Some things about leaves

Walked to vote on a raw Novemberish day in Providence. When the weather is seasonable, I feel better, even though I know it has no long-term meaning. The leaves are starting to come down in earnest finally and pile up a little.

leaves 1

To pay attention to some things, we have to neglect other things. Let them just pile up on the sidewalk, break down as best they can, let the dogs shit in them, let their own tenants of fungus and bacteria emerge, unsanitary, let them spread a layer of humus slowly over the sidewalk, let people walk and wheel in the street, let dropped seeds take root. How quiet it will be. Sour smell of the smashed locust pods rotting, sparrows having to make different decisions.

leaves 2

Streets paved with gold, in the short term: let them learn again to maintain themselves, let the seedlings teach the concrete to crack. Think about who is with you now.  When you step off the street itself to let an ambulance through, you are taking a walk in the forest.

 

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“We will keep fighting for the health and safety of South Providence”

Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a certificate–basically, the necessary permit–for National Grid to build a natural gas liquefaction facility on the Southside of Providence. If you know me or have been reading this site for a while, you know that I’ve been working with No LNG in PVD to stop this plant from endangering the people of the Southside and (through contributing to climate change by increasing the extraction, transport and consumption of natural gas) the world at large.

lng plant panorama

Here is our statement.

No LNG in PVD is committed to fighting for health, safety and justice for all residents of South Providence. For three years, neighborhood residents and committed allies have fought to stop National Grid from building a liquid natural gas plant on Allens Avenue that will increase health and safety risks for residents and contribute to global climate change. On Wednesday, October 18, we learned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted National Grid a certificate for this project, subject to certain conditions.

FERC’s decision came through 12 days after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in strong terms that ceasing fossil fuel emissions–reducing them to 45% by 2030 and to zero by 2050–is essential to maintaining human life and well-being on Earth. In National Grid’s permit applications, the useful life of the LNG facility is stated as ending in 2030. Meanwhile, on October 3, a truck carrying over 11,000 gallons of gasoline overturned on the Route 95 ramp from Allens Avenue, pouring gasoline onto the road and into the Providence River. Threats to the neighborhood and to the planet are ongoing from activity in the Port.

No LNG in PVD is proud of the work we have done to try to protect the people of the Southside. We are proud of delaying the construction of this shortsighted and dangerous facility for three years. We are proud of our attempts to participate in the public regulatory process despite many obstacles, and we are proud of the Southside: a neighborhood where people live and work, not a sacrifice zone. We wish that our elected officials listened to the concerns of the people they represent. We are grateful to Mayor Elorza for supporting our campaign from the beginning.

No LNG in PVD will continue to fight for the well-being of the Southside. This is only the start of ongoing efforts to make the Port of Providence clean and healthy again, and to make Rhode Island a place where economic and environmental health go hand in hand.

We learned the news yesterday. Today, I went with a friend to East Greenwich, RI to help collect salt marsh grass seed, which the Fish and Wildlife Service will germinate over the winter and set out in the spring at another marsh, in the John W. Chafee National Wildlife Reserve, to help the marsh keep pace with sea level rise.

grasses

[Image: grasses.]

Eventually, if the grass seedlings take, they will mediate between land and water (which helps humans) and provide homes for many nonhuman people there, as they do here.

grasses and mussels

[Image: grasses with mussels hanging onto their roots and the bottoms of their stems.]

I was, and am, so angry. I was, and am, so sad. I was, and am, so scared. And I am not finished. We are not finished.

grasses and beam

[Image: grasses, a sunbeam, and some tidal mud.]

I want to be clear: if the state were serious about the health and safety of the Southside, about “environmental management,” about “resilience,” we could and would work toward a restoration project like this there, too, where people live, where the land meets the water. Right now it’s poisoned by industry and choked by concrete, but Nature isn’t a specific place where you get to go if you’re rich. Nature is us.

When there is more that you can do to help us fight for-profit environmental racism, I will let you know.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 9/26/18

Weather: Gray, humid, sprinkling rain. Later, breezy and cooling off some.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

Short shift (4-6pm) today because of a meeting.

It’s pretty common for me to have conversations about farming and food when I do the booth at the farmers’ market. I think the three different ways these three different people are talking about them are illuminating.

Yellowjackets; cricket sounds.

 

Some conversations:

It’s a big world out there. It feels like a lot of things are ending, which, what do we do about that?

What do you do about it?

 I grow more plants, I learn about growing plants. I come to things like this.

 When is it that you feel anxious?

 Reading a new piece of news about, oh, the ways that communities are experiencing the world changing around them.

What does it feel like, when you read that or see that?

 Some kind of dread. But in many  cases it’s very removed from my actual life. It’s like I get an echo of what’s happening.

 Are there times when it feels more immediate?

 Looking around—my grandfather is a big gardener, and talking with him about things that have changed in his lifetime, like, he can grow these peppers for longer. It kinda feels positive—he feels like he can grow more stuff. English is not his first language, and he doesn’t read that much, so what he knows is mostly what my sisters and I talk to him about. So it’s one step removed, the dread—he gets it filtered through us. He’s good at focusing on the here and now.

 Is that something you can kind of learn from him?

 It feels like it’s something out of reach, but it’s good to tap into—to work in the here and now.

Do you have conversations with other people about this?

 Yeah, but a lot of the conversations I have are not very productive. Some of them end in like a feeling of dread or incapacitation—it doesn’t go anywhere and I kind of feel like it’s a copout, but how to move past that?

 What would happen if you moved past it by going through it?

 Often it’s either been with people or in spaces where we’re not able to be intentional about moving past that. It needs a devotion of time and energy, and you can’t do that individually, and the stars gotta align to have what you need to do it communally.

What would that look like?

 It would look like something that if it exists—it should look different from anything that we’re used to.

* 

It’s a bigger thing than me recycling. I do all the good things that people should do, I have dreams of owning my own little piece of land. But it’s no use doing my part unless I can get other people to do their part. The work I do, the nature of my work, kinda goes in that direction. I grow sunflowers at my house, I give ’em away to my neighbors—the other day there was a big group, a big bunch of middle schoolers, and I offered them sunflowers and they were all like ugh, you’re a dork, like my nephew’s that age. But there was this one, she didn’t want to admit that she wanted one, but she came back later.

… I feel guilty when I’m driving a car. On an individual level I do what I can, but on a macro level it’s too big for just me. Even if push comes to shove and we have to deal with some kind of environmental tragedy, we’ll handle it, hopefully. “Okay, what do we do now that the world’s underwater?” One thing that does worry me is that a lot of people close to me live in food deserts, food insecurity. Like one of the kids I was talking to [at CityFarm], she was like, “My family are farmers, but I go hungry sometimes.” So yeah, we’re giving food to the neighborhood, but what’s happening on the other side of the table? … I’m always mindful of it. I’ve gotten friends involved … It’s dope to meet people and get them interested in your interests. I’m much more into the personal interactions than I am in leading a movement. Empowering people to grow their own food– “You know what a ton of mint you can grow in this little pot? Try it!” People like to start with succulents. Something that stuck with me from childhood: Rich Petersen from CityFarm, he’s been my mentor, and he was like, “Food is one thing everybody has in common, ’cause everybody has to eat.” You can use food as a connecting tool. This one guy, I gave him a handful of huskcherries. He didn’t wanna try ’em but eventually I’ll get him.

 *

I have a lot of concern about farmers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There was some crop I was reading about recently where there was a blight, it was a very poor crop this year, and it was related to climate change. Oh, corn. One clue after the next, that’s something. With seafood—seafood is very affected by the warming of the waters. Jonah crab is becoming a thing here, and it’s great to have jonah crab, but it’s also a symbol of warming waters. How it’s affecting lobsters, other shellfish—I’m in the food business so I think about it from that point of view.

 And also the things that eat lobsters, the things that lobsters eat—

 Of course, it’s a whole ecosystem getting disrupted.

 When was this first brought to your attention?

I’m personally not engaged in any advocacy for climate change. I have a lot of colleagues who—that’s much more in their wheelhouse, and I support the work that theyre doing. Water, energy, the environment—food is the nexus of a lot of things … I’m worried and frustrated because not everybody in the political world is as excited about this. That’s what we need, to change a lot of things. And it’s hard when you come from a state that’s pretty democratic. If I was in a purple state I might be more involved.

I believe in the forest floor: Fauna Obscura at 7pm TONIGHT

My friends Janaya Kizzie, Rachel Hughes, Mike Duffy and I are making a night forest with you, at 7pm TONIGHT (8/3), at 40 Sonoma Court.

We crave home, safety, sanctuary, but at times one finds the way home is obscured. For the wanderers and the weary, a sacred space awaits on the forest floor. Through light, projections, wood, and textiles, a forest shrine emerges.

Enter the forest. You may wander, or seek a guide, who will be holding a lantern. They’ll show you the seeds of stories in the leaf litter. You can choose one to take with you. If the firelit tent is empty, you can go inside and speak the story seed aloud. If there is someone in the firelit tent already, or if you don’t want to speak aloud, stand outside the tent and listen.

When you hear the crows or owls calling, a story is about to begin.

Everyone is part of this play. Make room for the people around you in the forest. Pay attention to how they are moving. If you want, you can move too.

Why is this on the Climate Anxiety Counseling blog, you ask?

It’s part of this effort to co-germinate fables for the time we find ourselves in.

It’s part of the small practices of improvising, collaborating and taking risks that I’m trying to embrace in order to be more responsive to the world as it is and as it’s coming to be.

It’s a reminder that the forest floor has lessons for us about how to live and die together, to meet fear, to be small in darkness together. That life and death are going on around us all the time. That lives that don’t do damage, and deaths that aren’t unjust, are possible, even though they may seem far from us. That we can walk in the forest together.

Picture

Picture

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Armory Park Farmers’ Market, 10/6/16

Weather: Cool and sunny and dry, chilly toward twilight

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 10 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Dogs spotted: 13

Dogs pet: 0. That’s ZERO FOR THIRTEEN. A scandal and a shame, I tell you.

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $1:50

 

Observations:

I’d intended to be there till 7, but only stayed till 6:30, when it was getting too dark to write.

I had just enough Rhode Island organism cards to hand out to people who spoke with me.

Someone tried to ventriloquize their climate anxieties through their baby, which is the most extreme version of next-generation-ism I’ve seen yet.

 

Some conversations:

I’m anxious that the Republicans think that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, because that’s a major political party which is supposedly half of the country–that’s a lot of people that think climate change is not real.

What scares you about that?

If people don’t think it’s real, it will continue to get worse and before we can do anything about it, it’ll be too late–it already is too late.

Too late for what? 

Well, we can’t stop the polar ice caps from melting. In 30 years, we’ll be underwater. I’m not really sure, maybe. It’s really difficult to think about because no one wants to die and no one wants the world to die, but it might.

*

[These two knew each other, and mostly talked together with a little input from me.]

Person 1: In this community, I don’t know how many people worry about climate change. It’s concerning, yes, but people are worried about food in the stomach. I wonder if people will see [you] and think, What’s wrong with that person.

Person 2: I worry about the economy, the rate at which automation is going. There are already driverless cars–a lot of people are going to be put out of work. What 10 people used to do, now one person does it, and it’s going to be automated–no one’s talking about how it’s going to be managed … A lot of people are going to be out of work. It’s coming, it’s coming fast.

Person 1: This kind of conversation asks me to think about all of that. I might have been thinking otherwise, but now I have to think about it this way, and I am thinking: the way we know life will never be the same, because once technology and automation…get into the picture, life will be different–the larger population are not used to that, and who is having that conversation?

Person 2: Nobody!

Person 1: Who comes to this neighborhood and talks about automation? Who’s saying, “Your life is gonna change?”

*

Sickness. My pressure [touches chest]. My back hurting–I’m not able to stand.

*

We’re wasting our rainwater, we should save our rainwater, and we’re doing terrible things to our soil. We don’t take care of it at all, our Grandmother Earth. And they’re not enjoying it–it’s “supposed to” be used up and made into money, rather than this gift that we should love and take care of. The company doing landscaping at the East Side Market, they’re ripping up the shrubs. Those are living things! I can hear them crying–I know it’s ridiculous, but–and then it gets dumped. There’s a society against cruelty for animals, there should be one for cruelty against plants, the planet–it’s taken years for them to get the way they are. I’m a landscape designer, I educate people all the time … Leave the plants where they are, let them grow deep roots, and go and sit amongst them.

It’s wonderful to hear someone talk about plants with so much love, and the relationships between plants and humans.

It feeds each other, right, we do need to stick together.

*

High property taxes, and nobody gets anything for the money. What I would really like to see–the thing that irks me more than anything is that [while] property taxes are so high, out-of-town companies get tax stabilization agreements and that creates housing that takes away the tenant pool for the rest of us, and we foot the tax bill. It creates an enormous inequity and fleeces the rest of the city. If taxes make it impossible, if you can’t afford to build here without a TSA, you can’t afford to build here. But the companies all pay the prevailing wage, so it’s all union jobs, so the union supports them because they can’t get jobs anywhere else…Most of the construction guys I know who are in the union commute up to Boston, and they do have work up there, they are working.

*

[These two came up together and appeared to share a dog.]

Person 1: We moved here six months ago from Chicago, and we were really excited about this neighborhood. But there’s so much garbage in the streets … I think it’s related to the way we treat the climate.

Person 2: I picked up so much garbage the first few months, and then I’d come out the next morning and it’d be all dirty again, and I sort of gave up.

Do you still pick up garbage though? 

Oh yeah, and there’s kind of an unofficial group who walks through [the park] and picks up glass, and it’s comforting to see them and know I’m not the only one.

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/31/16

Weather: Coolish, humid, overcast, a few raindrops.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 1 walkby.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 0, though a woman did walk by in a shirt with Lucy, Linus, Charlie Brown and Snoopy on it.

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.05

 

Observations: 

Another sparse day, and not even Michael Jackson to blame for it.

A couple of people interviewed me among the other market vendors. Thanks, those people! I also had several moving non-counseling conversations with other vendors, and several second conversations with people who’ve spoken to me at this market before.

I also got to see someone I met last year downtown: we talked on this day, and I gave him a copy of this alternate history. Later that summer he stopped by to ask how it ended, and I asked if he would try to end it. Today he said he was still thinking about it and he actually wrote something for it! If we’re able to reconnect and he’s willing for me to share it, I’ll post it here.

Today was my last day at the Sankofa World Market, and various people gave me A) a small sunflower, 2) a spoonful of majarete, and D) a spray of peachy-orange gladioli. One farmer also let me know when the eggplants were about to be gone, so I could buy two of them.

 

Some conversations:

Finding a good job after graduation. I’m graduating from college this year. I want to work for the CDC and study diseases, disease prevention, epidemiology … I’m just nervous because other people with the same major as me are just floating around two years later. I can’t be working minimum wage, living and paying my loans.

*

Since I talked to you I’ve been trying to be more intentional about my choices. Sometimes I go to Stop and Shop and get vegetables from wherever they come from, but I wanted to come back [to the Sankofa Market] because the vegetables are so good, they’re grown right here and they’re really affordable. It’s easier to make positive choices [when you’re buying food], because companies say, “Oh, it was grown this way, it was raised this way.” But it’s harder to make negative choices, because the negative isn’t advertised: “Oh, we treat workers like shit.”

… I was also thinking from when we talked before about when I was really young, Public Works–this was in Vermont–would cut the trees and I was just sobbing, thinking they were killing them, and I think that’s a gift that young children have–to be able to relate to the trees. But me not being able to get out of bed because I’m sad about the trees isn’t ultimately sustainable. I’ve been watching a four-year-old and the other day she said to me, “Let’s make a movie…I wanna make a movie about trees. Trees are so important because they’re so pretty.” And I think there’s a connection between the place that tears come from that trees are dying and the joy at the awesomeness of the natural world. But I guess it’s easier to empathize with humans.

*

 

I guess my anxiety about this [gestures at sign] at the moment is around that article that’s circulating, “Is it irresponsible to have kids in the age of–” It’s an area where there’s so many really clear cerebral positive fact-based reasons [not to have kids]. It doesn’t make sense for there to be any more humans, that’s how we got to where we are. But then you’re thinking about this realm that’s so unconnected with any scientific analysis and reasoning. How do these intersect–this really primal, human thing, this biological imperative that bonks up against harsh reality? We don’t need more humans swelling the population. And then on a personal level it’s also ugggggghhhhh, wow, I don’t–

 

 

Doctor’s note: I suggested that this person look at the work that Conceivable Future does.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 8/10/16

Weather: Gray, lowering and muggy, rain just tapering off, gusts of wind.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 0 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.20

 

Observations:

The farmers at the stand to my left sell bitter melon, and the drama of the bitter melon is ongoing: the conversation about what it’s like, when you should buy it, how you can eat it, what it’s good for, and the fact that they already ran out of it and you should come earlier next time basically never stops. Speaking as a bitter melon fan, I think all of this is great.

I didn’t eat lunch because I was counting on the food guys from last time to be there. They were not there! I ate a sample of eggplant dip that the SNAP tablers were handing out, thought about going across the road for an empanada, didn’t, sulked.

The “climate change is somewhere else” effect was strong today.

Don’t know yet if this is a good idea or a bad idea, but when people bring up climate change denial as their fear/anxiety, I’ve started pushing them a little bit, like, “What are you afraid will happen if people don’t recognize this reality?”

 

 

Some conversations:

[Talking about cranberry beans] They don’t grow good this year. They don’t grow together. Some of them still green, some of them small, still have flowers on the top.

*

I do, it’s obviously a problem. Did you see the opening ceremony [for the Olympics]? They did it on climate change, they had this simulation of ice caps melting and the rising water level. Seeing it visually was more significant than just hearing about it. The visual simulation was definitely intense … you looked at Florida and you saw how much will be underwater. Long Island–my cousins live there, I’m there all the time–that’s basically ground zero.

*

 

When do I get anxious?–when I’m on the roads, highways or even like streets, when cars come closer. When I was riding my bike when I was younger, I crashed into a moving car. I tense up and look down, I tend to look down whenever this happens.

 

Does that help?

 

It helps me to see that the car isn’t trying to come towards me. I was abroad with my family and I noticed that the cars are going on the left. That helped a little bit because I wasn’t paying attention to the roads–I was mesmerized by other stuff.

 

*

 

 

I’m most worried about people. About people being their own worst enemies. The [U.S.] conservative party is the only party in the entire world that doesn’t acknowledge the science and causes of climate change, and they don’t seem to be too bothered by the fact that they are. I worry about people’s inability to be self-critical … when you’ve got mountains of evidence from scientists from across the globe, it takes humungous balls to say, “That may be so but I’m still right.” It’s the lack of self-reflection that could possibly be major in our inability to address climate change in any serious and urgent fashion. The really sad part is that it’s going to affect us, a wealthy country, less than not a wealthy country.* … Sea level rise or drought or a combination thereof is going to cause a displacement of people that has previously been unseen. I’m worried about other people’s lives. It makes me really sad–this is gonna sound bad–it makes me really sad that the conservative people are not gonna be the ones who suffer. I think we affect other people’s lives much more than we think we do. The smallest change in a community can affect a community on the other side of the world. Thinking that we’re isolated is part of the problem.

 

How did you learn that we aren’t isolated–like, how did you get like that?

 

 

I like birds. I just–like birds. As I grow older, I wanna read articles about birds, and eventually there’s gonna be an article about birds that refers to their habitats. I like birds, I like sea turtles, or I wanna eat this bluefin tuna or I like to eat a cookie–you read a series of things in a row and at the end you’ll be thinking about it and you just start making deductions on your own … My first memories are watching nature documentaries with my grandfather, but I don’t think it has to be something like that.

 

*Doctor’s note: This isn’t exactly true, but it probably depends on your definition of “affect” and I didn’t push this person for theirs.

*

 

 

We don’t have a winter … The heat is because the planet is in a fever, and we’re the parasite. This planet gave us a little gravitational pull to keep us here, a little air, plants, it made us communal animals, and then the fact that the planet’s showing some sickness disrupts everything.

 

It sounds like this is something you’ve thought about a lot.

 

‘Cause we live here! Where else do we fit at? If this don’t work out, where we gonna go? … We all got a debt to repay, right, to Mother Earth? We all gotta go back at some point.

 

*

 

 

I’m anxious that we have a bunch of knuckleheads running this country who don’t care. They just don’t care. I’m mad all the time. I’m in a perpetual state of outrage and fury. I’m running for state rep for this district, from where Elmwood and Broad meet all the way to the park, it’s a big triangle … The whole campaign is “11 for 11”, 11 things the state should do in the district. It’s pretty shocking how many abandoned houses there are in the neighborhood–I live here, my house is down at the other end of the street. This is my last stand, I’m not gonna go anywhere. … People are poor, you can’t make a living at $9.60 an hour, so we start with that.

 

 

Alternate Histories: The Subway Series

I went to New York, realized that what I was seeing in the bottom of the subway tunnels was water, and wrote this story.

*

When we pried up some of the streets, we laid down metal grid and limestone and marble and peat moss and sharp sand and the bones of some of the dead and broken glass turned back to sand. We planted salt-tolerant grasses, beach peas, heathers, junipers. We left plenty of streets, don’t worry. The ambulances and the power chairs can still get through.

 

The negotiations between the builders’ and plumbers’ and electricians’ unions (whose representatives drove in from Queens and Staten Island each day), the water’s lawyers (arriving on foot and on bikes), the various tenants’ rights cadres (some of them armed and riding the city buses), the Doctors, Nurses and Patients’ Coalition (in wheelchair-compliant vans), the delegation from Riker’s Island–these took almost a year, even with everyone eager to be fair, to admit that they might have been wrong or done wrong, to outlive years and decades and centuries of mutual suspicion and uneven violence. Pain and anger and hatred all wash out slowly, slowly, and only when people stop renewing them.

 

Rainwater filters down through the grids of plant and sand and stone into what used to be the subway tunnels, diluting the dank sick dark-brown water with clearer, washed water. In the storms, on the wettest most tantrum days, the tunnels become flood tunnels: the seawater crashes in and the skywater pours down: we made a place for them, because everyone and everything needs a place to be, and sometimes more than one. Spillways open and when the storm subsides, they close; when the storm subsides, sunlight comes down through the light-and-ventilation shafts and makes the water steam up.

 

We don’t need the subway tunnels for the subway anymore because work doesn’t work the same way. Most people live pretty close to the work they do, and no one works for a living; people live and they work. This took a long time, almost as long as it took to pry up some of the streets. We started doing it, and some of us got tired, and lay down, and the rats and the dermestid beetles from the Museum became our undertakers, and we gave our bones to the water.

 

This is terrible, we hear you saying, how can you stand it? There are pilgrimages to the catacombs but there’s no horror, or rather, horror is a part of our lives, a neighbor. We combined a few of the many things that people have done with the dead, since the beginning of the world.

 

We admit that we smashed up some of the buildings to get the marble. Even the softest stone is still hard, and holds a lot of memory. We wanted it to communicate some of what it had known to the water; we wanted its power to be transformed. But we didn’t smash up any people, or trap them into smashing themselves. We worked slowly and we worked with care, and no one worked past or even close to the limits of their strength, to move the stone on rollers, we chanted rhythmic encouragement and carried cleaner water, water gathered before it hit the ground, in the heat. Our plant and animal neighbors fed us, or calmed our minds, or renewed the air, or shit fertilizer. That’s how they were to us. How we were to them: pruners, killers, renewers of air, cleaners of habitat.

 

The rats have their own routes; the light that filters in, the unpredictable waters, and the lack of dropped food–there isn’t nearly enough to waste, anymore–make it less of a place for them. They live there, and sometimes there are terrible rat stampedes–we feel disgust–we stand as still as we can, shuddering, while they flood our ankles. They stay out of the water, though, now, we don’t know why. Science works differently now, too, we cut fewer things open, we stop fewer processes. Its motion is even slower, making some of us feel crazy. Those of us who can write, write our findings up on the tunnel walls, and sometimes the floods wash them away. Depending on the changing levels of dampness, moss and fungi flourish or dry to dust and sift down.

In the tunnels a few bats live, refugees, but they’re shy of people. We found out about the crayfish when the first raccoons came down. We stay away from them: they carry rabies, and there’s no vaccine anymore, not anywhere in the city or the world. But they’re among the best at finding exits and entrances, so sometimes we follow them at a safe distance, to see if there are places we should be watching out for, places where we poorly understand the change from aboveground to underground, where they understand it well. We don’t eat the crayfish. You can go to another storyteller to find out more about how we feed each other and where we sleep, the various ways we decide about children or pray or joke or clean. This is about the way we know the water underground.

 

Year by year, decade by decade, century by century, the water in the tunnel bottoms becomes sweeter. We lay marble tile from the smashed-up buildings, with cracks between so it can seep back down into the cycle, what we used to call the water table but now call the belly. The tunnels are long throats. This metaphor will break down pretty soon, but that’s okay with us. We build things now to be breakable, reparable, to flood and subside. Sometimes the water that sinks back down is seawater, is salt. We know this slows renewal, poisons roots, just like it would make you sick to swallow. We hope for time to dilute it.

 

On the hottest, driest days, the former tunnels are cooler than the streets, and we walk down the long ramps to lower our temperature, and that’s how we notice–after some generations have passed–the stalactites starting to form on the roof, just little nubs with a drop of water glimmering. Their roots are deep tobacco-stained brown; their extremities are gray and pale tan with the slightest surface glitter, as the sediments work their way down. When you see them changing, you don’t know it’s change you’re seeing. They are made up of millions of years of the minute dead, in aggregate, now entering another form, moved by the requirements of matter. They aren’t beautiful yet. Neither are we.

Alternate Histories: Port of Providence

 

Note: I wrote this alternate history after attending a community forum on environmental hazards in the Port of Providence and nearby neighborhoods.

 

4/18/16

Routine releases means emissions in normal operation, emissions that might happen daily or more rarely, and they’re frequently regulated by permits … In accidental releases, planning is very important. –Barbara Morin, Providence Department of Health

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We’re always planning. We’re looking at every event. –Michael Borg, Providence Emergency Management Agency

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4/19/16

 

The next day, the hazmat teams descended on the Port of Providence, because they were responsible for reducing harm from hazardous materials. They were just doing their jobs when they gave the Univar and Motiva facilities and the staff at the Enterprise propane and National Grid liquid natural gas tanks a timeline and a protocol for distributing or neutralizing their fossil fuel and chemical holdings. The people working there were glad to cooperate, knowing that every day of dismantlement increased the chances of survival for a third-grader or an old man on oxygen or a school of fish, and knowing that as they did this work, their livelihoods were assured in the neighborhood.

 

There’s no good way to put natural gas or coal back in the ground–not every process is reversible, not every wound can be healed. A council of South Providence residents doled out the natural gas and propane out to the rest of the city household by household, rationing it for heat and cooking, knowing that there would be no more when it was gone. They built big, ramshackle structures out of scrap metal and wood from dismantled houses across the train tracks, and colored them with chalk and festooned them with fabric to make sure the drivers could see them from far away.

 

The people of South Providence made room for the people who’d worked in the Port, and learned from them and the hazmat teams how to work with the chemicals without harm. Sometimes they were able to reduce them to harmless compounds, or suspend them in substances that would neutralize them. Sometimes the best they could do is parcel them out into smaller quantities, to be stored above water. Filtration, solution, transformation. Prevention: better than cure. The people who’d worked in the Port, and the hazmat teams, learned from the people of South Providence other sets of skills: arguing, running repairs, improvisation, rapid calculation, code-switching, field medicine. They all breathed more easily.

 

The next hundred-year storm hit before the tanks were fully emptied. A lot of fish and seabirds died, too many to count, and two humans trapped in a car, and an entire long row of windbreaking saplings that the people of South Providence, old and new, had planted a couple of years before. They succumbed to the chemical-infused saltwater; they stood like thin gravestones.

 

It could have been worse, it could have been better. The rest of the city’s people took the people of South Providence into their houses elsewhere and took turns cleaning and airing the flooded buildings, breaking down the ones that were too badly damaged or too far into the floodplain to make sense saving; they took it in shifts so that no one had to have too much exposure to the poisonous debris. They noted and charted the lie of the land, where the water wanted to go. They thickened and lined the walls of their homes with torn fabric, scavenged wood, leftover office paper, dry grass; they cooked on tiny solar stoves outdoors in summer, and saved their gas and wood for winter.

 

The people who were young during that storm were almost old when the next one hit, and things went very differently. All the tanks were long empty of poison; some were reefs for the shellfish that were just starting to come back. Long sections of train track ran quietly under the water, coated in algae that had evolved to digest the tar and creosote that soaked the railroad ties. People’s weather senses were better now, and with the help of predictive technology, they knew when to leave and let the water rush through what was left, if that was where it wanted to go. The city’s high points had food stores and hospitals; the city’s low points were thick with marsh grass shading into waterweed, and tiny crabs, and sand fleas, and lugworms, hunkering down to wait out a cleaner tide.