Monday, January 6, 2014


Photograph by Laura Hindle.
A friend in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, just posted this beautiful photo of the pond in her backyard on Facebook. I am feeling nostalgic for a real winter, for the snows and snowmen of my childhood, cross-country skiing through the woods, and playing ice hockey.

Then she posted that it was -15 degrees Fahrenheit, without the wind chill. This is not something I recall from childhood. I remember outdoor hockey games in high school, when the temperature dipped low enough that it hurt to breathe, and our sweaty hair would freeze instantly when we took our helmets off. I am pretty sure I’ve never experienced -15˚F, but unusual weather is not so abnormal these days.

Now I live in California, some sort of paradise. Yesterday I took a long walk on the beach, wading in the ocean as the tide came up. Today I picked tangerines and painted them, and then ate them.

Tangerines, 6x8" oil on birch, by Rebecca Stebbins.
Lest you think the grass is always greener, though, you should understand this: in a “normal” year, we have something like 17 inches of rain. In the past 16 months or so, we’ve had less than 4. My grass is not green. Almost everything in my garden is scraping by with minimal water. In Los Angeles, not far from here, this is the driest year on record, on the heels of several years of drought. The Colorado River, which supplies water to a number of competing interests – cities, farmers, golf courses, and of course the wild species which depend upon it for survival – is more besieged each year. There is no "normal" anymore, as far as I can tell.

We live in an arid climate out here in the West, but we don’t respect it and we don’t value our most precious resource. My neighbor next door regularly hoses down his bright  concrete driveway and his automatic sprinklers come on even when it does rain, helping to wash all the chemical pesticides he uses on his perfect lawn right down into the ocean. Even Oprah, who lives a few miles from me, is reported to pay $124,000 per year to keep her spacious lawns green. I guess if you can afford it, it’s ok, right? Well, no. Not in my opinion.

Clearly “global warming” is a misnomer; but I honestly don’t understand how anyone can still believe that our climate isn’t changing at a dramatic pace, on a global scale. And the only input that could be generating such a rapid change is the output of our unthinking human endeavors. As much as I love to paint tangerines in my studio, I feel I should be outside painting the landscape as well, because it’s possible that within a generation it won’t look anything like it does now.  

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