[I wrote this for the Rhos Y Gilwen short story competition Loving the Earth. It didn’t win. I still think it’s pretty good.]
I have a question I’d like to ask. I doubt you will be able to answer, not immediately at least, and I doubt you will enjoy the question. You might think that as you don’t have an immediate answer, it would be better if you didn’t even think about it. I invite you to think about it anyway.
The question came to me as we were climbing this hill. We climbed slowly as to get out of breath would be dangerous. The air is barely able to support life; it tastes gritty and oily. The whole world is on fire now, and since the wind turned to the East, we’re getting the smoke from a burning continent. This is the beginning of the end and we have come here to observe. This is our offering to the Earth: to be present to the end of human life, perhaps the end of all life, on the planet that loved us for so long. I have no time for gods or spirits, but I have a clear sense that something is served by this offering.
There is no other life to be seen on this hilltop. I haven’t seen a bird since last summer. It hasn’t rained for over a year and it rained very little for several years before that. Rivers dried, wells failed, reservoirs emptied. We have carried the last of our water up here in flasks. When this is gone, there will be no more.
The grass is long gone from this place that used to be so beautifully green. All that’s left is dust. The slightest breeze fills the air with clouds of dead grass and dead soil. Until it calms again, the air is even more dangerous to breathe.
The last harvest was two years ago, and it was a very poor one. Since then, we have survived have on what was tinned and dried in the times when there was a surplus to store.
The human family didn’t react to the inevitable end in the way many had anticipated. There were no water wars. No nation invaded a weaker neighbour to take their remaining food. No powerful family raided their weaker neighbours. Within a short time, all the Earth’s people recognised the inevitable, that the end was in sight, and that the most we could do would be to give ourselves a little more time to die.
Instead, we received the news as we might receive the news of the approaching death of a beloved friend. We chose to love the Earth as few of us had ever loved it before. We embraced the inevitable, accepted we would be heartbroken. We celebrated and thanked the Earth that supported us for thousands of generations. People drew patterns in the sand of the deserts and the beaches. We made paintings & sculpture. We decorated the world and tried to make it beautiful, to undo some of the ugliness we had created. People made altars and shrines in the most desecrated places like open cast mines. We danced the world. We sang the world.
What food remained from the last harvests was shared freely. For the people who had spent most of their lives trying to survive on too little food, this was their least hungry time. For the people who had spent their lives hoarding more than they needed, this was their most generous time. These last two years have asked the most of us and have seen the best of us.
The wind lifts dust into the air and the friend beside me coughs weakly, then gasps. His face is pale and he leans back against the hill, gasping again. Two of us hold his hands as he gasps again, again, and then falls silent and still. Only three of us observing the end now.
Another longer gust lifts dust into the air again, thicker this time, turning the air dirty yellow. I try not to cough, my head is spinning. I close my eyes against the dust. After the wind settles, I wait a few seconds before opening them again. There below me is the valley I remember, every shade of green and teeming with life. Quickly now, there is little time, here is my question; tell me, beloved ancestors: If you had loved the Earth as we have, do you think you would have found a way to live so that we could live?