Alternate Histories: 4/22, 4/29

(If you’re a new visitor to the blog, you can read this explanation of alternate histories.)

4/22/16

Tipping points. Deforestation tipping points. Tipping points of rising seas, tipping points with ice melt.

*

4/29/16

The next day, C went to the library to return one book of dire predictions and take out another. On her way, she stopped the car by the salt inlet and looked out over the eelgrass and mudflats, the ways the water and soil and roots and dead matter and sand meshed with and ate at one another. She thought about the delicacy of their arrangements, the ways in which they were never still, growing and dying, eating and rotting, silting up and subsiding—the small changes that couldn’t survive a big change. She thought of the inlets swamped and choked by rising water and never coming back. Her mind didn’t even get as far as the wider world. She leaned against the warm hood of her car and sobbed.

C wasn’t afraid of loss or change in human civilization, or human culture. She was afraid of human disappearance; she knew that for that to happen, land, water and air would have to alter so drastically that they’d take hundreds, thousands, of other creatures and relationships with them. She knew that to prevent these alterations, other things would have to alter drastically instead: systems of production and exploitation, the supply chain of her wine and bread and salad greens, people’s imaginations of one another and of other living creatures. She wanted to support the second kind of alterations; hence the books, hence the conversations she tried to navigate, hence some of the small choices she knew didn’t do much but helped her feel connected to efforts of change.

What she feared, what she was crying for by the side of the road, was that no support she could give mattered—not just that she couldn’t do anything to hold off the deadly changes, but that no one could, that even the second kind of alterations would not replace the first. That the future was not a delicate and changing saltmarsh but a static, settling graveyard.

Why work toward changes that don’t matter, that won’t save anything you love, C thought? Why not just wait for the dead water to cover everything?

What is it too late for? To save ourselves. To keep ourselves going forever.

What is it not too late for?

In the weeks and the years that followed, C behaved like a person with an illness that they know will kill them soon, and so did many other people. They didn’t hoard much; rather, they gave things away. They made various kinds of amends, not just to human people, but to trees and insects, birds and waterways. They were kind. They sat down in strange places—in front of tanker trains, on the hoods of police cars, in front of the houses of lawmakers. They drank what was left of the wine, and didn’t ask for any more.

And the trains slowed and stopped, because the drivers didn’t know if they would live to collect their pensions. The cop cars rusted out, because there were so few years of human life left total; who’d risk their own, or take another’s? The lawmakers didn’t bother consolidating their power for their next term; they might not get to have one. They worked to make amends, to heal beyond damage, to nourish the present, while they waited for the dead water to cover everything.

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