“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” – Terry Tempest Williams in “Red”
Some claim that no matter what foolishness we bring to our planet, Earth abides. Do you agree?
I hope that claim is more than wishful thinking. For years I thought an ever abiding Earth was a certainty and that even in the worst-case nuclear winter we can imagine, the planet could shake off the damage. Now, I think we’ve done too much for that certainty.
Author George R. Stewart certainly took that view in his famous 1949 science fiction novel called Earth Abides. While this book, which is among the best novels I’ve ever read, is a eulogy for civilization as we know it, it’s not a story about the end of the Earth. This book is somewhat responsible for my thinking that when all is said and done, the planet will one day be reborn without us.
Plenty of Time?
For years, people have said that no matter how badly we treat the environment, the ultimate destruction of the planet is so many years into the future that we still have time to change what we are doing. In that vein, saying that global warming or dying oceans or dangerously high population growth will one day do us in, is about like telling a teenager he needs to save some of his summer job money for retirement or he’ll starve some day.
As an author, I have absolutely no interest in writing post-apocalyptic fiction. Nonetheless, I often play the what-if game inside my head about all sorts of things that will never evolve into my books.
One game involves walking down a long highway into the future and seeing alongside the road a timeline of positive and negative news events, discoveries, storms, political decisions, and other critical moments. How far can I walk and still find mankind here? Are there actually multiple roads? Perhaps a frightening event leads us to make positive changes and one prospective road gets longer. Perhaps something else lures us into a false sense of security and we begin to think Earth will abide forever. At that point, all the roads get shorter.
If we knew how long the Earth would abide at our present rate of destroying it, what would we do? Would we keep on keeping on or would we finally realize that the world’s wild mercy really is in our hands?
This post first appeared on my now-discontinued Magic Moments blog in 2012.