Message in a Bottle

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


After saying their farewells to our chief, my tribe left the pyre, their heads bowed. But I have remained, waiting to be left alone, because Chief Tyson was more than a chief to me, he was my grandfather.

Standing on the headland, I look out across the expanse of sea, a sea dotted with islands much like our own. Islands inhabited by our enemies, who legend would have it, had once been our kith and kin. That had been just one of the stories my grandfather had told his people. And yet it was hard to believe, given the great battles and skirmishes that had taken place between their tribe and ours, in an attempt to control the seas between us.

I could barely comprehend that my grandfather was dead. Only the stench of burning flesh and the curl of smoke, rising to the sky, confirmed I was not in dream time. And with him gone, I worried for the future. Would I be able to earn the respect of the people, like he had? He’d been as wise as the spirits that protected us. His knowledge of our people and our past, had, he assured us, been passed down from his grandfather and his grandfather before that – and so on and so on. But his tales were so fantastical, that without respect for him, I was sure many of the islanders doubted their truth. But isn’t that the place of myth and legend?

The sun was beginning to set behind the island of Skiddaw now — a full orange sun, burnishing on the sea and not for the first time, I wondered what was beyond. Once, thousands of years ago, our island of Helvellyn had been a mountain and Skiddaw the same. And where the sea was now, had been dotted with beautiful, fresh-water lakes. It had been a place of peace and beauty, an escape from that other place they’d known as tar and cement.

But legend would have it, that our ancestors had conjured up a storm. A storm so otherworldly, that it had ended life as they had known it. Hungry bellies and selfish desires had harnessed what they could, no matter the outcome. They’d robbed from the land, thirsty for more and more. They didn’t understand they were mere caretakers and some say, they did not care. They had lost sight of what was important.

The more unusual stories, told tales of people being able to speak to each other across the seas, see each other on the other side of vast landscapes. Others whispered that they’d climbed up to the moon, to find the man and then flown, like birds, around the stars. Those same stars, that were just becoming visible now.

Apparently, they had been a blasé people and despite the warnings written across the skies and in the rising of the seas, they had been persuaded by the money Gods that they could have it all, so they took it. And they kept taking. The more they had, the more they wanted. A given, a truth, a right. They guzzled and consumed until it was too late.

My grandfather described storms that had rumbled until the skies had cracked, crimson with fire -– the air had gotten hotter and hotter, until our ancestors had choked for breathe. Even the wildlife had suffered. The winged life began to fall limp, plummeting to earth. Flies swarmed — flesh eating. Rank, putrid smells hung in the air and invaded nostrils. And out at sea, great tidal surges had thundered towards the land, bringing with it, the finned and swollen — their bodies diseased and left to perish on the beaches. Corals, once orange, green and brown, sea lettuce and grape, smothered, choked and bleached, as their sun faded. There was no breakers — no end to push the tide back. Great civilisations were destroyed and drowned. The world had imploded and the people with it.

The people had grown weaker, disillusioned as their bodies failed. They prepared to die and did. Only the fittest made it, taking refuge on the peaks, whilst the troughs rose higher and higher. Only a few survived long enough to populate the mountains and eek out an existence, foraging on a land that had nothing to give.

Of course, these were just stories; ancient folklore based on witchcraft and daemons and couldn’t possibly be true. Could they? I’d often asked my grandfather this very question and once, he’d taken me down to the water’s edge and made me fish one of the clear and battered containers out of the sea. ‘Where do these come from?’ He had asked, holding up the container towards the light.

We knew them as bottles and we collected and drank from them, we buried them in the ground to collect bugs for our food and we built totems with them. Where they’d come from, I hadn’t rightly cared. I’d shrugged my shoulders, ‘well they’re a gift from the sea.’

‘A gift you say.’ My grandfather had looked thoughtful, as he combed his greying beard with his fingers. ‘Well they are a gift of sorts. Look at them, littering the beaches,’ he’d motioned with his arms. ‘But their gift, is not their usefulness. Their gift is the message they bring from our forbearers.’

‘Message?’ I’d looked at him, dumbfounded. The vessel was empty, save for a mouthful of dirty water and sand.‘But there is no message’, I’d said, ‘and how could something so old, last so long anyway?’

‘Well that my son, I can’t tell you, but I do know you must guard its message, always. Guard it and pass it on to your children and beyond.’

Bending down now, I fish a similar bottle from the beach, remembering how he’d leaned over his staff that day and whispered conspiratorially, into my ear. ‘Our ancestors reaped what they had sown, so learn from it’ he’d warned. ‘Be neither blind nor deaf. Never get complacent, son, never get greedy, never go after riches and convenience and most of all, remember that we are mere caretakers of this land. When we forget that,’ he’d continued ‘it will be the beginning of our own destruction.’

Just like then, I looked at the bottle now, bemused, searching for these hidden messages and could see none. And just like then, I brought it to my ear, listening, but heard nothing. Frustrated, I kicked the dust over the last, burning embers of my grandfather and decided his warnings, were just the ramblings of an old man. Times were different now and we must adapt and change, in order to survive. We must survive, whatever the cost might be.


Karen Rollason is a qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, working with clients to find solutions to their problems. She is a Lakeland lass and lover of the countryside, but lives in the South of England where the pace of life is much faster. She is chair of a writers’ circle in Kent and loves to run writing workshops, particularly in Flash Fiction. Karen is a journal writer and believes in the Healing power of writing for well being. She is the proud mother of two grown up boys.

Endlands

flickering greys, the sea
changes: unaltering,
silently, chivvies, switching
the soft primrose sand; one
grain flicks position with
another — impossible, inevitable.

the boats are silent- they
cross this expanse at the end of lands
vikings first, then pirates
raid and burn, settle and farm,
netherlanders, flatland explorers,
hunting the new crossings, echo
the dykes and drains- invisible tracks,
eat their way into the soft marshes,
expose the rich peats,
carve and create out of nolands.

inlets creeks and badlands,
flatlands perfect
for creeping smugglers lands
illicit acts in shifting edges
land of no land
sea of no sea

estuary

but the sea can rise,
crawl towards the sky,
the moon cries, desires,
dragging it over land hand made land

water
energetically, without mercy,
rushes over the flatlands,
washes away the coastlands,
demolishes all in its pathlands,
creates new edgelands —

nomanslands


catherine-jonesCatherine Jones is a musician, writer and artist based in the west of England but studied and lived for 8 years in East Anglia, the fens and flatlands of the east coast of England. Living near the coast in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, for 3 of those years really brought home to her how fragile the coastal environment is and how a very small sea level change would have devastating results. Much of her writing harks back to her memories of living and working in an unstable environment. She originally studied music but for some reason became a lawyer for twelve years, during which time she constantly wrote statements and affidavits, not really realising that actually what she enjoyed was telling a story. She rediscovered her need to write while completing a Masters in Fine Art, during which time she illustrated her dissertation with poetry. Since completing her Masters exactly a year ago, she’s been busy writing, teaching piano and singing, making art situations, mixed media pieces and installations, and dealing with two lively tweenage boys. She’s been an environmentalist since she was a child, growing trees from acorns and conkers on her windowsill and worrying about saving the whales when she was about 7 years old.

hourofwrites* This vision was submitted for the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.

The beach that ate Silicon Valley

Jennifer LaForce has noticed that the residents and workers of Silicon Vally treat climate change like they treat homelessness — not their problem.

Silicon Valley, California. You can admire; you can hate it. Most of the world’s leading edge technology either comes from here or is made usable here. Tucked into the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay, you will find an old quai in the tiny towns of Alviso and Milpitas [now best seen at a local park]. Here the bay is shallow: 85 percent of the water is less than 30 feet deep. Circulation depends on strong tidal action, river inflow, winds and storms. From a wildlife perspective, the salt marshes are highly productive and very valuable. When the tide is high, many fish species forage for food along the shore. Once the tide goes out, water birds feast on those unfortunate enough to get stuck.

alviso_marina_county_park_view_at_sunset

Not too long ago, the Milpitas quai was a destination. Standing on the old pilings, a little imagination takes you on unday boat rides in 1915 or even farther back to a Native American fishing for dinner.

Now there is a new kind of production on the quai. Not quite sky scrapers, new commercial buildings full of valuable equipment and more valuable ideas indicate that the recession is over and Silicon Valley is pushing at the edges of its geography yet again. Water treatment plants responsible for most of the usable water in the Bay area dot the marsh shores. Highway 237 is a critical connection between continental California and the San Francisco peninsula, connecting the states two major highways, 880 along the eastern side of the bay and 101 along the western side.

siliv
Two meters of sea level rise will inundate the Bay Area’s coastline

A sea-level rise of 2 meters has all of Milpitas and Alviso completely underwater. Highway 237 will belong to the sea creatures as will much of Highway 101.

Such a sea-level rise will inundate both developed and natural areas, cause salinity contamination of groundwater aquifers and rivers, damage ports and recreational beaches. The cost of protecting against sea-level rise is large, but often below the value of the property protected. Preventative (“Hey! Don’t build there!”) and/or defensive actions taken today can prevent large damages in the future

Numerous studies have been done and there is no need to reproduce their conclusions. What is strangely remarkable about the rise in sea-level and the corresponding results is how we, as California communities, respond to it in almost exactly the same way we respond to homelessness.

Study after study, proof after proof – If you don’t know by now that it costs less to house a homeless person than to leave them on the streets, you just don’t want to know. Between jail time and emergency room visits, it costs about $30,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets. Add business loss, shelter costs and the figure increases to a staggering $40,000 a year. Guess what, they could be in a home for a lot less.

Perhaps because the costs are not easily seen by an individual or because the costs are spread out over service areas, we can’t seem to respond to these facts.

Likewise the value of property threatened by sea-level rise in Silicon Valley is extremely high because of past development and getting higher every day because of new development. Around the perimeter of the Bay, existing commercial, residential, and industrial structures threatened by a two-meter sea-level rise is valued at $100 billion.

Perhaps because of the slow rate of increase of sea level or perhaps because the individual can’t see it, there is little advanced planning and an inadequate response to these facts.

I’ve worked in disabled and disadvantaged communities for 30 years. I understand emotional response. I understand bias. But I have yet to figure out why my peers cannot step beyond both when presented with undisputable fact. If we could figure this out, we could address the fact that the sea level is rising without over or under reacting. We could address homelessness and probably every other polarizing issue. For me, that’s the task to undertake.


laforceJennifer LaForce is a Business Consultant in Silicon Valley, missionary, author & traveler with the grandiose goal of understanding why we do what we do.

Rising tides: a view from dry land

Clay Reynolds looks back to his childhood to consider how a climate-changed world will be entirely different but populated with people like us.

Growing up on the semi-arid prairies of West Texas, I didn’t care much about sea-levels. As a boy, I never saw a river I couldn’t walk across, although becoming stuck in quicksand or victimized by some random vermin or other while breaking through the wild-plum thickets along the sandy banks of our neighborhood creek and riverbeds was a threat. When I first saw the Mississippi, I couldn’t believe it. These times of my childhood where I grew up were the years of drought. It lasted seven years, actually, so oceanic waters meant little to me. Although as an infant my family visited California and, I was told, spent time on the beach, I have no memory of the Pacific. I didn’t even see the Gulf of Mexico until I was twelve, and the Atlantic wasn’t in my experience for another decade.

So the whole idea of rising ocean levels is hard for me to imagine, even now, and even after I’ve lived on the coast for ten years and been on ships at sea. I’ve walked the seawalls of major cities that border oceans, and I’m sensitive to the power of rising tides, but it’s an intellectual rather than an emotional perception. I am still, I guess, emotionally on dry land.

Years ago I saw a documentary about divers exploring the drowned remains of some ancient city. The presumption was that an earthquake had opened the entire city to the bay that wrapped around it, submerging it suddenly and completely to a depth of twenty or thirty feet. The cameras showed divers swimming into and out of doorways and around columns of ancient, forgotten buildings, once home to an active and large population. The sensation of watching this film stayed with me. It was more than the ghostly exploration of a dead city, more than the speculation of what happened to the people who once walked these streets and lived in these sunken structures. It reminded me that Nature has little regard for the pitiful etchings of mankind. When Atlas, so to speak, more or less shifts his weight, just a little, the world shifts with it, and prairies buckle, mountains crumble, oceans rise.

The two-meter rise of the oceans forecast by the dark prophets of science is not something, though, to be casually regarded. Man’s refusal to respect and preserve the planet/garden where he exists is the cause of this, they say and I believe. I have seen reports of soot-covered glaciers, of the diminished ice-packs in Greenland, Antarctica, the rapidly disappearing rain forests, and I’ve felt desperately sad, even a little bit afraid. I note that recently, a cruise ship traversed the previously impenetrable Northwest Passage, which, triumphant an achievement as that may be, signals a crisis with polar ice. I worry about that, and I worry about polar bears and penguins and whales and other creatures of the sea that rely on the stability of oceans to survive.

Water rising two meters doesn’t sound like much. In American terms, that’s a couple of yards. But the global impact of that on low-lying cities such as New York or San Francisco, Boston and Charleston, Miami and Mobile, and most certainly New Orleans and Corpus Christi would be horrific. And that’s just in the U.S. In more than a minor way such a rise would remap the coastlines of all the continents. And while it might not sink entire cities, it could change their perimeters, force them to face ruination and disappearance of their most precious icons and landmarks.

The focus of the media when they deign to talk about this in serious terms is the economic impact, of course. Loss of property would be one—oceanfront is prime real estate almost anywhere—and certainly loss of business from shipping, fishing, and other seaside enterprises. Tourism would be affected; the famous beaches where people go to frolic and take the sun and surf would be altered in dynamic ways.

But apart from the grim and somewhat temporal realities, there is the emotional impact of all of this. It’s our fault. It’s our problem to fix, and we do nothing about it, not really.

When I was a boy in my drought-stricken homeland, I remember that some people came “to town,” which is how it was phrased, driving animal-drawn conveyances. Mules and horses pulled carriages and wagons into the “wagon-park” that was behind the main buildings of Main Street and across from the depot. I was five or six at the time, but it seemed perfectly normal to me. I understood that they weren’t doing this to be quaint; this was their principal form of transportation. I’m not that old. This was only sixty years ago in rural West Texas. But we have moved from that to automobiles so entirely, I’d speculate that in that same county today, no more than a fraction of the population has ever ridden in, let alone driven, a mule or horse-drawn wagon. We’ve come that far.

As I sit here and compose this on an electronic machine, comfortably cooled by air conditioning, knowing that in a while, I’ll fire up my vehicle and drive into the city where I will teach a class in a comfortably chilled classroom bathed in electric light and enhanced by electronic devices, I don’t pause and marvel at the progress that has been made in the past six decades. But I do worry that maybe the price of that progress may be measured in meters, the measurement of the rise of the oceans.

I think there are two truths here: High tide is coming, and there is nothing we can do to stop it, as we lack the collective will to truly assess our carelessness and count the cost or to try, even, to reverse the slide toward submersion. And in time, I suspect, divers will be exploring the drowned ruins of our civilization. The question then, is if there will still be people high enough and dry enough to care.


ReynoldsClay Reynolds is a writer who has authored more than a thousand publications ranging from academic articles and essays to award-winning short fiction and novels. A native of Texas, he is Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas.

hourofwrites* This vision was a runner up in the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.