Tag: the anthropocene

And death shall have no dominion

Flying over Siberia, I press my face to the tiny cabin window and stare down at the landscape. The tundra at night is a frigid blue-white veined with darker depressions; arctic tones, though the flashing light on the airplane wing occasionally tinges the snowbanks 30,000 feet below with strawberry-pink. Everything I can see has a delicate, painterly quality, as though crafted by sentient, perfectionist powers of wind and precipitation. In the distance, a bright orange spot structured like a miniature skyline is sewn into the tundra, and the light around it bubbles and bleeds out, red-hot. I can’t tell precisely what it is, though I keep my eyes on it for as long as it remains in view: Maybe an industrial plant, maybe a den of witches. The effect, against the polar terrain and soot-black sky, is otherworldly. I think to myself: “I could be parachuted here right now and never found.” My body forever frozen in time and place, among the polar bears. The thought is strangely freeing.

From such heights, the planet feels neatly and safely contained; I watch it flow past me, circumscribed within the hard plastic and titanium of the airplane window frame. But at the same time I know it is a false comfort and a false expectation. The biophysical world resists easy comprehension and easy containment. I have heard human life characterized as no different from wildlife; Homo sapiens in the same network and made of the same bloodied pulp as Panthera tigris and Formicidae. I have also heard of “the Anthropocene,” in which humans are demigods, creating and destroying in a constant, technicolor cycle. I believe both visions hold some truth, which makes the conflict between them inevitable and interminable. But, flying above the quiet world in a shaking tin can, I forget my humanness. I look out at an Earth of chiaroscuro and suddenly remember autumn, when the light strikes leaves on trees rendered gold and plentiful by the passing time. Diamond-like, their brilliance; like veils made of string and broken CDs, hung up in backyard gardens to distract the animals.

The House of Being

What’s most striking about the campus is that its buildings are tremendously, fascinatingly ugly. My new favorite activity is walking along the main promenade, red backpack in tow, and taking it all in, leisurely, comfortably, like I’m wandering through a museum of the grotesque. Muted black steeples and clouded cement blocks densely veined with moisture damage. Off-white tiles lining the indoor walls and flooring. Carpeted elevators. Flat roofs unattractively combined with harsh angles. There’s a touch of Brutalist chic in the squat, rectangular, dark brick structures that are distinguished from one another not by name, but by number.

Thankfully, I’ve always been the type to enjoy ugliness; mismatched clothes, uncoordinated colors. But even if I wasn’t, the campus would be fully redeemed in my eyes by the fleet of cypress trees that shroud the area in an immense, touchable green. The tiny nubs of moss threaded through softened bark. Opalescent pools of rainwater like scattered mirrors of divination. The sky through the trees, dotted with constellations of sea green leaves. Tropical rain thudding against the dome of a hastily borrowed umbrella. The dusky shadow cast by my body onto damp, verdant tree trunks, moving to a rhythm dictated by nature.

I read a headline recently about the several degree rise in temperature the planet will experience by the end of this century. I don’t know how to deal with my existence, and therefore my participation, however innocent and involuntary, in this plot to kill and consume Gaia. But, if I am as ashamed I claim, it’s a million times worse to pay lip service by admitting the guilt without committing to action. I find myself discussing how every form of being is a form of violence, and in vain I look for a way to live like a pacifist. And yet, there can be no such thing as a peaceful Anthropocene. To examine the solution to the damage I’ve inflicted on the Earth is to also, necessarily, to envision a world without me in it.