The nuclear power plant looms over the lake, its cooling towers and grey concrete buildings harbor decayikng (sic) uranium that will pose a significant threat to all life for longer than one hundred thousand years. Out the train window there is a new suburb with an adjoining golf course, some of the houses still showing plywood and white flapping Tyvek vapor barrier fabric.
There was a scar over her heart visible through the neckline of her sundress and she was reading from her phone.
“they have found starch residue on grinding stones in the middle east and China that is 40,000 years old. They think this is when we started to really get to know how to reproduce our plants, this is the beginning, beginning of agriculture.”[i]
Nikki kept herself up to date on all things forensic and human. Her foot bobbed as the train lurched from side to side. When they slowed to a stop James saw little Manitoba Maples growing up from between the rocks on the tracks.
“Linguists have traced certain words back to 15,000 years, words like Mother, to hear, ashes, man, worm; words this old were thought to not exist, they point to a proto-EurAsian language”[ii]
A field of tall grass and a fallen birch tree in the pond. “They have a vaccine for heroine addiction” he was reading from his laptop. “Addicted mice no longer seek it out after they get vaccinated.”
“These things surprise us. The longevity of our developments, as humans we have known how to domesticate plants for somewhere between fourteen and twenty four thousand years. We have spoken some of the same words for fifteen and, its amazing to think of the legacy we will leave, these things are trivial compared to this.”
Trailers of transport trucks sit behind a white building that has more windows but looks almost the same as the high school. All the science is looking at past climate change, we are looking back in time for answers. A disused spur of the rail line veers off on a gentle curve into tall solidagos.
“We just passed four-hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Historically this puts us back into the Pliocene, about four million years back, atmospherically speaking[iii]. Things were different then, the earth was warmer and continents were drifting into one another. North and SouthAmercia joined, Africa crashed into Europe. The climate cooled at this time because the oxygen levels were rising.”
A water treatment plant and its massive circular buildings which are piped into large concrete ponds. These are the landscapes of our collective imagination. We are the change from forests to grass-lands, we are the tectonic forces and the suns rays.
“On the bright side, we may not have wiped out the mega-fauna of Sahul, which is the modern continent of Australia, now they think that humans weren’t even there for most of the megafaunal extinctions, they happened too long ago for humans to have played a key role, they think it was climate change instead.”[iv]
A pile of plastic bags sits beside an abandoned truck. The bags are full, some are white and some are black. Larch trees colonize an empty field before the forest becomes poplars and then maples. Four rows of transmission towers cross the tracks and then run parallel as far as the eye can see.
“This was the time of the first humans, australopithecine, we are going back to where we started, this is essentially the beginning of human time. “
The train sounded its whistle as we passed through towns, the backyards of people who lived by the tracks reminded James of where he grew up. Glasses would clink together in the cupboard when trains passed his house, there was a silence in conversation surrendered to the deep bass as the frequency of diesel pistons became the flexing tracks and long metallic tones. He thought of the decaying brick factory where he had played and explored in his youth, of ducks in the ponds died red, strewn with rusting steel and brick fragments. A Croatian family laughed at photos on the mothers phone.
Nikki let her shoe dangle and fall off her foot. Old telephone poles with glass insulators lean in dramatic angles in a wetland. She reached her bare foot across and touched James’ leg with her toes and the ball of her foot. A bridge, a pond with green algae and tires, stratified shale, a single blossoming tree. She curled her toes and gripped his jeans tugging gently.
“but now we are moving backwards, from the place we started, there wont be more and more oxygen to cool the climate, now we are going in the other direction.“ Lawns and small neat houses were visible through a line of planted spruce. Nikki looked at James her eyes fixed on him dark and watery. She looked over her glasses.
“There is decay in both directions. The past has its entropy of things, the seasonal and lifecycle based things falling apart, cell death, extinctions, diasporas.”
Fields and marshes.
“then there is the decay of the future as we overwrite our selves and become things that make us forget who or what we are or were. There are scales to these things ranging from the very personal to the speciesal.”
She released her toes grip.
“the Pliocene is when the artic ice cap formed, the anthropocene is when it melts. I can’t tell to what degree the future is embedded in the past.”