“There are times I almost think I am not sure of what I absolutely know-oh!
Very often find confusion in conclusion I concluded long ago -oh!
In my head are many facts that as a student I have studied to procure,
In my head are many facts of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!”
So sings the King in “The King and I”. Anyone who has ever given five minutes thought to the issue of climate change probably feels much like that. It’s hard to know what to think because there are so very many opinions as to why, if, how much and how bad climate change is. But as another famous figure said, “I know what I know.”
What I know is this. Theodate Pope and John Riddle were married May 6, 1927. It was a nice day according to the weather records. A low tempurature of 45 degrees overnight rose to a nice spring temperature in the low 70′s for the wedding day. Picture perfect. Naturally, there are lovely photos of the wedding day. John and Theodate are smiling together near the stone wall by the Sunken Garden. The household staff is lined up on the front lawn facing the house. And it looks like the middle of winter in the pictures.
In an earlier post, I discussed studies being undertaken at Boston University that examine Henry David Thoreau’s records of wildflower blooming dates. Thoreau kept exhaustive records which scientists are comparing to the average bloom dates today. Nature coordinates blooming times to the return of certain insects and birds, so that pollination can occur (now you know why they call it the “birds and the bees”.) Should the bloom and the bird/bug arrival get out of synch, the plant risks becoming obsolete. Fully a third of the species on the Thoreau list are extinct. I wanted to take an informal look at possible climate change at Hill-Stead seeing if there had been a noticeable change in the onset of spring over the years since the Popes and Riddles lived in the house.
Knowing what a great archive we have here at Hill-Stead, I asked Cindy Cormier (Director of Curatorial Services) and Melanie Anderson (Associate Curator for Rights and Reproductions) for some help. Mel waded through box after box until we found a couple of good ones from the wedding between Theodate and John Riddle. I wanted something with a sure date that took place in Spring. The wedding fit the bill. EVERYONE wants to have wedding pictures done in the Sunken Garden! Surely Hill-Stead’s owner and muse would have done it! So, we figured, there would be some nice outdoor shots of the happy couple.
There are some terrific photographs. I chose two and decided to duplicate them with my own photographs around the date of the wedding day to see how much ahead we are now, if we are ahead at all. I took them in color and then edited them into black and white so the comparison would be fair.
Here are the originals:
It’s nice seeing such a happy day. Wedding pictures are always fun to look at. But look at the trees in back. True, some are evergreen. But the deciduous trees to my eye anyway look just barely budded out.
OK, now to the pictures I took on April 28, 2009. I had good weather that day, with temperatures about where they were for the Riddle nuptials. I couldn’t bank on that being the case a few days later. And although in a few days’ time the trees would be more leafed out than when I took the photos, I seized the moment and clicked the shutter. Here they are:
Try to imagine the staff posed in front of this wall in the picture to the right. Now, below is a picture of where I think John and Theodate Riddle posed:
I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. I don’t presume to take a position on the whys and wherefores of global warming. But to my eye, in the modern photos there are clearly trees with flowers, buds and leaves on them. They look advanced to me. The dogwood in the staff picture is in full bloom as is the beauty bush in the “couple” photo. Maybe I am a few feet off, maybe that shrub wasn’t prominent then. In the vintage photos, I do think there are some buds here and there, but not much. Things look more like the beginning of April to me.
As in the King’s song, It’s a Puzzlement. Is the climate changing? It seems like maybe so. Is it a natural cycle, or did we place ourselves on the edge of the precipice we’re on? I’m not sure it matters, all I know is that the view from here is scary.
See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist