm that controls men's lives."

(fragment 128, Douglas E. Gerber, Greek Iambic Poetry, Loeb (1999) pg 167)

In our culture, we have little appreciation of rhythm. We often try to contain it--witness the explosive increase in the diagnosis of mood disorders in American psychiatry and the market plethora of mood stabilizers aimed at constraining moodiness. Purportedly, unlike human emotions, we cannot constrain the vagaries of shifting weather; we can only influence the long term biases of climate. With global warming, we have destabilized the earth's climate. Most immediately, global warming leads to extreme and chaotic fluctuations in temperature and rainfall. A heightened appreciation of climatic rhythms would lead all of us to recognize how emotional and interpersonal rhythms also pervade our daily lives.

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