A World Ever at Its End

Living amid the destruction of everything we knew

  • The forest’s silhouette, running from peak to peak, is no longer soft and verdant.
    Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
  • And though humanity has repeatedly returned, whether to flood or drought, fire, war or plague, it has always again fallen.
    Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey


1. I look out the window at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Recent floods have scarred their flanks. Deep pine forests that once cascaded luxuriantly over the crests are thinning out. Now patches of pine trees attacked by the mountain pine beetle die and turn a strangely violent rust color. As if burned, they turn black and ashy. The forest’s silhouette, running from peak to peak, is no longer soft and verdant. Spikes of skeletal trunks and branches scratch at the sky. It’s a sign: the world we know is moving to its end.

The warmer weather, scientists say, the diminished periods of deep cold. More larvae of the pine beetle now survive. And now, if we drive deeper into the mountains, we pass through vast swaths of dead forest, brittle, gray and black, almost indistinguishable from the acres and acres decimated by summer forest fires that recently lit up the night skies. I cannot bear to drive there now.

These phenomena mirror the great changes we see on television and read in the papers: melting polar caps, sea glaciers breaking apart, mountain glaciers shrinking; the expanding deserts, the ferocious territorial wars, people in hazmat suits helping those stricken with new diseases, streams of desperate migrants by the millions. Scientists predict worse to come. The civilization we inhabit is beginning to break. We have all heard this. Assumptions and certainties are caving in.

There is a feeling of being slowly swallowed, anesthetized. We cannot think how to resist. We watch, horrified, spellbound.

2. Cold prickles my scalp.
It’s forbidden to speak out.
Time cuts me off 
As your heel grinds me down.
Life turns against life.
Sound slowly breaks up.
Things drop out of sight
Past remembering in no time.
Oh yes, it once was better.
Please, you can’t compare:
Oh my blood, what stirred you then;
Oh blood, what stirs you now.
Plainly there’s some design
Now playing on these lips:
Winds are playing in the treetops
Doomed to be chopped down.

1/10/2020 7:07:13 PM

Unfortunately, the idea of a butterslide to hell on earth is contradicted by the facts, at least insofar as violence by human beings is concerned. The violent death rate has been dropping steadily through the last five centuries or so, although there are more individual violent deaths because there are more people. The same is true of cruelty to humans and animals, political oppression, absolute poverty, and many related problems. Things are getting better on a scale that's hard to see if you just look at the news ("if it bleeds, it leads") but is unmistakably clear. This is the best time to be alive.

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