The Forces of Summer

UNLESS aroused by mighty natural forces of flood, earthquake, or prairie fire, civilization preoccupies itself with societal weather.

This human weather, which we talk about even more than nature's, has its own charts, graphs, and weather persons, whom we call commentators. The economy and federal legislation are big topics in the human weather reports. The Washington weather bureau is reporting yet again about the House and Senate budget negotiations. The White House is noticed trying to extinguish the minor storm system centered on FBI director William Sessions, who was fired.

The societal weather system considers the President of the United States its prevailing force; its barometer his popularity rating. Hence we find Mr. Clinton taking frequent look-sees at the Mississippi River flooding: Here is something he cannot be blamed for. The cleanup, however, is something else, and he is avoiding George Bush's mistake of appearing to respond slowly to hurricane Andrew.

The recently revamped White House focuses on one lead topic at a time, and so the flood occluded Clinton's response to the military's proposal for accommodating gays in the armed services.

Nature's displays of summer force remind us of other, reassuring, time cycles.

At a European retreat in recent days, I observed the afternoon thermals that lifted sundry hawks and gliders to the mountain crests. Each mountain watershed has its own micro weather system.

In late morning the system is in balance, the air still. Then, warmed in the valley, air starts to move up the watershed troughs, creating gentle thermal winds by afternoon, with a side circulation that skims the Alpine walls. During the night the circulation is reversed; cooler air flows down the watershed trough.

To this add the prevailing winds, generated by the extremes in temperature at the equator and the poles and by the earth's rotation. And the annual effect of the earth's tilt gives us the seasons.

A friend in Mainz was discussing the layoffs at General Motors' nearby Opel company, competition with Japan, and the lamentable state of things in East Germany. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was faltering. The Bundesbank was reducing interest rates, mostly to placate France and other partners. Where, he worried, would we all be by the year 2000? The sun, we agreed, would still be shining along the Rhinegau, where the Romans had first planted vines some 2,000 years ago. The villages here and elsewhere in Europe have discovered the summer festival as a marketing device.

Nearby, as farm earnings shrink, land holdings are returned to controlled fields and forests under government agreement - pastoral landscaping on a grand scale. These holdings could come into demand if, as demographers claim, global population growth again exceeds gains in food output.

In America, the Great Plains water basin's future will be considered in a time frame larger than the quarterly earnings or election cycle of the human weather system. Wetlands, farm technology, community siting will be rethought.

Nature's forces are humbling. But we can be grateful for its tremendous display of energy, at our disposal whatever society's own meteorology.

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