The World Without Us

Waking up at dawn under an orange full moon above Savary in pure silence. Since we arrived, day before yesterday, smoke from the fires on Vancouver Island has hidden the mountains that normally create the beautiful horizon line.

Before the children and grandchildren arrive, there is time to read and a wealth of comfortable chairs and couches at Knoll House for the purpose. I’m halfway through a book that I bought on impulse at Powell’s in Portland on the way up here because I’d heard about it from several quarters: The World Without Us.  It places many of the events that cause me anxiety in a framework that both magnifies their horror and reduces their pain by turning them into enthralling catastrophe narratives. If humans were gone from New York and the pumps that keep the underground city from flooding stopped working, the water would fill the subways and rust the foundation piers of the skyscrapers.  Within a few decades the whole thing would have collapsed into a landscape of rubble covered with forest. Elephant herds would multiply in Africa, restoring jungle to grassland. Untended corrosion in the chemical plants along the Texas Louisiana coast would cause explosions and toxic spills that  eventually would be cleaned up by bacteria evolved to do the job.

Its good to be reading this in B.C. where keeping back the bush requires continuing human effort without which cars and homes and cleared land can be seen succumbing to the engulfing monster of natural reclamation”as heartless and inexorable in its way as loggers and bulldozers chewing up the woods.  Where Joe and I felled a dozen fifty-foot jackpines threatening the house last summer, the opening is now filled with brambles and dandelion-like weeds I started cutting yesterday. I can hardly wait to fire up the chainsaw to clear windfalls blocking the trails I’ve carved over the years.  Imagining the relatively short interval required to neutralize the growing impacts of humans on mother earth serves as an antidote to my fear that what Bill McKibben predicted 20 years ago as the End of Nature will soon be upon us.

Leave a Reply