Climate change is killing trees, threatening birds and mammals, and leading to devastating wildfires across the 85m acres run by the NPS. Patrick Gonzalez, the principal climate-change scientist at the NPS, told me about rising sea levels (there’s been a 22cm rise across the bay at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, since 1954); high ocean temperatures bleaching and killing coral in Virgin Islands National Park; and major vegetation types and wildlife moving upwards.
Yosemite saw subalpine forests moving up into subalpine meadows over the last century and small mammals, including mice and ground squirrels, shifting 500m uphill. “As temperatures warm,” he said, “things on higher elevations get warmer and things on lower elevations move up.” Bark beetles, once killed by cold winters, are now surviving and wreaking havoc with trees. “You go to Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone… hillsides formerly covered in a green canopy of trees are now just rust-coloured areas.”
If no action is taken, the glaciers of Glacier National Park may melt away; Joshua trees could die out in the park that bears their name; bison may disappear from Yellowstone; and the ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde in Colorado could crumble away.
You can tell everything about a person, says a common piece of wisdom, by how he or she treats the waiter. It’s a dependable and convenient yardstick, given how the bistro tables and corner booths are, very often, the places where we decide upon whom we let into our lives – acquaintances who might become dear friends, depending on how urged we feel to linger on after the bill has been dropped; those we may choose as colleagues, gauging by whether their ideas are so dull we require a second coffee; dates who remain just that, failing somehow to attach to our ideas about the futures we’ve imagined. Beyond bantering with the staff or failing to, forgiving the waitress her misstep or snapping at her for it, there’s another element of our comportment as diners that serves as a kind of shorthand: the public element of the transaction ends up serving as a kind of censor, limiting the largeness of our expression but placing a premium on the smallest of gestures and phrases. In the expensive cities where I’ve spent all my adult life, where the luxury of the space to cook is rare and a halfway point between subway stops seems the only polite solution, white tablecloths and Edison bulbs and pale green espresso machines have almost always been the backdrop when I have chosen people, and likewise when I have let them go.
Early last Monday morning, a friend of mine sent news that a tree we knew, a sequoia, had collapsed in a winter mountain storm. I was in New York, where two inches of hard snow sat on cars and tree branches that themselves looked like death. He was in Northern California, near the place where we grew up. No one is certain of the fallen tree’s age, but it is thought to have lived at least a thousand years. Any tribute I could give it would be fatuous; the tree was older than the language in which I can write.