I remember the crinkled skeletons of fall leaves, the eerie wonder of their sudden dryness, the whole ground skittering toward some unknown vanishing point when an October wind gusted out of a sky that seemed darker blue, stranger, more remote. I was a young boy. The flux of time was measured in magical events, the color and the quality of the light coming through a tall window, the way an old, brick-worn depot stood sentry in the dark night as we passed by on a train. My family believed in ghosts, gardens, history, and an implacable capacity of objects (often overlooked as mundane), certain events, works of art, to telegraph a critical signal from the mystery of the Universe, an alien familiarity with the starry ocean above that resides in each of us. My family also believed in the power of science to reveal the threads of that mystery.
I was born in 1978. It was the time when President Jimmy Carter was telling the American people that life as it had been known was over. We could not become cramped giants of consumption, endlessly plowing our home, what Adam Smith called the "natural value" of our world, into the exponential curve of increasing wealth. The malaise, the sense that something was wrong with this picture, was trying to tell us something. However, in 1978, though I didn't know it, there were still lots of fish. There was still a huge amount of ice at the north pole. There were seasons that made sense. The Amazon rain-forest was thousands of square miles bigger than it is now. There wasn't a raft of plastic debris twice the size of Texas in the center of the Pacific. Most major rivers of the world still reached the sea.
In 2012, I am 33 years old. This is the second autumn my 16-month-old daughter has experienced, the first that she will, perhaps, remember in some dream-like form when she is older. She is with me and not with me, giving me a knowing look and a fierce smile now and then, just when a piece of particularly devastating news about the condition of the world crosses my desk, yet still well under the veil of Dreamtime that will render all these early visions into a haunting terrain of compelling imagery, the sustenance at the heart of her favorite metaphors, enduring the rest of her life, if she is like me. She is delighted by the brown and gold and red-dragon leaves that are falling around her.
She is, I think, attempting to follow those same paths where the magic of the reality, undiluted by scarcity and want and need and overwhelm, illuminates the coordinated mystery of the origin of things. But those paths, at least here on Earth, are diminishing, dying, gone. The world that I let my daughter wander into is not the world I received. I have nothing so fine to give. I show her a planet in shambles, in departure. She is in the last generation that will draw on the ancient metaphor of autumn as we know it, though her Octobers are distorting already, warping at the seams. Hot gusts of unsettled air kick through these empty canyons of weeks at the end of the year. They don't seem to know where to go. There is colossal amount of heat stored in the oceans, now, and it is beginning to work its way into the secret topologies of our personal lives.
In the end, climate change will divide us from each other, too, if left unchecked. My daughter may well find herself at 40 not knowing what I meant when I wrote here about the magical unity of all things, or it might mean something different: a bitter reference to the total collected ruin: the hot, crazy seas, the dead forests, the missing species, the echo of a world she knew in childhood, tantalizing her from beyond the edge of active recall. Then, again, she gives me a knowing look -- not deliberately from herself, it seems, but from the primordial consciousness that lurks behind her existence and brought her forth. That entity reminds me that we all are forged in the crucible of alchemical change, where existence frets and parries non-existence, and they bleed into one another. Change is where we belong.
It is the people’s attempt to stall change that has broken the world. Keeping the same temperature day and night, in and out of seasons, in our houses, driving our hermetically-sealed cars through a landscape that only transmits its change in terrain to us in the way we depress the accelerator a little more to go uphill, or ease off on a curve. It is in the desire to have everything “on demand,” proffered to us in plastic clam-shells, bright shiny new, the moment we think we need it or want it. It is in the way we light up the night so it hangs there like an under-exposed day, because we want to be safe, we want the day to go on, we want the entertainment to go on, we want to know that when we come to surf eBay at 3 a.m. in our underwear, eBay will be there.
Which leads me to my indictment. My cry from the ramparts. Where is my generation? Where are those of us who were able to experience that magical enrichment of natural change, the magical reference to the moving Universe in all things? Why are you silent when our world is threatened? Why do you dance and attend potlucks and shop and work and share cute turn-of-phrase from your children’s mouths while Rome is burning? Why have you become complacent, lured by money, stability, seeking fun, and now watch from the sidelines, disempowered, as the very last moments to recover our world tick away? Why are you championing routine when it is the last, last, last thing the doctor ordered at this time?