A Thing Which Could Not Be Put Back
Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.
- from Cormac McCarthy, The Road
I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy several months ago. I wanted to write about this haunting book here, but I had no words to express the dark world this story plunged me into. It's the tale of a father and his son moving through the skeleton of a world left behind by a man-made cataclysm. In their struggle for the barest survival, they encounter challenges and horrors that are nearly unspeakable - unspeakable except by geniuses like McCarthy. This is truly the stuff of nightmares.
The dark images this book planted in my mind often come welling up. It doesn't help that when I see the book in a store, I'm prone to picking it up and re-reading the closing paragraph (Above). Not long ago I found myself standing, like an idiot, in a big-box warehouse store with a tear running down my cheek.
I did it again last night at Barnes & Noble, but this time something clicked. I just started reading eaarth by Bill McKibben. In the early pages, McKibben explains that global climate change is not something that might - if we don't get on the stick - affect our children and grandchildren as is so often said. No, in fact, it's already happened. We have already pumped so much greenhouse gas into the air and are so far from getting our fossil fuel use under control that we have entered a time of irreversible feedback-fed warming that has changed our pale blue dot into another planet altogether. We've triggered a chain reaction where a warmer climate promotes release of carbon dioxide from a thawing tundra and release of methane from warming Arctic seas. These additional gas releases warm the climate further, and so on and so on, in a self-sustaining loop that is beyond our power to control no matter how many bicycles we ride or light bulbs we change.
So, unlike the blinding flash that ended McCarthy's world, our world - the real one- was ended slowly but surely by puff after puff of invisible gas. Sudden death, or slow tortured death, we are left with a thing that could not be put back, could not be made right again. I think of my children and I think of the soft green forests of spring, and a tear rolls down my cheek.