Welcome to day 21 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others. I won’t attempt to tie them together.
Souvenir of the Ancient World
by Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Clara strolled in the garden with the children.
The sky was green over the grass,
the water was golden under the bridges,
other elements were blue and rose and orange,
a policeman smiled, bicycles passed,
a girl stepped onto the lawn to catch a bird,
the whole world—Germany, China—
all was quiet around Clara.
The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
Mouth, nose, eyes were open. There was no danger.
What Clara feared were the flu, the heat, the insects.
Clara feared missing the eleven o’clock trolley:
She waited for letters slow to arrive,
She couldn’t always wear a new dress. But she strolled in the garden, in the morning!
They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!
We have gardens, and mornings.
I recently read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a novel that interweaves six stories, set in 1850, 1931, 1975, 2012, and then in the future, around 2150 and 2300 (perhaps …. no dates are actually given). By 2150, in the fifth story, a dystopian consumer society is concentrated in Asia, with the rest of the world described thus: “Its soil is polluted, its rivers lifeless, its air toxloaded, its food supplies riddled with rogue genes. … Those Production Zones of Africa and Indonesia that supply Consumer Zones’ demands are sixty per cent uninhabitable.”
Two hundred or so years later, in a post-apocalyptic period around 2300, most of the earth is uninhabitable, made toxic by industrial waste, disease, and nuclear accidents. Outside of Hawaii — which is one of the few pockets of life left on the globe (inhabited by two primitive tribes) — the rest of the earth is “dead-rubble cities, jungle-choked cities, plague-rotted cities.” We’re told that the insatiable hunger for more (“more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power”) is what caused people to “rip out the skies an’ boil up the seas an’ poison soil with crazed atoms.”
In other words, the planet by then is imagined as mostly lifeless; the land, waters, and sky are diseased, ruined, polluted, contaminated by radioactive, industrial, and biological wastes; continents have been destroyed by mineral mining, energy production, over-logging, nuclear accidents and waste, plagues and the rampant spread of the insects that cause them, and human warfare.
Meanwhile, here we live, many of us on the planet still breathing relatively clean air, drinking relatively clean water, eating goods that are relatively nutritious and non-poisonous. Yes, there’s fracking, deep-water drilling, gas leaks, oil spills, toxic pesticides and herbicides, industrial sludge and slurry runoff, coal mines and coal dust, oil refineries, agricultural monocultures, pollinator die-off, animals endangered by over-hunting and ivory poaching, pollution that’s allowed through credits and loopholes, pollution allowed by lax regulations and enforcement, crises of viruses and bacterial infections, land mines, contaminated nuclear weapons testing sites, untreated household and industrial sewage flowing directly into rivers, mercury and lead poisoning from gold and other mineral mining, chromium pollution from tanning industries, lead acid battery recycling, tar sands, ocean acidification, increased nitrogen and phosphorus in the oceans due to fertilizers, ozone depletion, widespread deforestation, increasing urbanization, and so on. Still, many of us — and most of us, in the U.S. — are blissfully unaware in our daily lives of the degradation of the planet.
In the words of the poem above, “our mouth, nose, eyes” are open, because there is, we think, no danger. We have gardens, lawns, birds, water … mornings! Sky of green, water of yellow, insects, heat, the flu — these all seem as trivial as missing a trolley and waiting for slow mail. After all, we still have gardens, and mornings.
Earth Day 2016: Humanity’s devastating effect on the planet in 19 photos: How unnatural the Earth has become, at The Independent, by Christopher Hooton, April 2016.
How modern slavery is destroying the environment, at CNN, by Kevin Bales, May 2016.
Urbanization Has Been Destroying the Environment Since the Very First Cities, in Smithsonian, by Colin Schultz, January 2014.
Global Catastrophic Risk, at Wikipedia.
Thanks for checking in. And be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers wrote about.