What on earth is going on?


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Like most people, I check the weather every morning before beginning my day. Rain, snow, heat, humidity. Whatever is coming that day, I want to know before I venture out.

When I was young, I worked as a house painter for a few years. Most of my work took place at the top of an aluminum extension ladder. Knowing what to expect from the weather was important.

Sixty years ago, the seasons were fairly predictable.

The summer brought heat. Fall brought relief as the leaves turned and students played football in the cool of the evening. Snow started flying around Thanksgiving and continued throughout the winter.

We might have had some incredibly cold winter mornings, but I don’t remember not delivering the morning newspaper to my Dayton Journal Herald customers because of the cold.

A few times the snow was so deep I had to walk my paper route, but several customers would greet me at their door with hot chocolate. That was nice.

Back in those days, it seems that once we had a good, deep winter snow, the sled riding would begin and would continue for most of the winter. We didn’t use the cheap little plastic sleds that are around today. Our sleds were made of metal and wood and lasted for years (unless a tree jumped out in front of you.)

The best sleds were the Flexible Flyers. The metal runners could be polished up for more speed.

There was a wooden bar across the front of the sled that was used for steering. You could lay on your stomach and steer with your hands or sit on the sled and steer with your feet. Either way, by leaning left or right and using the steering bar you could control the sled.

We had one sled-run inside the park at the Germantown Dam that required excellent control or just blind luck. From the top of the hill, there were nearly a dozen turns and drops through the trees that required skill to negotiate.

Sledding down the side of the Germantown Dam required absolutely no skill, but it did require luck to survive. Starting at the top, we would pick up speed for about 50 feet. Then we hit a level spot that would launch the sled through the air.

We landed on another steep downhill section, then we hit another level spot and again we would defy gravity. That continued – flying on the snow and flying through the air – until landing at the foot of the hill.

When the day ended, we would be beaten and bruised, but it was always a glorious experience. Those cold weather adventures did not just happen a few times each winter. It seemed like we could go sledding or ice skating almost anytime between December and March. It was a great childhood.

Like most of our friends, we did not have air conditioning. If the summer nights became excessively hot and humid, we would grab a blanket and a lawn chair and sleep on the back porch. Several times, the entire family lined up on the back porch. It did not happen often, but it happened throughout the 50s and 60s.

Now…

Whether you believe in global warming or climate change caused by human and industrial activity, something has happened. Even during my 70-year lifespan I can tell that things have changed.

My Dad moved into a retirement facility about five years ago. He insisted I take his snowblower. I’ve used it only a few times since then. One recent winter, I did not use it at all.

A few years ago, Debbie and I drove to San Francisco and up the Pacific Coast. We enjoyed the trip, but several places in the west were on fire. Thousands of acres were burned. Entire communities were destroyed.

This year it is predicted to be even worse.

In Nevada and Arizona, lakes and water supplies are evaporating. There was so little snow in the past few years, the folks living along the west coast are fearing a severe drought.

Thirty years ago, I visited Alaska and hiked up to a glacier near Seward. I did not have to hike far to get to the face of the glacier.

When Debbie and I visited the same glacier a few years ago the ice had receded considerably. Since my visit in 1991, the hike to the face of the glacier is now a third of a mile longer. In 2017 the glacier retreated nearly 300 feet.

Globally, we are losing our ice fields. Geologist predict that all the glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana will be gone by 2100. They are all melting.

In the past, it was normal for weather conditions to be reported as part of the nightly national news, but recently the weather, heat, fires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes are the news. Significant changes have occurred in my lifetime. I worry about our future.

I want my grandchildren to know the joy of flying downhill on a Flexible Flyer.

We need to take care of our planet.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist