Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
On Peter Butler’s “. . . And now for the Weather Forecast January 1st, 2204”
As a fiction writer my attention was drawn to this haibun, set 190 years in the future, when presumably the world will be vastly different. However, there is no mention of aerial cars, space ships, air-propelled trains, teleportation or aliens. Although speculative, the haibun is set firmly in the zeitgeist, within the current culture of climate change disquiet—but we are not confronted by the doom and gloom scenarios of global warming. The narrative style is quite chirpy, as if altered weather patterns are inconvenient rather than alarming.
Everything has been turned on its head. January 1st is a Sunday, the first day of the year 2204 in the Gregorian calendar. The year will be a leap year, hence perhaps the upbeat mood. A Grade 3 rainstorm is forecast and the narrator’s wife has invited two dozen for a barbecue to celebrate her birthday. Presumably, in a leap year a woman can organise her own party, much as she can ask for a man’s hand in marriage.
Her star sign is Capricorn, meaning everything should be as she wishes—a project, a business venture, even a birthday celebration. Inconveniently, the "Government has ordered a Grade 3 rainstorm for Monday between 6.00 and 9.00 pm" and in typical Capricorn earthy and sometimes capricious manner the narrator’s wife is furious.
The first eight lines of the haibun are mostly dialogue which sets the conversational tone of the piece, followed by the first haiku
indicating that traditional weather vanes are no longer relevant; there is word play where "looking/for directions" can also be taken to mean weather data needs to be fed into the system by the climate authorities.
The International Minister of Weather seems to be as capricious as the wife of the narrator, who "hasn't really trusted climate control experts since the Grade 16 bolt of lightning which drilled a hole in London's iconic Westminster Bridge in 2124." One wonders if, in 2204, the secret of eternal life has been discovered when the narrator says: "The one they forgot to warn us about" as though he was alive at the time and remembers the incident only too well.
There are Big Brother overtones when we read that the International Minister of Weather allots meteorologic conditions to various countries on various dates, while the International Climate Executive decides on the overall weather timetable for the entire planet. It has "postponed the planned rainforest in the Sahara," eliciting the sarcastic aside that this will no doubt "please the camels."
Some things remain the same in 2204 as in 2014 when we find that "Beijing has disappeared again under a blanket of smog." Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?
In the final paragraph his wife has lost patience and is postponing the barbecue until Wednesday when a "Grade 2 soft breeze" has been ordered by the climate control administration.
The haibun ends on an amusing note with the consequences of global warming on full display. The narrator has ordered spring flowers from the Antarctic for her birthday.
The second and concluding haiku
late this morning
provokes reminiscences of the Queensland state of Australia when the local government resisted switching to daylight saving because its citizens believed the "time-switch" would cause the curtains to fade. And still do . . . Not to mention the dairy farmers who asserted that the cows would become confused, and who persist with the hypothesis to this day . . . .
Butler’s writing is laced with irony, indicating that the narrator, if not a climate sceptic, is at the very least sick and tired of the ructions over what should be done to save the planet by reducing the world’s carbon emissions, and whether this will improve the situation anyway. Perhaps, unlike the "wife" who continues to rail against the allotted elements, one should accept that we have little control over the vagaries of global warming, and whether it is man-made or not; even with all the international goodwill, and not-so-goodwill, we must learn to endure that which is dished out to us.
This haibun throws up questions about the arrogance of man in trying to control the uncontrollable. Are we really just tinkering around the edges? Just when you think climate science is settled the naysayers come out of the woodwork and the dispute goes on. The narrator’s wife’s disgust at being misled over the type of weather to expect for her barbecue could be seen as a metaphor for the inconsistencies and changes of stance in the current climate debate. The author seems to be saying that we will still be arguing about it 190 years from now.
While on the surface fanciful and irreverent, Peter Butler’s “. . . And now for the Weather Forecast January 1st, 2204” is not only an engaging, but also a thought provoking and multi-layered haibun.
. . . And now for the Weather Forecast January 1st, 2204
The Government has ordered a Grade 3 rainstorm for Monday between 6.00 and 9.00 pm and my wife is furious. It's her birthday and she's got two dozen coming to the barbecue.
"Look on the bright side," I say, "it could have been a Grade 15 hurricane."
"That's beside the point," she says. "The Government said it had ordered the next rain for Wednesday morning, between 09.00 and 11.30 am."
"The International Minister of Weather claims it's due to a clerical error and that lessons will be learned." We've heard that one before.
My wife hasn't really trusted climate control experts since the Grade 16 bolt of lightning which drilled a hole in London's iconic Westminster Bridge in 2124. The one they forgot to warn us about.
She also reads that the International Climate Executive has postponed the planned rain forest in the Sahara (which will no doubt please the camels). And apparently the Swiss have put in an unscheduled order for some of our snow, Beijing has disappeared again under a blanket of smog, and New Yorkers are being attacked by moths.
My wife has lost patience. She's postponing the barbecue until Wednesday (Grade 2 soft breeze). But at least on Monday she should get the spring flowers I've ordered from the Antarctic. I hope.
late this morning
First published in Haibun Today Volume 8, Number 1, March 2014