Sommaren raknar

I dette blogginnlegget skildrar Scott Bremer frå CALENDARS-prosjektet ein sommar i New Zealand som ikkje var slik den skulle.

An image of a collapsed road
The State Highway 25A between Kōpū-Hikuai on the Coromandel peninsula in New Zealand collapsed towards the end of January 2023 due to a slip caused by heavy rain.
Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency


Blogginnlegget er på engelsk:

This summer – that’s December and January 2023 – I went to New Zealand. I took my swimming ‘togs’ and expectations for wearing them. But summer wasn’t what it should have been. Any common threads with my childhood were unravelled.

I know New Zealand summers – I grew up with 25 or more of them. I know how summers feel, getting into sun-baked cars, and driving along with an arm out the window. How they smell, like melting tar and coconut oil. How they sound, all lawn mowers and waves and cicadas. How they look through sunglasses. And how summers taste, like corn on the cob bought on the side of the road, served with a charcoaled sausage.

My memories of all those summers are tied together by common threads – those sights, smells, all of it. My picture of a typical "kiwi summer" is a pattern formed where those threads, or rhythms, come together as they should. Summer is not one thing – it’s the coincidence of all those summer rhythms; of school holidays, of long evenings, of Pohutukawa flowers, of fresh fruit, of the "Christmas prickles" that needle bare feet as you run across the lawn. And we’re guided along those threads, by those memories, toward the best ways to ‘"do summer"; our activities. A lazy afternoon automatically turns into back-yard cricket, or a swim at the watering hole. We don’t need to think about dinner over summer – it’s a BBQ of course! We’re tied up in these threads, "these webs of significance" we spin for ourselves, as Clifford Geertz said.

So, we sense something is "off" when one of those summer threads is broken. I’ll always remember that one summer of my childhood when the beaches were littered with "blue bottle" jellyfish. There were hundreds washing up all over, and their stings hurt if you step on them. This anomalous rhythm – the unexpected pulse of jellyfish – and the ways it changed how I played on the beach makes that summer stand out in sharp relief from the typical picture.

Well, this year, the threads of summer were left in tatters. The pattern of summery rhythms hardly held, and many lamented the season that wasn’t. It rained, and it barely stopped. Cyclones and weather fronts chased each other’s tails over the North Island, so that people had only short gasps of sunshine before plunging again under rainclouds. The great Kiwi camping holiday was a wash-out, and so were the fresh fruit and vegetables; everything rotting under puddles. People couldn’t get to holiday houses as key roads gave way, and the beaches and rivers – normally summer playgrounds – were heaving with logs and detritus washed down from the upper catchments. The water was a mess. People dug out jerseys and jackets and left the sunscreen and sunglasses in the car glovebox. No one got a tan. Under the rain, the birds and cicadas were also more muted, and lawns were too soggy to mow. The cricket was on – people watched it on the couch – but their backyard pitches were too green.

Altogether, people were not sure what to do over this non-summer. With the skies grey and the beaches brown, "what shall we do with the kids," they asked. Libraries and museums filled up, petting zoos had a bumper year, cinemas did a roaring trade. And what shall we eat? Many people stuck to their guns, a summer should be spent standing at the BBQ, albeit under an umbrella. But it didn’t feel the same eating a piggie-in-a-blanket at the dining room table.

How many seasonal threads do we have to cut before we write the season off, or perhaps, feel moved to re-write it? Does it still make sense to talk about a New Zealand summer if its spent indoors, watching rain on the windowpanes? For some I talked to, it was still summer – just a wet one. They still distinguished the summer by the school holidays, and the public holidays around Christmas and New Years. The calendar tells us its summer, even if nothing else does; the summer is a timeframe, not an experience. And no two summers are the same after all – maybe this was "just a wet one". But with rapid climatic change on us now, we might see that some of those common threads with our childhood summers are cut. Weather patterns are changing and interacting with our increasingly modified environments. The phenology is changing – plants don’t behave according to the same internal clock – and certain summer staples may disappear from the menu. There was even talk of not repairing some of those washed-out rural roads and beach accesses. With increasingly frequent storms forecast for the future, some of New Zealand’s infrastructure may be dispensable, and some of those classic summer drives just a memory.

And that is the sinister side of this story. Because the changing picture of New Zealand’s summer could feature more frequent cyclones and storms, could bring a dangerous pattern of increased risk. This summer dozens of New Zealanders were killed, and many homes destroyed by flooding and landslides at scales and in places unforeseen. The soil simply didn’t have a chance to dry out before being saturated by another downpour, and another. Planners and engineers, architects and hydrologists, insurance companies and banks will all be forced to detach their calculations of flooding from past experience and statistics. We will be forced to cut threads with summer flooding of the past and consider a new pattern of summer risks.