When the temperature rises above 100, I like to think about historic times when it wasn’t. When George Washington led his soldiers into Winter Quarters at Valley Forge December 19, 1777 the temperature sat at eight degrees. Shortly the deepest snows of the season feel on these bedraggled men and their discouraged leader, who’d just heard from Congress no more funds would be coming—because they had none to give.
Just off a defeat at Brandywine, hungry men came into camp without proper clothing, many with bleeding feet. Typhus began to move into this camp that lacked a hospital to treat them or the wounded coming from battle. Without casualties from the battlefield, five solders per day were dying—some starving, some freezing for lack of blankets.
Horses were faring no better than the men, falling from lack of fodder or protection from the sub-freezing temperatures. Men were forced to take on the harnesses to pull what few supplies were available.
Memories of the previous December, when victory at Ticonderoga warmed their thoughts, then made victory seem within reach. Now desperation set in among the troops and even their leader began to wonder if their push for independence could be over before 1778.
No Madeira for Christmas
Some of the soldiers “celebrated” Christmas with vinegar and rice, others managed to feast upon burnt mutton and watery grog. Even Washington ate his mutton without Madeira wine as none was to be had at Valley Forge, but that was the least of his worries. Madam Washington left the warm fires of Mount Vernon to join in the misery, attempting to raise the spirits of her spouse and his camp.
Yet all looked bleak for the Colonists, perhaps they would be forced to bow to the Europeans.
Today when Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and the Midwest join Texas and the South in suffering through 100-degree temperatures, millions of people share in the misery. People are dying without any understanding or recognition that this is not “just another summer.” This is not something that goes in cycles…with sea-levels rising around the globe. It’s not possible to believe “if we just wait another year or two”—the temperature will reverse itself. For the last five years, the average temperature worldwide each year has been warmer than the prior one.
Rediscover American Spunk
As Americans we set an example—to show each other and the world we’re not blind to the atmosphere and the suffering around us. No matter our politics, surely no one among us wants to leave a molten planet for the future–our relatives, our children, and grandchildren. Change won’t come overnight, nor will it be painless, but we are capable of helping each other to move forward. Several steps can make a difference–if we set our indoor thermostats higher, reduce the amount of waste—food, glass, aluminum—recycle, bike to our errands during lower temperatures, reduce our use of plastic bags, and use transit whenever possible.
Valley Forge proved to be the transition turnaround time for General Washington. Congress eventually came through with some funds and Martha and the governor’s wives joined to raise money for the troops ($300,000 in 1778 funds), General Green took over scouring for food to feed the army, Washington recruited a Prussian General to train the troops, and a sanitary hospital helped revive his men. By March 1778 the American troops were prepared to take on the British—not instantly—the Treaty of Paris didn’t conclude the war until 1783.
Today? Let’s demonstrate American spunk to insure the future. What we deliver to the next generation rests in our hands. Our independence and frankly the shorelines that surround our continent depend on it.