Year Without a Summer

Would you rather live through frigid summer temperatures or another pandemic?

In the spring and summer of 1816, a dark fog rolled over the northern hemisphere. 

Temperatures throughout the summer months that year averaged about 37 F cooler than usual (meaning the high temperatures throughout the Northeast were probably between 48-to-58 F instead of our usual 85-to-95 F).

Frosts were reported in June and July throughout New England and New York. Crops were destroyed. The frigid temperatures caused typhus outbreaks in Europe and the Mediterranean. Livestock died in the U.S. Famine broke out in Britain, Ireland, and Wales. Food prices rose so high in Germany, people rioted in the streets. 

1816 was dubbed, “Year Without a Summer.”

All of this happened as the result of a massive volcano eruption the year before (the eruption in recorded history) in what is now Indonesia. This eruption was so powerful, the sound could be heard up to 2,600 miles away. Smaller, phreatic eruptions, continued throughout the next six months, releasing SO2 into the stratosphere. 

The result was a weather anomaly that affected the entire northern hemisphere. 

The fog that hung over the earth was captured in paintings by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich. 

I had never heard of “Year Without a Summer” or Mount Tambora or its eruption until a little over a week ago. (I saw it on an episode of Drunk History if you must know. And yes, I did check the details later to rule out any inconsistencies of a drunk storyteller.) 

It’s so crazy when you learn something about history that you never knew before. It’s like the entire world feels upside down and inside out and you start questioning everything you thought you knew. 

And all I could think was Did people know why there was no summer? Did they wonder if the sun was just… gone? Were they freaking the fork out, wondering if things would ever return to normal?

Lord Byron’s poem “The Darkness” written in 1816 suggests that people may not have known the reason for the dark fog and cold temperatures.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day

Can you imagine summer just not happening and not knowing why? 

Truly, all I could think about was that at least we know what COVID is and why it’s happening. Even though we were robbed of an entire year of our lives, we knew that the lockdown was never forever. 

We knew that we would go back to normal (albeit a very different normal) and get to eat inside restaurants, hug old people, and raw dog the subway pole with our palms again (Okay, maybe not that). 

Which brings me to my point: sometimes learning how stuff could be worse can make us feel better about how things are*.

Last week, I was struggling to find stuff to be grateful for. Even though the weather was a little warmer (hey, 47 F!), there was still nothing to do, I was still bored AF, and everything still felt just really depressing. 

And then “A Year Without a Summer” fell into my lap. 

Another silver lining of the weather anomaly of 1816 was that the fog and dark stormy days were catalyst for art and progress. The weather inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s short story, The Vampyre (the precursor to Dracula). Some believe that the bicycle was invented that year as a means of horse-free transportation. 

We all know that tragedy and disruption can advance progress. It just usually doesn’t always help to think about it during the tragedy itself. 

*I usually need a new-to-me-things-could-be-worse story for this to work. We often become desensitized to other peoples’ pain thanks to a coping mechanism in our brains called emotional desensitization.  

Gratitude Prompts: Week of March 7

  1. After reading about “Year Without a Summer”, do you feel grateful for anything in particular? That information spreads quickly or that scientists can actually give us a why for massive natural catastrophes?

  1. How has technology or political policy changed more rapidly as a result of the COVID outbreak? What works of art, music, TV, movies, etc. were released due to the pandemic?

  1. Does thinking about any of this bring up particularly negative emotions? If so, that’s totally okay and totally normal. If we move on past negative emotions and tragic events without processing them, they get stuck and tend to bubble up later. What are the ways you work through this type of pain? 

As always, feel free to write your gratitude prompt answers in the comments!

An update on The Little Things, a Gratitude Journal: The journal should be finished by the end of March! Please continue to enjoy the free bi-weekly prompts in these emails until the journal is ready for purchase!

And thank you all again for reading/supporting my work. It’s so heartwarming how supportive everyone has been.