Reading about the evacuation of New Orleans – again – this morning in anticipation of Gustav’s landfall, I am equal parts concerned for the people who are losing their homes – again – and fleeing for their lives – again – and also a bit unsettled, thinking about what I’ve read this year in River-Horse and The Population Bomb, about nature righting herself despite our best intentions of keeping her at bay. About how if we as a species don’t find a way to control our population, nature will do it for us. About how we’ve changed our coastline and our rivers, and how eventually that change will right itself with likely devastating consequences. About how the place where I work is on reclaimed land, and how we will be living by a river in just a few days. And about how in time past, people who chose to live by water understood the consequences and benefits of that decision because they understood that we live on and with the land, we don’t own the land.
At breakfast this morning, SB and I talked about the inevitable end of industrialization, and how perhaps we are living at the end of the English-speaking empire, half a millennium after it started. In my Saxon England class at Regents College, our professor brought the fall of Roman Britain dramatically to life, reading letters from Romans left behind after the legion pulled out to return to Rome. The letters spoke of being trapped between barbarians and the sea, of a profound fear for the loss of life and of civilization. Of a sense of abandonment – that the civilization that had made their existence possible had left them to the wolves and the sea and the painted people from the north. I wonder if that is how the people evacuating New Orleans feel right now in the wake of the second evacuation in four years – and if we are going to see more of this as the specter of decline continues to be seen in the West.