Global warming is worsening, and the sudden realization that gardeners cannot do much about it alone knocked the filthy air out of me last week.

The science of carbon buildup and ozone depletion in the earth’s atmosphere is settled. I convinced myself for many years (my head-in-the sand survival technique) that everything would work out, but I can’t ignore darker clouds any longer.

Storm clouds and a Kentucky faux prairie with (L-R): Callie Allison, Robbie Cooper, Milton Cooper, Robin Cooper, Holly Cooper and Rose Cooper.

I grow dozens of different native perennials. And for those keeping score: I have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs around the Salvisa farm over the last 12 years—redbuds, button bushes, oaks, bald cypresses, wild cherries, hickories and spice bushes. I have a two-acre faux prairie that captures a miniscule amount of carbon but is packed with pollinating goodness and produces loads of seeds for ravenous goldfinches.  

Gardeners may have a little reason to feel virtuous but not much.

I gave myself a talking-to last week and spoke truth: I cannot mitigate the consequences of continuing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest alone.

We’ve got solar panels that power our farmhouse and my all-electric Chevy Bolt, but the panels and batteries are not squeaky clean—environmentally—either.

I am in a summer rut, searching for a cooler and more sustainable path forward.

A healthy American elm down the street

A big yellowwood tree (Cladrastis kentuckea)

I walked down our Louisville street on Saturday morning, not expecting solace. I stood reverentially beside an old American elm that has somehow avoided Dutch elm disease. Volunteer seedlings have popped up over the years in our garden.  I’ve planted some on the farm in Salvisa. One healthy elm survives after seven years. A few doors down from the Louisville elm is the biggest yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea) I’ve ever seen. Its massive trunk has rotten cavities and limbs that are cabled together, but it persists. A momentary hallelujah.

Why fret?

The summer news gets worse.

Last Friday West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin put the kibosh on Federal spending to combat climate change. Spending would add too much to spiraling inflation, he argued, but I suspect the Senator would have “torched the deal” anyway. I am hot under a sweaty collar that global warming gets kicked down the dusty road again, especially by someone whose political vested interests and personal deep pockets are lined with coal.

Thousand-year-old bristle cone pines are suddenly on the “brink of death” according to a disturbing Washington Post story last week. The news is frightening.  I hope the 4,853-year-old Methuselah, the bristle cone elder statesmen, lives forever, but his Biblical namesake passed at age 969.  I am 71-years old. My clock is winding down, too.

Rufus waits for Leo, Elliott and Oliver

Is there a silver lining?

There are three little boys who walk over most days to our Louisville garden with wild-eyed enthusiasm. Leo, Elliott, Oliver, and their grandparents check on the garden, pond, plastic egg and concrete pig. They are worried also. Not about climate change, but the goldfish numbers are down. I suspect our backyard ecology of raccoons, cats, and herons. There are still a few fish left. Leo also wonders what happened to a second, large plastic egg.  He doesn’t take comfort when told it’s hidden by tiger lilies and masses of the shade-loving American beak grass (Diarrhena americana).

I am scheduled to fly to Bellingham, Washington, to visit my girls on Friday. I miss them so much. I holed up last week, trying to avoid Covid subvariants. I’ve had Covid once; I don’t want to punch a return ticket and jeopardize my trip. I have a stash of K-95 masks ready-to-go that may end up in the Bellingham dump before my return flight home. Of course, my air flight won’t help the ozone layer, either.

Traveling by bus would be environmentally cleaner, but there might be an even bigger Covid risk on a 2-½ day bus ride with 21 stops. I hate flying and I’ve got time; I’m retired. I traveled on Greyhound across the country in 1978 with the company of strangers and a pint of Bourbon. The bus riders kept a strategic distance from one another. They weren’t talkers. The bottle lasted most of the trip. I was never a prodigious drinker.

Along the way I found Nigel Nicholson’s book Portrait of a Marriage at a Boise, Idaho, bus station kiosk. What a peculiar place to find a book about Vita Sackville West, her husband Harold Nicholson, and Sissinghurst. The fascinating book, and small slugs of Bourbon, kept me entertained all the way to Seattle.

My stepson Cooper on a London, England park bench today in 99 degree heat.

Meanwhile, back in Louisville—Phlox paniculata ‘Speed Limit 45’

My granddaughter, in Bellingham, became Covid symptomatic over the weekend. The first PCR test came back negative.

The trip may be in jeopardy, but postponement wouldn’t be the worst thing in this overheated world. My backup plan: Leo, Elliott, and Oliver will be wandering over to the garden.