I saw this story about ice shelves in Antarctica–did you see that? That they’re melting much quicker than scientists anticipated, and that we’ve passed the point of no return. This was two days ago, and it was just another reminder that we’re in deep trouble.
What does deep trouble mean here? What do you imagine when you imagine that kind of future?
Nothing good–I don’t even know. Projections I’ve seen of downtown Newport with two-three feet of sea level rise, the flooding in Cranston–if that kind of flooding is going to be more permanent and more frequent. In Cranston, people had to leave their homes.
P got on the number 60 bus early the next morning. In Newport, a higher sea washed around the wharfs and lapped at the damp sand; P looked up the beach, where he thought the water might come to, but wasn’t sure.
The day after that, P, who is a journalist, began researching titles to vacant houses in Cranston. The women working in the title office got to know him fairly well and so did the people researching ways to renovate houses using existing materials instead of newly manufactured ones, without turning everyone’s lungs into gross sponges for lead and dust and solvents.
We’ll help you rebuild your house away from the water, said P’s friends and the nephews of the women working in the title office to the people living at the edge of the seas and rivers, if you let us do it in a way that won’t mess up the ground and water more than they already are. Other than that, it’s up to you: how do you want it to look? How do you want it to feel? Who all needs to live there?
The skeletons of the old houses—the things they couldn’t move—they left, hoping they weren’t too poisonous, hoping that oysters and mussels and rockweeds and barnacles could grow on them—as they do even on the wharf pillars, green with arsenic.
In this story, the people of the city are eager to transform the houses they aren’t using. To renovate means “to make new” but what they’re doing is more like making something old. But they’re not returning, they won’t be returning to their houses; there is no return. There’s no way to stay the same, only a way to make the new house give them something the old house did not.