There’s a saying in Spanish here that roughly translates to: “The weather in febrero (February) is loco (crazy), but in marzo (March) it’s even more so.” Well, that’s certainly been the case lately. In this charming mountain town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, so far this month we’ve had winds that have tossed the chairs on my azotea (rooftop terrace) around like fallen leaves, days and nights of rain reminiscent for me of the rainforest of Gabon, eye-popping hail that covered my patio with tiny white frozen mothball-like pellets, and snow on the mountains in the visible distance.
This is Mexico?
This is March.
This is an unusual March, according to the news media. Mexico News Daily (www.mexiconewsdaily.com) reported the other day that winter weather had struck in twenty-five Mexican states: “Civil Protection officials described Wednesday [March 9th]’s weather conditions as severe and atypical in at least 25 states, where gusty winds, heavy rain, flooding and overflowing rivers were reported. Conditions were brought on by the simultaneous arrival of the 11th winter storm of the season, cold fronts … and a surada, a humid wind out of the south….”
I also read yesterday that an estimated eleven million monarch butterflies, here in Mexico for the winter, were killed by last week’s cold and snow.
This March has made me think of other Marches I have known. Of the seventy Marches I’ve experienced in my life, most of which predictably “came in like a lion and out like a lamb,” some, like this one this year, have stood out for their atypicality.
In Mali, for example, March falls at the tail end of l’Harmattan, the season when trade winds scoop sand from the Sahara and send it across the West African subcontinent, blindingly, like beige snow, in all directions. As I described this phenomenon in my Mali memoir, How to Make an African Quilt (Nighthawk Press, 2013):
“Angry gale-force winds threw dust and dirt into eyes, nose and teeth, enveloping the skin, encrusting the hair. One soon grew used to sand beneath eyelids, sand in the mouth, sand glued to a sweaty scalp. Open windows and doors invited sand inside the house, where a broom could gather piles of sand, several inches high, every afternoon (p. 38).”
The month of March got its name, they say, from Mars, the Roman god of war. And I must say it seems to me there’s something quite warlike about it. I feel like a foot soldier with no choice but to take orders from above: Just keep marching along. My Malian friends, so admirable in their ability to “endure with fortitude,” used to tell me, “Il faux supporter” — one must accept.
But extreme weather always makes me think (as I march along): How much is natural and how much is due now to climate change? And then my mind leaps to: What can I, as one small foot soldier, do about it?
Along these lines, I read an excellent Op-Ed essay in the New York Times yesterday titled “What Weather is the Fault of Climate Change?” The author, scientist Heidi Cullen, is also the author of the book The Weather of the Future, which I’m inspired to march right out and buy. Perhaps it will give me a new direction.