September 1, 2012

We Buried Grandmother Treewalker Today


We buried Grandmother Treewalker near the roots of the Arcology, an area that's become known as the Faerie Mound because it resembles the burial mounds of the early British peoples. Her grave plaque is made not of stone but of wood, a Celtic pentacle carved into the wood itself that in time will grow out again. As I wandered along the roots, I saw other such memorials - Christian crosses, Pagan pentacles, Stars of David, the Taoist Wheel and Crescent Moon and Stars, some like my grandmother's light tan wood marker where the wood had most recently been cut, others old enough that the tree had shaped the symbols into a new layer of bark. More than a few of the newer markers had a stylized iterated fractal tree as their symbol of choice - the People of the Trees. That described us of the Arc very well.
Grandmother Treewalker had been born a century before, more or less. and though she had been failing for some time, she would still talk in her thin, cracking voice about the world when she was a child to me and Ilise, the two youngest of her great grand-daughters. It was a strange world, one filled with great wonders and even greater horrors, and for all that some of it sounded like magick we were all of us taught from when we were in diapers that magick comes at a great price, and the more powerful the magick, the more awful that price. Slipping past Grandmother's fresh grave, I followed the wood and earthen wall widdershins upward in a spiral, the great tree of the mound having been shaped by countless hands so that the roots of the ancient Douglas Fir formed a natural staircase following a spiral to the top, clutching the bottled ink made from squid ink and carbon black, my crow quill pen and penknife, and the first Journal that is mine and mine alone, as Grandma Treewalker bade me.
My name is Alanna Selkirk Treewalker, and I am the Chronicler of the Seatlc Arc of the People of the Trees, as was my Grandmother, Kirstin Atlee Treewalker, before me. There is, within the Arc, a library with her books and those of her predecessor, as well as histories, chronicles, and scientific works that could be salvaged, but she, like I, preferred to actually write out here in the open, overlooking the Pujiet Sond. At the top of the mound, a branch of the great tree had been cozened into becoming a table for her to write  on, and many hours did I sit there once she became too old and blind to write and transcribe her words, or later, when she would sit mute, would capture those memories or impressions that I had in her journals. Today, I would start to write my own chapter.
Once, my grandmother said, Seatlc was not an island as it is today, but rather was an isthmus that trapped a lake, with only single channel between the lake and the Sond. Three million people lived in this area, a number I can scarce credit - there are four hundred of us in the Seatlc Arc, another three hundred in the Tekoma Arc, a little more than two hundred in the RedMound Arc. The moot we had when I was twelve (and my twin sister was first pledged to the son of the Healer of the Tekoma Arc) brought eleven hundred people together, and it seemed frightening to see so many gathered in one place and time. Grandmother believed that there were less than one million people in the world today, though she could no longer be sure. There were eight thousand million when she was born, though surely this was an exaggeration.
But I wander. Once there was a great peoples called the Merkantl in a land that stretched so far that one could walk for weeks from our shores before getting to the other side. They built great cities, like the city that would eventually become the ruins of Seatlc that I could see even here from the mound - a few of its buildings rusted towers of iron emerging from the Sond itself to the West. The people that built this empire were proud and arrogant and wealthy, their power coming from digging out an oil from the earth that caused their carts to run without horses, allowed them to fly vast metal birds through the sky, and made it possible for them to carry foods from the other side of the world on boats far larger than the Arc. Yet the more they used that earth oil, the hotter the air itself became, and the more poisoned the land, and even as they used it they never questioned that perhaps, one day, the magic oil would run out.
As a child, grandmother Treewalker witnessed the sundering of the Merkantl into many smaller nations - the Fedrated Republics of Markantl, Applesha, the Merkan Union, Tekasis, many others, as well as the nation of Cascadia, of which Seatlc and Fratsisko were a part. And even then they warred upon themselves, even as the ships stopped traveling for fear of being sunk, even as the metal birds were grounded for lack of fuel, even as people abandoned their magical carts for lighter ones that horses could pull. The sky was filled with dirigibles and balloons that took less far less fuel and were easier to make, yet even then the wars went on, and every year the glaciers melted away and the seas rose. At first they built retaining walls and pumps, but when my grandmother was a young mother herself, the weight of the new water and the warming seas caused gasses into the sea to start bubbling, and one day, a part of the contintental shelf off the aushengtn coast gave way, and created a wave more than 200 feet high. The wave scoured away Vancufr to the North, bounced, and rolled into the Puigit Sond, submerging much of Seattl, forming a channel that cut Seattle off from the mainland, and destroying much of Limpia and Tekoma the south.
Yet still the Earth was not done with my forebears, for the earthquake that caused the wave was enough to awaken Mother Rani, the volcano to the south. It exploded, sending hot rock, mud and lava North and East, destroying what was left of Tekoma and the cities between them and what would become the Red Mound peoples. Had this happened earlier, when the magic still existed, grandmother believed that the cities could have rebuilt, but the world was fallen on hard times, and there was little help. Many succumbed to illness as the magic medicines that had kept diseases at bay ran out, and as those who could secure more chose instead to use them as a source of power over others. Soon people were starving as the crops parched year after year and the boats and carts stopped coming, and many more died. Others left - going south and east and north, and in time most were never heard from again. This had been made worse by the genetically modified crops that "expired" without producing viable seeds and polluting the seed stocks, or that produced poisonous crops that produced gorgeous grains, fruits and vegetables that were lethal when consumed over months. 
Yet for all this devastation our corner of the world was spared much of the worst of what happened elsewhere - as civilization collapsed, those who had benefited most from it had for a while managed to keep an island of technology around them, but in the end when the infrastructure collapsed far enough that maintaining this island became impossible, they were in many ways the least prepared for what would happen next. For a while, society went through a succession of "strongmen" - warlords, often from the guards of these wealthy men and women who turned on their employers and killed the burgeoning aristocracy to become the next logical successors. Without a responsibility to society, these strongmen abandoned the nuclear power plants that had been sitting idle for lack of radioactive fuel, letting the hundreds of thousands of rods of waste rods go unattended until eventually their pools evaporated, their cladding were eaten away, and they became nuclear waste zones that poisoned the land for millions of square miles.
People tried to adapt, but change was happening faster than even humans could adapt to. Grandmother said that for a while things had begun looking up - society had actually fallen faster than the available energy, and there was something of a rebound, one built upon the remnants of the original technology and culture - but this was a temporary reprieve because the atmosphere was still getting hotter, though at a slower rate than before. Populations were pushed north, ecosystems began collapsing in earnest as heat and storms began to take their toll, and the rise of the oceans, almost imperceptible in the twentieth century, was now well on its way to levels rising at a dozen feet a year. The toxic mix of submerging cities hit fragile oceanic fish stocks, and for a while, significant portions of the ocean could support little more than jellyfish and algae. In time, most ships still plying the oceans were built of wood, because the deep draft tankers and container shifts could no longer find ports, and the global economy collapsed as the highways of the sea went empty. Seatlc had been a major port city, but after the devastation of Mother Rani and the flood, rebuilding the ports was no longer important (though we would eventually rebuild the ports for our own purposes).
Ironically, this may have saved the few who remained here. Resource wars - especially wars for untainted water - raged across much of the world. Rising sea levels contaminated freshwater stocks everywhere, while sufficiently high aquifers that had been drained decades before did not have enough time to refill, and the technology for desalting water disappeared along with all too much else. The heat and overfarming, in turn, caused the collapse of the Merkantl Midwest as well as places like the Ukirane in Russkva. While this was a problem in the Puijit Sond as well, it had always had a different ecology than much of the rest of the world, and was primarily hit by a barrage of heavy rains for years on end coming off Nippon. Yet for all that, life had become hard, and the population collapsed.
In time, the weather finally changed, reaching a tipping point where there was no longer enough of a stimulus coming from human activity to force heat into the atmosphere. Storms had been building close to the end of that period, until eventually much of the Northern Hemisphere was under a continuous, long lived storm.  For months upon months it rained and the winds howled sometimes in excess of two hundred miles an hour, as energy that had been building up high in the atmosphere began to reground itself. Cities that had survived the ravages of excess heat, rising sea levels, salinated water and neglect collapsed in these near permanent hurricanes, and in many places the people who survived did so only by burrowing down in the lea sides of mountains, or by adapting to the environment. 
In Seatlc, the response to the storms was the construction of the first arcology. Because most of the Pujuit Sond sat between two mountain ranges, the storms were considerably tempered. The earliest of the arcologists built a living city from trees shaped by the last magic of the jentists, ones that were wide-based with deep roots and able to be shaped into dwellings that could absorb the worst of the winds, and that, still living, were able to withstand the ravages of fresh and salt-water. These were built into the hills of the island that had once been an isthmus, and extended down to far enough underground to use the island as a natural filtration system. Around it other trees built up around the arcology, keeping it hidden, with the burial mind anchoring it on the south end. For a while, the Arcology was able to support a few thousand people, and similar arcologies were built into the earthen banks near the remnants of Red Mound, within the hardened mud and lava of the now quiescent Mother Rani, and along the foothills of the Limpic mountains, usually in the intervals between the major blows of the Great Storm.
When the Great Storm finally ended, little of the old world remained. People survived elsewhere - periodically we get small ships that by luck, hard work or miracle made it through the storm mostly intact, but the message the sea peoples bring is always the same - pockets of humanity has survived, but little of its civilization. I was born during the Great Storm, the world that my Grandmother spoke of is wondrous strange and terrible, but to me it is just a story. Still, even that story is not yet at an end - those from the North are reporting that it has begun to snow again in places that haven't seen snow in a century, snowing heavily, and the world is far cooler today than it was before the Great Storm. Grandmother told me that she thinks that the Great Storm was the correcting factor for not just a few hundred years of industrial development but more than twelve thousand years of human habitation keeping the world moving away from the sun actually undergoing a long term cooling trend, and that the response to that will be a new ice age.  This is a problem that my great grandchildren will face - already, we can see the glaciers forming in the far distance, and the mountains remain snow-covered even in summer, and every year winter has lasted long than the year before it.
Yet today it is pleasantly warm, and there is a gentle breeze coming from the south. From the Mound of the Dead beneath the Spirit Tree of the Arcology, I can see the fisherfolk gathering fish and shellfish, men and women alike wearing loincloths and little else, mothers with young babies suckling even as they gather the day's catch. Farther up island are the fields for growing berries, potatoes and wild rice, strains recovered from research seed banks and organic farms that had escaped the worst of the death seeds. We glean most of this by hand with simple tools that would have not been out of place 3,000 years before, and we are all to conscious of how fragile the world still is. The world goes on and we survive, chastened and more humble. 
I dip my pen into the dark brown ink, touch it to the hand-made rag paper, and begin to write.

1 comment:

Ien van Houten said...

Nice piece of writing....depressing possibility.