Watching the World Slip Away
I am holding the hand of a small child in a yellow raincoat and orange bib overalls. His little boots have long ago filled with water. His hair is damp and smells of salt. And I am staring at my boots and thinking of what it could possibly mean to this child, to live on a planet whose life-supporting mechanisms have frayed and fallen apart.
He sucks in his breath. “Hey! Guys! Come close and look. Come close and look.” Under a blade of rainbow kelp, he has found the red, orange-spiked, gooey sea animal called the California sea cucumber, Parastichopus californicus. How beautiful it is, and how beautiful is the human impulse to be astonished.
But there’s this: Yesterday, on a beach only two miles from this one, sea cucumbers by the hundreds washed up, dead. I’d never seen anything like that before. Gloriously colored animals sagging under the sudden weight of the world, they rolled in with the tidal detritus, tangled in seaweed and slime.
What does this mean for our children, yours and mine, this dying? Can children thrive in a world where other species are vanishing as they watch? I just don’t know. And what does it mean for us, the parents and grandparents who desperately love these children?
Do read the whole thing; it’s beautifully written. And click through for links to two other recent pieces by Kathleen.
Here’s a site I didn’t know about that will now become a regular stop on my virtual ramblings, from the Center for Humans and Nature. Lots of wonderful contributors; in May, Kathleen offered up a long, compelling piece on recognizing the rights of nature. A teaser:
. . . I’m not used to animals using me and showing me this complete disregard. Before the day is out, a booby will walk right over my feet and never even care. In the Galapagos National Park of Ecuador, the animals are free to do as they please. I have to follow strict rules for their benefit or be banished, while their rights to enjoy life and liberty, and to pursue happiness in their own lunatic ways are absolute. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a world that was flipped on its head—if our species had no rights, while other species had the right to walk all over us without regard or consequence. Now I know. It makes me strangely happy
And in the current issue of Orion, sleepless during a hot Alaskan night, she ponders the seemingly relentless progression of global warming, and begins to see how we might yet turn it aside, with a heartening insight she dubs The Rules of the River.
When there are so many obstacles and islands that a channel can no longer carry all its water and sediment, it crosses a stability threshold and the current carves a different direction. The change is usually sudden, often dramatic, the hydrologist said, a process called avulsion.
On the Toklat that night, the physics of the river played out right in front of me. A chunk of dirt and roots toppled from the bank, tumbled past me, and jammed against a mid-river stone. The current, dividing itself around the rootball, wrinkled sideways and turned upstream. It curled into pocket-eddies behind the roots. Even as I watched, the pockets filled with gravel and sand. A willow could grow there, and its roots could divide and slow the river further, gathering more gravel, creating a place where new life could take root
And she realizes:
. . . we don’t have to stop the river. Our work and the work of every person who loves this world—this one—is to make one small deflection in complacency, a small obstruction to profits, a blockage to business-as-usual, then another, and another, to change the energy of the flood. As it swirls around these snags and subversions, the current will slow, lose power, eddy in new directions, and create new systems and structures that change its course forever. On these small islands, new ideas will grow, creating thickets of living things and life-ways we haven’t yet imagined