Swapping hemispheres for a few weeks is a surefire way to pack home some stories.
Second day in, joined hundreds in Bogota (and millions around the world) in a Global Day of Action against Monsanto. Serendipitous encounter with a fellow foot travel activist, Juanita Ariza, who ran from Tierra del Fuego to Guatemala for world water rights. Humbled and inspired. One full week in Cartagena, a coastal town spewing magic from its tragic roots as slavery port. Meeting up with old-time family friend Karina Bell. Spanish classes, salsa-dancing on repeat, swimming backstroke deep inside a mud volcano. 5 cups of coffee per day at least. To finish, a solo, 10-hour, pant-crappingly harrowing bus journey south of Bogota to the mountain village of Salento. Two days weaving through coffee plantations, sampling local trout and posting Fastest Known Times by terrorizing trails on a fluorescent bike full of squeaks, trying to keep with a fleet of Colombian kids in polychromatic Raybans.
All while devouring Craig Childs’ newest book Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Ever-Ending Earth. Certainly one of his best and not nearly as depressing as it sounds, I promise. Absolute mastery, the highest recommendation.
New camera, new possibilities. Quotes + Photos.
Deserts Consume. “I came to where nothing can be hurt. I moved through one of the most barren chambers of the earth’s beating heart, and here I found one of the most erotic places I had ever seen. Dunes flowed behind us. We moved through airy fabric, every footstep setting loose teardrops and cascades down sandalwood dune faces. In this desolation, there was no such thing as disaster. You could not kill the wind of the sun or the barren sand.”
Cataclysm Strikes. “This is the context in which we live, a rain of dots and dashes in the sky intermixed with periodic brighter flashes, some leaving modest craters or at least brightly covered vapors in the atmosphere. Every 100 million years or so a world-ending splashdown happens, but chances of this occurring in any nearby lifetime are so low you really shouldn’t trouble yourself other than to know that it does actually happen.”
Species Vanish. “…I could see along the edges of the drainage grasshoppers were trying to get in. They had chewed open tips and were entering fresh ears, their mechanical mouth parts sounding like tiny scrapers chisling at milk-hard kernels. Toxins applied both from crop dusters and what been added to the genes of the corn itself would ultimately kill most of them, or at least drive them back, but some would survive. I was watching evolution in progress, sped up as if this were a petri dish stewing the genetic future of our earth.”
Ice Collapses. “Everything is about ice. The shape of each mountain carved by this slow relentless scour. Glaciers dating back to the Pleistocene still exist, retreating like hermit crabs into their shells. What the earth remembers: These mountains once looked like the face of Antartica, seamless wasteland. Now, this. It happens so fast, you catch your breath but barely.”
Seas Rise. “…We may now be seeing oceanic changes from what was happening 40 years ago in the 1960’s, when human population was at 3 billion, less than half what it is today, and when we barely even thought of sea level rise. What we get 40 years from today’s nearly 7 billion people remains to be seen.”
Civilizations Fall. “This is our track record: cities left like empty shells around the world — Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Teotihuacan, Pre-Colombian temples and intricately carved slabs of stone push up from under the streets of Mexico City, while London coughs up Roman skeletons and 2,000 year-old bronze tableware. We live in the graveyards of former societies. This is the song we’ve been singing for thousands of years, call and repeat, glory and decline. This time, we say we have it all figured out. We will not fail. As if we haven’t heard that before.”
Mountains Move. “I often think of earth as having a cadence, a drumbeat tempo of ice ages and sea levels, civilizations rising and falling. But … I was learning that you do not set calendars and metronomes to the patterns of the earth. They are melodies, not drumbeats. It was music that we were now moving through with paddles and oars, the music of centuries and millions of years.”
Cold Returns. “Global warming may be the issue for the moment, but the bigger, multimillion-year trend is towards a cooler planet. Antartica iced over 35-million years ago, and ever since then extended ice ages have become almost commonplace, growing into discreet rhythm of rise and fall over the last 5 million years. In that time, even during interglacials, ice has always remained. There has been a cold heart waiting to start up again.”
Seas Boil. “The earth is a seed planting itself over and over. We are not the gardeners. We are no benevolent being leaving the house every morning with a watering can and a trowel to dig up weeds, wiping our brows midday to marvel at our handiwork. Instead, we are within the seed itself. We are part of its cells and the hardness of its coat, our place not to marvel at the futility and smallness of ourselves but to keep life moving. What we do now, from the inside, determines the vigor of that seed, how long it might live and plant itself again.”