Letters to Readers
Where to Get It
Youth Futures: 2012 and Beyond (2014 Archive)
Starting in 2012, this space will present updates to the book Standing on Your Own Two Feet: Young Adults Surviving 2012 and Beyond, which is a free book for all young adults. Short corrections will be incorporated into the book as soon as possible, but most additions and supplements will be found only here.
It pays to remember that societies get what they deserve, not what they expect.
25 December 2014: Cheaper gasoline? Mmm ... no.
Since the supply of crude oil is now limited by geology, and has been since 2005, the price we pay, and the cost of extraction, have come very close together. This causes wildly unstable prices, unless someone carefully adjusts supply to keep the price about the same. Saudi Arabia did this for us for years, but it cost them a lot, and no one thanked them, so they quit.
Now the price of oil has fallen to about half what it was, which will kill most of the expensive oil from hydro-fracking in the USA and tar sands in Canada. When that oil quits flowing, in about a year I'd guess, the price will skyrocket.
At that time, we'll WISH we had $100 oil ($4 gasoline) again, but we won't, and the financial markets (stocks and bonds) will probably be a wreck. When they go, commerce, and jobs, will be close behind.
That human happiness might, in the first place, reside in comfort and the elimination of want, and, in the second place, that want can itself be eliminated, mark the existential downfall of the American way of life.
14 December 2014: A humble prediction
When people ask me to predict the future, I usually squirm and make up some excuse not to. As much more intelligent people than I, such as John Michael Greer, can better explain, some things about the general shape of the future are fairly easy to accurately predict, but other things, like the specific timing, are nearly impossible.
But today one of those "general shape" things has been "assigned" by the mysterious inspirational forces of the universe for me to put into words and share with you, along with a likely example.
My prediction is at the national level, and applies specifically to the USA where I live, and just as well to any other nation or block of nations. Our government will be able to deal with any single large but short-term problem that pops up, not perfectly but to a degree that will satisfy most people and leave the government in power. An example would be Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans.
However, if multiple large problems arise at once, or in a close series, the government will quickly start failing to have any effective response. The example I'd like to give is if the financial sector (stock market, loans, bonds, etc.) crashes and unemployment skyrockets, the people will probably vote for leaders who will do everything possible to eliminate obstacles to businesses hiring. That will mean cutting most government budgets to the bone. If a plague disease like Ebola slips into the country at that time ... the rest of the example is obvious.
I hope that doesn't happen, but it fits with what I know about human nature.
There is a great difference between being still and doing nothing.
5 December 2014: Ebola Notes
The Ebola Virus Disease is slipping out of the news and commentary because it is "just" growing steadily in west Africa, with little news to report. The U.N. target of 70% treatment by 1 December was "likely" met in official statements, while the real number is about 30%. Some nations who were sending help are starting to slow down on getting that done because it "looks like" the thing won't get out of west Africa. This is therefore a very dangerous time in which the disease could get out while we're not looking. This may be made more likely because the local governments are starting to "lock down" parts of the country, thinking this will slow the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, this could motivate some people to try to slip out and go far away. I suspect the countries of east Africa, and India, are at greatest risk of receiving them.
Every profession has truths that everyone on the inside knows, but they can never be said aloud (at least publicly) because they could cause anger, resentment, maybe even panic in people outside the profession. Here's one from the world of finance as it struggles to find ways to make the economy grow in a world that no longer has the building blocks of economic growth (cheap energy and mineral resources).
The worry, as always, has nothing to do with the central banks' concern for you, your job, your children, the actual prices you pay, wealth equality, or the future, and everything to do with the simple fact that the stability of the banking system absolutely depends on a steady stream of new loans.
30 November 2014: A good summary and some sound advice
Although I disagree with the implication that human inequality is a recent invention, this is a good summary of the state of the world, and what we should pay attention to, at this time.
We live in a debt-fuelled, techno-narcissistic, ecologically unsustainable world and in an economic system that channels the remaining wealth upwards. The system, which worked well enough for most people in times of an expanding energy supply without too many competing claims is now shifting into reverse gear and causing itself to self-cannibalise. Economic and political injustice is growing ever sharper and more noticeable - despite all the happy talk of economic recovery. Growth is an illusion, contraction is a reality, and things are getting worse. Prepare yourself for the inevitable and try to gain some control over the essentials of your life. Grow stuff, tread lightly on the earth, appreciate what you have and try to enjoy the ride.
... we might pause to consider that life frequently presents us with existential dilemmas about which there is nothing we can "do" except open to what the dilemma might want us to learn, feel, and experience ...
26 November 2014: For those who can rise above political labels ...
A well-written article by Erik Lindberg explores the myths about climate change that even liberals tend to miss. Its main points are:
Myth #1: Liberals Are Not In Denial
Myth #2: Republicans are Still More to Blame
Myth #3: Renewable Energy Can Replace Fossil Fuels
Myth #4: The Coming "Knowledge Economy" Will be a Low-Energy Economy
Myth #5: We can Reverse Global Warming Without Changing our Current Lifestyles
Myth #6: There is Nothing I Can Do
And it contains this excellent summarizing statement:
In order to adequately address climate change, people in rich industrial nations will have to reduce current levels of consumption to levels few are prepared to consider. This truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.
... cheap and abundant mineral resources that have created our industrial society are ... a gift that was made only once in human history and that will not be made again in the future.
14 October 2014: Summary of the Ebola Threat
I have been following reports and articles for months, and felt it was time to summarize what I've learned.
The Ebola Virus Disease is currently expanding rapidly in 3 countries in west Africa. A few cases have appeared in other African countries, and at least one country has chosen to forbid news reports, creating a "blackout" or "cover up." A few cases have been evacuated to Europe and the USA, where a few hospital beds exist capable of handling highly-infectious diseases.
Ebola, usually referring to Ebola Zaire, the most dangerous of 5 types, kills between half and 9/10 of the people who get it, with the average around 3/4. Some experimental drugs are being tried, but we don't yet know if they work, and they will probably never be available to the poor people of Africa.
Ebola is carried by humans, monkeys, apes, bats, rodents, possibly pigs and dogs, and maybe other animals, but not all of them get sick from it. It can move from creature to creature through any body fluid, such as blood.
People whose job it is to keep us calm like to say that Ebola is not "airborne." That is true, but only for plain air that is fresh, dry, and still. Ebola can travel on the tiny drops that spray any time we cough or sneeze. Those drops can go the farthest when the air is humid, the wind is blowing, or people are indoors where the air is warm and blown around by fans.
In fresh, dry, still outdoor air, 30 feet (9 meters) away from a person or animal who might have Ebola is considered completely safe. Indoors is probably never completely safe.
Since Ebola kills most people who get it, we dare not fight it at that point. The only way to fight this enemy is to completely avoid getting it. That means, if Ebola comes to your area, having no direct contact (body fluids), and no close contact (breathing near) people and animals who are circulating in society. That would mean no shopping, going to school, doing business at offices, or going to work (unless you work alone). It would also mean not petting the dog or cat that wanders into your yard.
The length of time these precautions would be necessary is completely unknown. The Spanish Flu of 1918 lasted 2 years, but less than a year for any one outbreak. The Black Death of the 1340-50s lasted 3-5 years in any one place, but popped up repeatedly in many place for the next 300 years. Ebola is different from both of those, and human society is different today, especially in transportation (helping the disease) and public health (helping us).
The preparations that would be necessary to avoid shopping, doing business, and going to work for 1-5 years, are very complicated and can be found in many books and web sites. Also, if Ebola kills many people and puts many more in the hospital, or home in bed, then few people will be delivering gasoline and maintaining our power plants, so we could easily lose the use of our cars and our electricity. Life could get hard.
For a look behind the scenes by a nurse, this article by Mary Odum is excellent.
Pollard's Law of Complexity: Things are the way they are for a reason. If you want to change something, it helps to know that reason. If that reason is complex, success in changing it is unlikely, and adapting to it is probably a better strategy.
3 September 2014: Is the world living or dead?
This is the title of an excellent article by Christy Rodgers that I recommend intelligent young adults read fully at Resilience.org or any other place it has been posted. Don't worry if you don't understand all the science (I don't), but just get the general idea of it. A couple of very clearly-written and important messages from it are:
There is a warning bell ringing loudly now in our ears: reality eludes all efforts to reduce it too much, or to use only formalisms to describe it. It seems to be trying to tell the scientists who will listen that things in connection with one another, evolving in time, are not just different in scale from things studied in isolation but fundamentally different in kind.
It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
20 August 2014: Thoughts on Faith and Purpose during Near-Term Human Extinction
My journey from innocence to the thoughts I now share has spanned my entire life so far. It included a college degree in psychology and all the usual training to be a mental-health therapist that went with it. That gave me some insights, to say the least, into how people think during big changes in the world around them. NTHE qualifies, methinks.
My journey also included plenty of formal and informal studies in philosophy, which armed me with some good tools for spotting thinking errors and propaganda, the former I define as innocent mistakes, the latter purposeful manipulations, but all constituting, in a broad sense, bullshit. I certainly don't claim perfection at finding and analyzing this gooey substance. However, I am convinced that NTHE, at its core, is not a social or political thing. It exists and progresses outside of any opinions we might hold about it.
Beginning early in the new millennium, I was "given" a story to write. If I had to put a name on the giver, I would attribute it to Clio, the Muse of History. I didn't realize this at first, as the story is science fiction that never takes place on planet Earth, and in fact never even mentions Earth. Slowly, as the books of the series were completed, I realized that my story wasn't relevant to the "history" of planet Earth, in the sense of our past. It was relevant, instead, to a part of human history that has not quite yet happened.
At the same time, the last decade and a half roughly, I have felt compelled to study the unfolding situation about Peak Oil and Climate Change. This sprang naturally from my roots in the Environmental movement, Organic Gardening and Farming, and various social justice concerns (especially the status of women and children).
Slowly, as I read countless articles and books, the pieces of a complex puzzle came together for me. I could name, and thank, a hundred, perhaps a thousand people whose writings and talks have helped me with that journey. All the while, I continued to listen to the mainstream news and commentary enough to know what thoughts were current in center society. There are thinking errors and propaganda on all sides of every issue, of course, but that's just part of human nature. People ignore or twist the truth, or just plain lie, for various personal and group reasons, always have and always will.
The important process for me was discovering where the threads of truth wound among the piles of steaming ... you know. To even hope to discover them, I had to apply every bit of my training in psychology and philosophy, and well as all the informal skills of discernment that life has given me. As the last decade crept by, and Clio gave me more and more of the story I was "assigned" to write, those threads of truth started going to a place that was less and less comfortable with each passing year.
I have now, during the last few years especially, focused on understanding the mechanisms that exist on our planet that could render the term "climate change" completely inadequate. When a fire burns someone's home to the ground, we don't call that a "change" in their interior decoration, even though it technically is. When a car accident mutilates a person's body so they can't even be identified at the morgue, we don't call that a "change" in their employment status, even though it technically is.
The mechanisms and feedbacks that could cause NTHE are there, coming into clearer focus, year after year, for me and others. We don't yet know if they WILL actually cause NTHE, as there are many things about our planet we don't yet understand, and some of those could change the situation. Of course, they could change it in either direction, making NTHE less or more likely, and its progress slower or faster. I do not say this to attempt any sort of denial, but only to respect the inherent unknowability of the future.
It's when I look at the psychological motivations of the various people speaking for or against Peak Oil, Climate Change, and NTHE, and filter out the plain-old thinking errors, that I get scared. There are plenty of piles of ... stuff ... on all sides, but the threads of truth do not, in my humble opinion, lead to the shopping mall, or Wall Street, or anywhere else that "business as usual" is practiced.
Since I have studied a fair amount of what it means to be sane, and choose to be so to the best of my ability, I will continue to do my best to avoid cognitive dissonance, denial, duplicity, and a hundred other ways of avoiding contact with reality, for as long as I have sufficient strength of body and clarity of mind. Many of those mental tactics of avoidance provide temporary relief from anxiety and fear, but in the long run they twist our minds and souls, in my professional opinion, and cause us to move further and further from reality. Yeah, I drink a beer occasionally, ponder a utopian fantasy occasionally, but do my best to keep them occasional.
I have read and listened to many people express everything from righteous indignation to the depths of despair over NTHE. I would never deny anyone their feelings and their right to speak their minds. But neither do I find most of those feelings in myself. Perhaps that's because I'm an extreme introvert.
(Before continuing these thoughts, I need to point out that introversion has nothing to do with shyness. Any reader who equates the two is misinformed. Introversion is a personality temperament in which a person has a rich interior mental life and is energized and comforted by that life, and less so by the external world of things and people. Introverts make up about 25% of the population.)
Because I am an extreme introvert, and have a "thick skin" from being a mental-health therapist, I seem to be less susceptible to the "teachings" of my culture. That has pros and cons, of course, but in this case I see it as an advantage that I can "tune out" my culture when I judge it is trying to feed me ... mushroom food. The Myth of Progress has always made me frown, even when I was quite young. The Star Trek assumption, that we will go to the stars and immediately be among the movers and shakers of the galaxy, is worth a good belly laugh. That I "should" become suicidal at the thought of NTHE ... hasn't crossed my mind yet. Again, although I value this ability in self and others, I don't claim perfection at it, and still do my best to fully and deeply empathize with others who DO feel suicidal because of NTHE or other reasons.
I think part of this "immunity" also comes from the fact that my cultural loyalty is very low. In the course of my studies, formal and informal, I have learned of the countless times our governments (even "democratic" ones) have lied and broken their own laws and treaties, ignored their promises and responsibilities, stolen, imprisoned, and killed without cause or due process. Yes, there are worse governments. That may make it okay for some people, not for me. Also, in (luckily) minor ways, I have personally felt the injustices our culture can sometimes dispense, enough to imagine what others go through who "piss off" our culture in more substantial ways. I admit that our culture has developed the THEORY of the rule of law, and is CAPABLE of dispensing justice. Those are nice baby-steps, nothing more.
Not finding any persons or institutions in my culture worthy of much loyalty, I have, of course, looked further afield. Is there a mature galactic civilization out there, run with wisdom? Is there a spirit world, a "heaven," with wise "gods" in charge?
(I'm just using the words "wisdom" and "wise" here to suggest a huge slate of good qualities. To elaborate on that idea is far beyond the scope of this essay, and would, of course, be controversial. The reader may imagine his or her own list of qualities that would make a person, institution, or whole civilization worthy of loyalty.)
None of this is to suggest that I am, or that I advocate, DIS-loyalty to my culture. Revenge and "payback" are things of childhood, whether practiced by school-yard bullies or nations, and I try not to put energy in that direction.
My lack of loyalty to human culture allows me to follow Clio's leadings. She has me writing a long story about characters who must stay completely above the social and political "stuff" going on in the cultures they visit. They have learned the hard way that "staying out of it" is necessary to successfully do their work.
This same lack of loyalty has given me, I think, a fair amount of clarity when considering NTHE. I hear all the usual denials, disdainful dismissals, and rationalizations that people use to brush aside the idea. I listen carefully, and think long and hard about each of their arguments, but don't find any that stand up, other than the obviously-true fact that the future is not knowable on the level of actual event details or specific timing.
I cannot claim, with honesty, that I was "given" this attitude by some higher power, instead of it just being an accident of my life experiences. I don't suppose that will ever be mine to know. But regardless of its source, it appears that it gives me purpose. I can write stories that a few people, mostly young, find interesting and ennobling. I can read and analyze essays written by others about Peak Oil, Climate Change, NTHE, and related issues, and then summarize that information in appropriate language for my readership (mostly young adults). And I can answer questions put to me by any sincere person (anyone who appears open to hearing an answer).
All of this contains a large element of faith, of course. I am exercising faith when I assume that my lack of loyalty to my culture can be an asset. Many people would disagree. To many, perhaps most people, "rocking the boat" is the ultimate sin. (I keep my address and telephone number private, naturally.) It is an act of faith that the story that comes to me from an unknown/unknowable source ("Clio") should be written, published, and made available to people, even though it has not been approved by any official institution of our culture. Many people would, if they could, only allow stories that are "officially approved," especially for young people. It is an act of faith that I use my mental-health training and experience, and my understanding of current events, to put controversial idea into young-adult language.
I presume that no one who sees NTHE coming will find faith and purpose exactly like mine. Everyone has different skills and abilities, different life experiences, and different "assignments" from the universe (if they are open to that angle at all). Finding purpose in difficult situations is just as relevant for atheists as theists, in my opinion, and purposes can be large or small, individual or group, survival-oriented or self-sacrificial.
The thing about NTHE that makes it so fascinating and/or frightening is also what makes it such fertile ground for finding purpose: it is unique, or at least -- if we accept Plato's Atlantis and/or Noah's Ark -- it happens seldom enough that we don't have cultural rules for how to act at such times. Our cultures will certainly keep tugging on our "leashes" for all the usual reasons until the bitter end, but they will be so busy denying NTHE that much freedom will remain to find and carry out the purposes we discover are right for each of us.
... that we won't run out of current sources [of energy], and that there are plenty of alternatives when we do run out, and, in the end, that we don't actually need all that energy to maintain our way of life, because ... our way of life is so ingenious as to find or create all the resources we need ...
29 July 2014: The Fallacies of Present Uniqueness and Eternal Sameness
When trying to predict the future, even the general shape of the very near future, it is easy and common to commit the Fallacy of Present Uniqueness. People with an interest in the future being different than similar times in the past are prone to say, "This time is different!" We like to think that we are smarter and stronger than people in the past. Where our ancestors failed, we will surely succeed, won't we?
Unfortunately, in most ways we are not smarter and stronger, and will not succeed where they failed. The most classic example is a "financial bubble," a period in which prices are rising rapidly and a large number of people are trying to make some money from the situation. Every financial bubble in the past has "popped," has come to a point where people start pulling their money out of the investment, causing prices to fall quickly, and leaving most investors with huge losses. But still, every time there is a new financial bubble, many voices are heard saying, "This time is different! This wonderful situation will go on and on!" It never does.
But the Fallacy of Present Uniqueness does not operate on all scales. When looking at individual events, another, and completely opposite, fallacy can rear its ugly head. When we commit the Fallacy of Eternal Sameness, we are assuming that tomorrow MUST be the same as today, or very similar.
It is true that at most points in history, tomorrow is usually, in most ways, very similar to today. But not always. Unexpected things do sometimes occur. In the following series, moving in time from left to right, A through H are points at which predictions are made that event X is about to occur.
A B C D E F G HX
At points A and B, people might take the prediction seriously. At points C and beyond, they tend to lose interest and say, "No, we're heard that before, and it looks like tomorrow is always about like today."
But event X, like most things, cares nothing for predictions, or what we think of those predictions. It just is, driven by the forces that can move it, which are most often beyond human control even when the event is social or political in nature. When the event has it roots in geology, ecology, or the climate, it is even further outside our control.
The stories we tell about ourselves and our way of life -- the way we narrate our conscious experience and perception of things -- have no place in them for the most basic, and mainly uncontested, facts about energy and the environment.
12 July 2014: Six human reasons we ignore climate change
Thanks to Guy McPherson for paraphrasing these psychological reasons that make it hard, or impossible, for people to think about and deal with climate change.
1. To the extent that climate change is an abstract concept, it is non intuitive and cognitively difficult to grasp.
2. Our moral judgment system is finely tuned to react to intentional transgressions -- not unintentional ones.
3. Things that make us feel guilty provoke self-defensive mechanisms.
4. Uncertainty breeds wishful thinking, so the lack of definitive prognoses results in unreasonable optimism.
5. Our division into moral and political tribes generates ideological polarization; climate change becomes politicized.
6. Events do not seem urgent when they seem to be far away in time and space; out-group victims fall by the wayside.
I hope everyone notices that these reasons have nothing to do with physical reality, which is where climate change takes place.
The polar bear is us.
5 July 2014: We forgot a word
As another Independence Day passes in the USA, some of us turn out thoughts to the great thinkers who shaped our country more than 200 years ago. They had high hopes that this new country wouldn't make all the same mistakes that older countries had made. One of those hopes, expressed by Thomas Jefferson, is very relevant right now, and we wouldn't be in the ecological mess we are today if we had listened:
... the earth belongs in usufruct to the living ...
Can you spot the word we missed? It's a legal term with roots thousands of years old. We certainly let people own the Earth, and do with it just about anything they please, including strip it bare, pollute it, poison it, burn it, and pump it dry (water or oil).
But what about that missing word?
Usufruct: the right to make all the use and profit of a thing that can be made without injuring the substance of the thing itself.
Oops. WITHOUT injuring the substance of the thing itself. We chose to skip that word. It would have cut down our ability to make use and profit. BAD word.
For more than 200 years, we created a complex legal system that allowed people to harm the land, the living creatures on the land, the air and water that flows over and through the land, and just about anything else they can get their hands on.
Now, God or Mother Nature (whichever you prefer) is saying, "ENOUGH." Now we have to re-write our legal system to protect the Earth, the living creatures on it, and the air and water, or else we too will die. Some of our leaders are trying. Others are dragging their feet.
Do we have enough time?
This essay was inspired by a recent article by Joe Romm.
Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.
26 June 2014: Saga and the Bog People, by Jason Heppenstall
A post-peak piece of speculative fiction, originally published at 22 Billion Energy Slaves.
Images of the future are common that assert we will be able to keep all our human ideals (democracy, diplomacy, fairness, etc.) as we deal with declining resources and climate change. This story sees the future more clearly, and is set in a world where people treat each other about like they always have as they go about looking for scraps of a lost technological civilization.
I, Saga Axelsdottir, disgraced scholar of Continuity and daughter of master silver skinner Axel Flink, have a confession to make. This is my story and I swear by Woden that any falsehoods in its retelling are the product of a dimming memory wrought by the erosion of time rather than by any mischief. My chief concern with the recounting of this tale is to assuage the hidden ones and apologise for the ill luck I have brought down on my family by my selfish actions. Gods know it will not be long before I join my beloved Bran, who lies in the barrow a thousand miles from his homeland awaiting the day when I join him to make the last journey together.
Yes, this story shall go with me to the grave. The hidden ones have no interest in the earthly deceits of pride and ego and it serves nobody to make my confession public. As I finish committing this shameful confession to paper I will seal it in a bonded metal flask and offer it to the hidden ones as I cast it into the sea from the cliffs of the Nordcap. Thus, as any adept of Continuity knows, my story will float along the currents of time and space like a seed upon the wind, and shall only come to rest in the minds of those whom the gods see fit to read it. Thus, by the waning light of this oil lamp, I offer my shame to the hidden folk and pray that whatever fury its telling invokes will be swift and merciful.
But enough of this self-pity for, in truth, I cannot complain about the life that I have lived. Although I am an old woman now, barely able to fetch water, I was once young and full of the zest of life. The fourth of six, I was born to Axel Flink and Frida Fridasdottir on a small farm on the rocky western shores of our beloved Numark. Three of my siblings never found souls to inhabit their tiny bodies, but I thrived and my parents became convinced that I was destined for things greater than the daughter of a silver skinner could ordinarily expect. Some of my earliest memories were of going out on my father's boat with him, watching his strong arms as he hauled in another wriggling gasping silverskin beneath the light summer skies. My father was the light of my life. Although his station in life was a lowly one he had an education of a sort and was a collector of tales and myths from the past. To indulge his passion he kept a small library of books below decks on his boat that he would read and re-read on long voyages. He had amassed the books by trade and, putting in at some new foreign port, he always sought out any local book sellers to add to his collection. He had an affinity with the sea and people spoke of his uncanny ability to know where the rare and elusive silverskins were hiding in the murky depths, and it must have been true because his fame spread across the Numark and everyone called him Axel Fisk.
But his passions lay with books rather than silverskins and I, wrapped in seal furs on the deck, listened to his tales of the old world as he read them out slowly and meticulously in his soft voice, his eyes glinting with wisdom and love as he did so. In this way, while other children had to settle for tales of dragons and giants, I was raised on the no-less-remarkable tales of people flying through the skies in giant winged ships and birthing Sol's babies which got loose and burned down whole cities. At the end of every tale he would close the book, lean in close to me and say "And that, my dearest Saga, is truer than true." My favourite story was the one about the time when they flew all the way to Møn and gazed into the faces of the hidden folk. The Møn folk, so my father said, had giant milky eyes so that they could look down on us and all the men who looked at them lost their minds and turned back into children. The Møn folk, in turn, punished us for our impudence, and in their fury caused both Møn and Sol to hover closer to Jord, causing all sorts of cataclysms for us mortals. Water boiled up from the seas, flooding the land in some parts, while in other parts Sol scorched the peoples and the forests leaving nothing but yellow dust and white ashes where once there had been forests and houses. And then there was the Great Shudder and the story of how the ocean ate up our land and most of people on it in one great hungry gulp.
So the story goes anyway. Whether my father really believed this or not I'll never know, but my mother chided him for filling my head with such stories. No good would come of these half-baked stories of the onder folk, she reckoned. Because that's what we called them in my language -- the onde, or evil -- ones, who had broken into the realm of the Møn people and cursed all of our race with their wickedness. We'll likely never know if these things actually happened, and perhaps it is not for us to question, but one thing we know to be true is that this glorious land of ours, the Numark, was bestowed on us by the old gods who came to our rescue just in time. It was to here that our ancestors were led away from the chaos of the world and offered a new start. That much is historical certainty and it was the honour and privilege of the Guild of Continuity to research new proofs of this.
I paid no attention to the concerns of my mother but perhaps if I had done so I would not be sitting here now, scribbling this shameful note in the half-dark and preparing to cast its message upon the winds of space and time. Nevertheless, my mother soon changed her tune when a message arrived from Nuukobenhavn stating that sisters from the Order of the Kendt would be coming to our village in the spring and they wanted to meet with 'the renowned Axel Fisk and his remarkable daughter'. I was barely eight years old at the time yet word seemed to have travelled that I could read and write not just in our own tongue and the dialects of the three tribes of the Numark, but that I had learned the ancient language of Ingelsk and had read a full half of my father's library.
The day they arrived the whole village had been cleaned up in preparation. Houses were painted a fresh white, gardens were weeded and laid out with fresh strips of seaweed, and even the silver skinners were persuaded to clear up their tangled nets which had been sitting in huge piles by the shore for as long as anyone could remember. The village was expecting some kind of huge entourage, but in the event only three Sisters turned up that day, riding on white horses and wearing the robes of the Order. They moved into specially-scrubbed rooms at Ib's Krog, the only hostelry in the village, and stayed for over a week. During that time I was taken into their care and my mind and soul were examined under intense scrutiny. I was subjected to stresses, both emotional and physical, and my tolerance was sorely tested. The Sisters made notes as they went along, communicating with each other in their language which sounded so peculiar to me back then. Their tone was flat and sometimes harsh, and I felt they were not agreeable people and longed to be back with my parents.
At the end of the week I was returned to my parents. Despite my best efforts and the hopes of everyone I was not deemed worthy to enter the Order and the Sisters left the village without so much as a farewell. My mother was angry, but not as angry as Ib, the innkeeper, who demanded 200 crowns from my father to pay for the Sisters' unpaid bill. My father refused to pay it but eventually the local magistrate ordered him to settle half of it and he had to put his books aside that summer and venture out into the deeper and more dangerous waters to catch enough silverskins to erase the debt. By the end of September most of the money had been repaid but we had barely any heating fuel for the long winter ahead. So busy had my father been trying to pay off the innkeeper that he had had no time to cut the peat down in the Black Marshes. He struck a deal with a travelling fuel man, but the price was high and the man would only deliver when he had been paid.
I begged him not to go, but my father said he could catch enough silverskins to pay off both the innkeeper and the fuel man if he ventured out to the seas beyond Disko. To do so was risky at the best of times because of the violent storms and treacherous seas that beset the area, but the other silver skinners reassured me that if anyone could make a successful voyage there it was my father. Of course, I never saw him again, and my mother blamed me for the rest of her days. Ib Storlik, the innkeeper, still demanded his money, and he watched us without feeling as we shivered in the darkness, alone with our sorrows for the whole winter. Others were kinder towards us, for my father was a good man and had been held in high esteem. The local catchers' guild paid off our debts and brought us a little hvaloil to light our lamps and cook our meagre supply of food. We didn't starve or freeze, but when the spring melt came and Sol returned to her skies I had lost another member of my family for my youngest brother had coughed himself to sleep over the solstice, never to awaken.
In truth, I blamed myself for all that had happened, and I missed my father with his sparkling eyes and his soft tones more than I could ever tell anyone. My mother was steadfast in her blame. After we had laid our poor little Ivan to rest in the icy cave at the edge of the sea she turned to me and clipped me across the face with the back of her had. "See what misery you have brought to this family," she screamed at me in front of the crowd of mourners. Afterwards as everyone filed away and the tears froze to my cheeks I walked out onto the ice, heading towards the same dark horizon to which my father had ventured three months before. The icy winds tormented me as I struggled through the snow to my destiny, and it was not long before my skins froze solid and it became a labour just to put one foot in front of the other. I fell to my knees and said a prayer to the old gods, imploring them to give me a swift end. Let the ice crack and swallow me up, I begged. Yet it wasn't a god who answered me but my own father, brought alive from his watery grave to stand before me glowing with love and wisdom that seemed not of this world. "Father," I tried to say, but no sound came out that could be heard above the howl of the winds. He knelt down and caressed my frozen hair with his strong weather-beaten hands and then leaned forward and whispered something in my ear. In that moment warmth and happiness flooded my soul and I knew that there was nothing to worry about any longer. And as the darkness engulfed me I sank into eternity with half a smile on my frozen face.
But eternity was not to last. Ib Storlik, who had been lurking in the background at the funeral, had seen me walk out onto the ice and followed me. It was he who scooped up my inert body in his arms and pulled me on his sledge back to our village. Everyone had been looking for me but the cold had forced the search parties back inside for the night. Ib Storlik told them he had found a hungry white bear standing over me, and had had to fight it off with only a hunting stick and his quick wits to save me. Nobody have ever seen a white bear before, but they were said to appear in times of great sorrow, and most seemed to believe him.
At first they thought I was dead. They laid me out on a bed and warm oils were rubbed into my skin as the gods were implored to be merciful. The colour slowly returned to me and I opened my eyes the following day. I was fed spiced seal soup and the hot blood of musk oxen yet it was three days before I was well enough to stand again, and for once my mother looked happy. She hugged me tight and told me I was forgiven and that it was she who was to blame for everything. I felt her tears as she clutched me to her, and for the first time in months I sensed that the worst of our ordeal might be over. I turned to her and was about to tell her that I had seen Father and that he was dead but that everything would be alright. I was about to tell her all this but instinct warned me against doing so. I wrestled with my feelings -- it didn't feel right to keep such a secret inside me. In any case I was straining to remember the words he had whispered to me as I lay dying on the ice. But the words were gone and only the feeling of the words remained. I wiped a tear away from my mother's cheek and said "Things will get better for us from now on. I promise."
And they did. The spring brought a change in our fortunes in the form of another message, again from Nuukobenhavn. The report made by the Sisters had been passed onto the Royal Akademy. Although I may not be Kendt material, the message informed, the Akademy was willing to provide me with a scholarship and train me in the ways of Continuity. Everyone was thrilled for me and for the village. It would bring prestige to have raised an Akademy student, and as the icicles melted in the spring thaw a great party was organised to celebrate my scholarship. The messenger also carried a disbursement to cover the Sisters' stay -- something that nobody had expected, least of all the innkeeper who, seeking to bolster his new-found popularity, publicly gave a portion of it to my mother to cover her loss.
Within weeks a group of masons and carpenters arrived bearing the Dronning's coat of arms and work was begun on my school. It was to be situated on a bluff overlooking the village, and the area was cleared of trees and bushes before work could begin. It took the men only two months to construct the pod from stone and wood, and when they were finished it was outfitted with a desk, a bed and other sparse items of furniture. The pod took the form of a stone bunker, eight sided and with a single window facing south. When the workmen had finished the teknik crew arrived on a boat from Nuukobenhavn and their valuable cargo was transported to the schooling pod on a flat-bed carriage pulled by two large work horses. The ether-gram was a large brass machine, brand new from the workshops of Island, the smoky isle. It was encased in brass metal, and the numerous dials and switches on its gleaming face unnerved me. How would I, a silver skinner's daughter, ever learn to operate such an instrument? Finally, when the equipment had been fitted, all that remained was for the schooling pod to be sanctified by an Akademy-sanctioned priest in the name of Woden, the god of knowledge who had sacrificed his eyes in order to achieve wisdom.
My enrolment was sanctified by an Akademy acolyte, who then stayed with me for those first few months, tutoring me in the ways of operating the ether-gram and establishing the disciplined routine I would follow for the next eight years of my life. After she left I was on my own. I lived in the school pod and the small garden surrounding it, receiving visitors only once a week. To begin with, food was prepared for me and left at the door, but over time, as my learning progressed, I grew and prepared some of it myself, and a weekly parcel of sea veg and salted meats -- seal, silver skin and swine -- was delivered. From my school pod I could look down on the village below and, lifting my eyes a little, gaze out across the vast sea with its white-topped waves. In this way I eased my loneliness, imagining my father out there beyond the horizon. Closing my eyes and opening my senses to the ether worlds, a warm feeling would seep into my body and it was as if my father's ghost illuminated me from within. He would speak to me, urging me to study hard, and it was in this way that I began to learn that this acceptance by the Akademy was his gift to me.
Of course, I was not alone. The ether-gram was always on and it was through this that I communicated with and learned from the Akademy Masters. Each morning, after I had risen, performed ablutions and ceremony and eaten my morning food, the ether-gram would come alive and the voice of my Master would fill the learning pod. I never knew his true-life name, just to call him Master was enough, but he was a continuous thread running through the fabric of my education. The voice was sometimes soft and warm, but sometimes stern and chiding and as the years rolled by it became, to my ears at least, wiser and more wearied. Perhaps I was a trying student.
Although Continuity was my allotted subject for mastery, there were other spheres I had to contemplate along the way. In this way my mind wrestled with the mental abstractions of numerology and the sciences of kemi, systemiks and fysic. The Seven Books were delivered to me at the end of my first year and it was to these weighty folios that I would refer for the rest of my training, sometimes being made to learn entire chapters by heart to recite to my Master, who always claimed he could see if I was cheating and looking at the page. The life sciences were more enjoyable to me as they involved growing plants in the garden, and studying the ways they interacted, but the lessons I relished most of all were the Continuity studies. I devoured old texts and learned to read five or six of the old languages, pleading with my Master to send more books and pestering him endlessly with queries so that he sometimes became irate at my persistent questioning. So much of the old world seemed rich in magic to me, and I wanted to know so much about it.
Over the years I grew into an astute, if somewhat hasty, young woman. By the age of seventeen I was ready to leave the schooling pod, as well as the village where I had grown up. In the intervening years my mother had remarried and the innkeeper had passed onto the great beyond having drunk too much akvavvit and inadvisedly brawled with a harpoon man over a card game. And so I went to finish off my studies at the Akademy in Nuukobenhavn, being allotted a small room within the mighty stone walls of that citadel of learning.
As a novice I was regularly called away to participate in exploratory digs with the Akademy, although my role was usually a lowly one. At first the digs were local to Nuukobenhavn. Mostly they involved mapping and examining the first settlements, laid down by the early arrivers following the Great Shudder. The buildings, or what remained of them, were usually of poor construction and were made of materials such as metal and composite stone-like materials, as well as a powdery white substance which had not fared well in the harsh climate of the Numark. These ruins were sad places and we often found the white bones of their inhabitants mingled with the crushed remains of their dwellings. Artefacts from this period were plentiful and it was often my duty to carefully prise them from the compacted soils and wrap them carefully in soft skins, making notes as I did so. Usually it was everyday objects that I uncovered; cooking pans, cheaply-made jewellery and moulded toys made from plastic. I remember the first time I set eyes on a plastic toy -- an odd abstraction of a human figure with over-sized eyes and pink skin. It was a child's doll, and I wrapped it reverently for delivery to archivers, but not before making several sketches of it in my note book.
I seemed to have a knack for finding such oddities -- perhaps I had inherited my father's capability for knowing where things are hidden -- and soon I was being asked to go further afield and help with digs on forgotten islands and Woden-forsaken strands. Over three years I ventured across the sea to the smoky isle of Island and helped uncover ancient weapons left over from a battle site of the War of Seventy Summers. Many of them were in good preserve and they were cleaned, documented and delivered to the Dronning's technical academics -- the tekniks -- with a view to possible re-creation. If it were possible to remake such a weapon it would be of great use in securing the Numark against the bandits and pirates which plagued the seas, and of even better use in pacifying the massed hordes of some of the less civilised lands to the south which seemed to be in a constant state of rebellion against the stewardship of the beloved Dronning Queen Ingrid the Fair.
But it was neither the plastic toys nor the powerful metal guns that secured my ability as a finder of antiquities. Instead, it was an object of far greater power -- something that generations of Continuity antiquarians had been searching for but had never found -- which should by rights have secured my reputation.
I had not long since graduated from the Akademy and had been initiated into the Guild of Continuity when my chance came. Barely 22 years old, I was to head out across the vast ocean with a salvage team to investigate a site on the Scotian isle they called Long Cloud. By studying a number of old maps and wading through some of the ancient texts left by my father, I had concluded that a particular area on Long Cloud was likely to be rich in finds. A scout was sent out and returned saying the area was promising, and I began to secure support and funds for my proposed mission. When permission was granted and funding approved I could scarcely sleep at night for the anticipation. We were to leave three months hence.
Before setting off on our voyage we prayed to the hidden ones to deliver us from the brigands which roamed the seas intent on robbery and mayhem, and to keep us from straying off-course into the Sickening Lands, where death comes invisibly. We prayed to Saekonungar, the protector of sailers and explorers, to keep away the great storms which could lift a cargo ship clean out of the seas and smash it onto rocks ten leagues distant, and we prayed that we would return safe to the Numark after venturing to the cruel and godless lands of the south where bloodshed and mayhem stole the place of civility and law. To this end a cow was brought and a kendt priestess pulled a dagger across its throat at the bow of our ship. Its blood was smeared onto the oak timbers of the foredeck, and its gouged eyes were taken to the top of the mast so as to better see danger from afar.
The Visund was one of the largest ships in the Dronning's mercantile navy. She was both sturdy and stealthy, rigged for twelve sails and had a crew of some eighty sailors. In normal service she carried a cargo of grain, wine and pounded metals up from the southern lands and returned with exotic items such as furs, liquors and salted silver skins for the nobles of the various countries we deemed friendly. Often there were weapons, too -- still warm from the Islandic smiths and ready to help our allies in the southern lands maintain the peace. At least that's what I thought then, for what else was I to believe? There was an engine too, in case of becalming or swarm attacks, or in case the ship needed to outrace a tempest, and the heavy logs stacked neatly in the hold acted as ballast to keep the ship steady. Our small band of antiquarians was to be accompanied by a task force of 30 soldiers who would be on hand to ensure the Scotians yielded up any finds without fuss. Also with us were four other sister ships, as it was always safer to travel as part of a convoy than alone.
We slipped out of the fjord under the midnight sun on an outgoing tide. I stood on the deck and watched Numark, the peaceful and prosperous land of my birth, slip by and eventually disappear over the bright horizon. I need not have worried about the voyage, it passed peacefully enough, with only one sighting of another ship. It soon fled when we hoisted Dronning Ingrid the Fair's blood-red battle flag and fired off a sonic boom in its direction. The summer weather was mostly calm, with the sea only broiling once as we rounded the Orks, and we put into harbour at Cloud Island on the twelfth day, having stopped at the smoky isle of Island to take on board a cargo of heavy arms. It was a chilly and misty morning as we were brought ashore in a fleet of rowing boats and I stepped onto soil for the first time in my life that was not a part of the Numark Empire. A group of locals had gathered to watch us arrive, and I had never set eyes on a more wretched bunch of people -- although I was later to see worse. Clothed in tatters and with matted and lice-ridden hair, the Scotian islanders gawped and stared as our smartly uniformed soldiers carried a gleaming ether-gram aloft on a shoulder borne platform. And when the horses arrived on the transporter, fully liveried in polished brassware, one of the Scotian children rushed forward with a view to touching one. Perhaps these people had never seen such marvellous beasts before, but the child's reward for his impudence was a sharp butt on the head from a soldier's rifle, and he scampered whimpering back to the folds of his mother's dress with a look of accusation and hurt on his face.
By evening we had set up camp a few hours' walk inland and the ships set sail once more and disappeared from our sight. A meeting was called for the next day with the local headman, who went by the name of Grunwal and rather grandly called himself the Pryminister of Scotia. I found the landscape pleasing and went for a short walk away from the camp at sunset. A soldier followed me and ordered me back to camp, warning me about the bad things that could happen to a young woman in a place such as this. I obeyed, but my curiosity of the foreign had been awoken, and although I could scarcely have known it then perhaps this was the moment that the seed was sown to travel to wherever the four winds would take me. If so, that lonely evening stroll through the heather as Sol sank low over the western sea was the first step on a journey that would take me from the wild islands of the Britons and beyond to the parched deserts of Afrika and even the mysterious and Loki-begotten badlands of the Merikas.
But I am getting ahead of myself. No doubt these tales may one day be told by whoever inherits my diaries but as I sit here on this wild and dark evening it is this tale which must be told before the ink or the lamp oil runs dry, whichever comes first. Grunwal turned out to be a thick set man with human finger bones tied by ribbons into his knotted beard. Negotiations were conducted between himself and Stein Erikkson, a top-ranking diplomat sent on behalf of the Dronning and the Akademy. It was important for us to be the first to get hold of any ancient technology left by the onder folk, as we were the only ones with a chance of breaking into its secret codes and harnessing whatever powers it hid. These same powers, used so unwisely by the onder folk, would be safe in our hands we told ourselves, guided as were by the infinite wisdom of Woden. Grunwal knew our game and was trying to extract the best price from us, even though we had discovered nothing yet. His manner was crude and his look threatening, but he was no match for the might of the Numark Empire and by late afternoon he led us at the point of a bayonet to a site where he said 'something interesting' lurked below the boggy peat.
Two volunteer soldiers were sent down into the bog attached to ropes where they wallowed and dived, with no small degree of complaining. On the second day they located something 'hard and large', and the rest of the evening was spent attaching ropes to it. The next day four of our strongest horses sweated and strained to extract the buried object while the rest of us dug feverishly with picks and shovels, flinging the peat, rocks and soil aside. What I saw on that warm late evening still rests in my memory as though it happened only yesterday as, after two full days of heaving and digging, there came a loud sucking sound and the black peaty slime yielded up its treasure.
It was a vehicle. Long and sleek and, by the looks of it, the right way up. Its front portion was crushed, as though from some sudden collision, and as it sat there on the grassy bank with black water draining slowly from its metallic innards the horror of what appeared next will stay with me until my dying day. For there, slowly and by degrees, appeared the heads, then faces and then bodies of four onder folk -- blackened and tarnished as if they had been boiled in a vat of tar -- but otherwise entirely preserved and looking ready to draw breath and feel Sol's warm rays on their skins once more. Some of the Scotians who had gathered to watch yelped in fear as the faces appeared and fell wailing to the ground making representations to their god in the east. We antiquarians stood there slack jawed, stunned to the possibilities of what we had just unearthed.
As leader of the group I pulled myself together and stepped towards the vehicle, pausing to pull up a tuft of grass with which to wipe away some of the black peat which obscured the rear windows. There were more gasps as it became clear that the two smaller old worlders were in fact children, one boy and one girl, sitting in an upright position as if they had been patiently awaiting this moment down the centuries.
The next day, as soon as Sol had risen in her sky, we set to work examining the find. Soldiers were stationed around to keep the Scotians away, and we antiquarians conducted our work as diligently as the situation would allow. The four bodies were pulled from the vehicle and laid out on the ground. This was no easy job in the case of the two adults, whose size and girth were of a proportion that nobody present had ever before witnessed. We agreed giddily that bodies of such immense proportions could only have belonged to high status ancients, perhaps wealthy merchants or even nobles.
Some of the soldiers touched their foreheads and made the sign of the Jord mother Yggdrasil to protect them from evil spirits and any lingering black magic. The two children and the woman were perfectly preserved, but the male, who seemed to have been steering the carriage, had a large gash on the head which was the likely cause of his demise. Objects from within the vehicle were gathered and stored, and excitedly we grammed the Akademy in Nuukobenhavn that very evening and reported the find. Photo imprints were taken, as well as detailed drawings and castings of the bodies. Grunwal, sensing that he had sold the discovery too cheap, made trouble with the soldiers and shouted demands for more money at us.
We worked feverishly as long as there was light. And even at night we lit up the site with lanterns and sent as many details as we could back to the Akademy. They responded saying that another team of antiquarians were on the way, these ones more senior than my group. Indeed, they had already set off by fast boat and would be arriving in only a couple of days. This news panicked me. I knew how things worked at the Akademy, and how these seniors would likely take the credit for the work my team was doing, and so I stepped up the pace.
The number of artefacts we discovered and the state they were in was beyond my dreams. The clothes on the bodies, although similarly stained black, were in perfect condition, as were the time pieces worn by the adults and the horde of objects found stored in flimsy carrying cases in the rear of the vehicle. There was a further major find -- the body of a small dog of a breed nobody had ever seen before. But the most intriguing item I found was a small black box, shiny with glass on one side. It had been in the possession of the man with the bashed-in head, clutched tight for the span of eight lifetimes in his cold dead hand. I knew immediately what it was. It was one of the old computers and I had seen them before, but never so well-preserved. Often they were little more than clods of soil containing glass and metal fragments, but this one gleamed in the lamplight and I half fancied that it might still retain its magic. If such an item were delivered intact to the Dronning's tekniks my fortune and renown would be guaranteed. I tried to prise it out of the old one's hand but his death grip was too strong and I feared I would damage it. It was late at night and the others had retreated to the warmth of the camp to get some sleep, and the only other people around were two sentries posted nearby. To this day I still don't know what madness seized me but by the end of that night the man possessed only one hand, the other being wrapped up in skins in the deepest recess of my leather equipment bag.
Perhaps it was this cowardly and stupid act that angered the hidden Scotian spirits of that place because on only the third day of our investigation something began to go alarmingly wrong. I noticed it first on the face of the dead man, whose gash was beginning to weep and ooze fluids. Closer examination revealed it to be writhing with maggots which squirmed free of the wound as I pressed it with my examining blade.
Others too had noticed that the bodies were beginning to sag, and that the face bones were becoming more pronounced. I didn't know what to do -- ancients were supposed to be just yellowed bones and dust rather than flesh and blood. Furthermore there was astonishment among the team that the left hand of the man had disappeared. I concocted a story that I had seen the shambolic figure of a man hiding in the shadows during my night work, and that I had dozed off only to awake and find the hand gone. Grunwal was of course blamed for this outrage and our soldiers slapped him in irons and tied him to a tree to make him confess. I kept silent.
When the second team arrived three days later the bodies had putrefied and sagged into the ground. White bones poked out through the dark swollen bellies of the adults, and a foul stench hung in the air along with the clouds of black flies. Bo Kepp, the most senior antiquarian in the Akademy was with them, and he was furious with me. Perhaps I had been blinded by inexperience, but it had not occurred to me to place the bodies back into the preserving peat and send out an emergency call for a suitable kemi to be sent from the Numark's laboratories. He raged at me in front of my team and I hung my head in shame. The next day I was sent back on the returning packet ship while my team stayed to assist the senior antiquarians.
Sure enough, news of my error had reached Nuukobenhavn upon my return and my scholarship was put under review with immediate effect until the seniors decided what to do with me. I travelled back to my own village, a distance that took almost two weeks to complete by third class carriage, and upon my arrival the place seemed smaller and more remote than I had ever remembered it. My mother had moved away to another village in the frozen north, and the schooling pod was abandoned but for the sheep that now called it home. I moved in with my surviving brother, who had grown tall and strong and looked not unlike our father. I was welcome there but some of the other villagers were less friendly for even here news of my folly had reached their ears. "Killed her own father so she could lord it over the rest of us and then waste it all in a foreign land," some of them whispered. "That's what you get if you think you're better than the rest of us," gossiped the women as they spread the seaweed on the fields.
When the next season's Guild of Continuity journal was published a copy of it found its way to me in my village, which seemed so far removed from Nuukobenhavn. Twice as thick as normal, the Antiquarian Blade was full of news about the Scotian find. I read it from one cover to the other but could find no mention of my name. Instead, a photo simile of Bo Kepp was pictured on the cover with the words 'The Missing Link' printed large above him. Around his neck he wore a thick gold chain from which dangled the metallic badge of interlinking circles from the front of the onder folks' chariot. Inside, he explained that it likely symbolised the source of perpetual power that almost lay within the grasp of the Dronning's tekniks. A mysterious glassy black box that might hold the key to the puzzle had gone missing from the site, the article explained, and was presumed stolen by a local chief. The article went on to assure us that the Dronning's police were getting closer to extracting a confession out of the Scotians and that it would soon be found.
I put down the journal and reached in my travel pack to extract what was rightfully mine. Unfurling the soft and clammy skins that wrapped the man's hand and its treasure from the past I made a vow that if this ancient could hold onto something so tightly for eight lifetimes then I would not let go of my ambitions in the span of only one. I looked out of the window at the sea. For the first time in years I felt as though my father was with me again. His body lay out there in its watery grave, but his spirit was nearby. I broke down and cried like a child. Everything I had dreamed about seemed lost, and I had brought shame down on my family and my father's good name. The September rains beat against the window panes as the wind whistled around the sharp rocks on the shore. And as I watched the drips roll down the pane I saw my own face reflected back at me in the glass. Behind me stood my father. I gasped and turned to face him. The apparition stood there, glowing in the dim light.
"My child, my dearest Saga," he said, his voice full with the sweet compassion I remembered from all those years ago. "Do you not remember what I told you on that cold night so long ago?"
I shook my head slowly. "I have tried and tried but it has always been just out of reach father," I replied, sobbing.
His ghost reached out and touched my shoulder. I felt a warm sensation in the spot where he touched me. "Never stop," he said. "That's what I told you. Never give up because the world is full of darkness and evil, yet it will ever remain full of beauty and wonder, and looking at an ending is just another way of looking at a beginning. I stand before you, no more than a spirit with a foot in each world, and yet you still have the blood running through your veins and the air in your chest. You must seize your chance!"
My father's ghost smiled and began to fade. "But how do I ... ?" I stammered, willing him not to leave. "The waves," he whispered. "The world and all within it passes like the waves." And then there was silence.
The apparition of my father had disappeared and never appeared to me again in all my long years, although I knew him to be there in the trees, and the sky and the wind that whistles around the sharp rocks by the shore. I knew what I had to do. And that is why a week later I pulled a finger bone from the dead man's hand and took it to the old priestess who spent her life in devotion to Hlin, our goddess of protection and devotion, living in the cave up above the tree line on the Naarwik Heights. It was she who sanctified it, washing its evil away and threading it onto the necklace I have worn ever since for protection. And it is why I took the rest of the hand and buried it beside the grave of my youngest brother down at the ice cave and why I walked out onto the frozen sea that winter to drop the crystal box into an ice hole drilled by one of the seal spikers far out on the bay. And it is why I set off the next spring in a silver skinner's coracle to roam as much of the world as one woman can fit into a lifetime -- and why the tomes that now rest under my left hand on this table detailing all that I have discovered are all I bequeath to this world as I go to join my parents, my brothers, my husband and all the hidden ones who surround us.
And it is why I Saga Axelsdottir, disgraced scholar of Continuity and lowly daughter of a silver skinner, now cast this bottle with my tale onto the seas of time and space, to drift wherever it will. In the name of Woden, may its message wash up on the shores of the minds of those who have one to listen.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
21 June 2014: Admiral Rickover's 1957 talk: "Energy Resources and Our Future"
A few people, sprinkled throughout the centuries, saw our current predicament coming. Rear Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, U.S. Navy, gave an excellent talk in 1957 that explained many things about the relationship between energy and civilization in clear, plain language. It is easy to read, and I highly recommend it to all concerned young adults.
Admiral Rickover's talk as transcribed at Resilience.org.
Any approach to dealing with the crisis of our age that doesn't start by using much less energy ... simply isn't serious.
4 June 2014: A powerful painting
This powerful and relevant painting comes from dieoff.org, but I could not determine the artist or title. If anyone knows, I would be happy to credit. Notice the tiny person with bow and arrow, and the cliff just ahead.
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
31 May 2014: Old Movies
World War 2 movies may not be very popular anymore, but they still have important messages for us. While re-watching Anne Frank (Buena Vista, undated), I realized that one of those messages is very relevant to the situation we are rapidly moving toward.
Even though we do not know the details of how climate change and resource depletion will unfold, and there are as many guesses as there are people studying the matter, one fact is, in my opinion, beyond argument by any educated and sane person: we are in a state of ecological overshoot. The Earth cannot support this many people. Only fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) have made it appear, for a short time, that it can.
Exactly how far into overshoot we are is a good question. My best guess is that we'll be lucky if the Earth can support a billion people much longer, but for the purposes of this essay and the idea I want to share, it doesn't much matter what the exact number is.
Of course, in the process of studying climate change and related problems, I see all the articles about community, sharing, renewable energy, "green" projects, and other hopeful ideas. I read enough of them to stay informed. Mostly they ignore the fact that planet Earth cannot support this many people. They ignore the fact that a large fraction of the human race will have to, sometime fairly soon, not continue living (probably including me).
Even though I would never want to stop people from proposing hopeful ideas, there is one sense in which these articles are dangerous. They portray people treating each other in ways that have seldom been seen in the world, and then only at the best of times. I would love to live in a world filled of respect, rational thought, charity, democracy, and all the other good values we humans, occasionally, live by.
But, unfortunately, I have seen too many movies and read too many books. We already KNOW how people treat each other when resources are tight and there's only enough for a fraction of the people to have a "good life," or sometimes any life.
The treatment of the Jews and Gypsies by Nazi Germany is an excellent example, as portrayed in Anne Frank. Of course, Germans have no monopoly on this aspect of human behavior. We could just as easily look at the treatment of native Americans by the USA during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the treatment of anyone with more than half a brain by China in the mid-20th century.
So I keep those old movies to remind me of what we already KNOW about ourselves. Wishful thinking might be fun, but is no substitute for the truth.
Your cravings as a human animal do not become a prayer just because it is God whom you ask to attend to them.
9 May 2014: The Anthropocene: It's Not All About Us
This is the title of an excellent, and very readable, article by Richard Heinberg that explores, from a broad perspective, the idea of the "anthropocene" as the geological era in which human beings are the dominant force shaping biological and climate changes on Earth.
He goes into the difference between the two major visions today of our role in the future: becoming masters of the world through technology (the "Techno-Anthropocene"), and learning to live as part of the world (the "Lean-Green-Anthropocene"). He explains our natural tendency to prefer the "Techno," and the circumstances that will force us toward the "Lean-Green."
They call it 'the American dream' because a person has to be asleep to believe it!
30 April 2014: "The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today ... and were sustained at those levels ... global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today ..."
Even though this was discovered back in 2009, I didn't read about it until 2013, and it took another year for the implications to soak in. I'm slow sometimes.
We know that carbon dioxide (CO2) stays in the air for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. We know that today's 1-1.5 degree F temperature rise (compared to pre-industrial times) is starting to cause big problems for agriculture (Syria, Russia, midwest USA, California, etc.) It is a fact that most people currently live in coastal cities that would be wiped out by 75-120 higher seas.
If the conclusions in the title line are correct (and no evidence has appeared in 4 1/2 years that they aren't), then the 21st century is going to be the biggest challenge in the history of the human race.
I do not mean it will be a challenge to maintain our current civilization. I believe that option is no longer possible. I mean it will be a challenge for anyone to survive the 21st century.
The conclusions in the title line are from a study led by Professor Aradhna Tripati, UCLA, published in the 8 October 2009 online journal Science and summarized well in an article by Joe Romm and updated in another article by him in 2013.
... science is not there for you to cherry pick ... You can decide whether or not to believe in it but that doesn't change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.
11 April 2014: Is human "near-term extinction" coming?
I didn't used to think so. I knew the human population needed to come down because we are clearly in a period of "ecological overshoot." That means we are using more energy and other resources than the Earth can give continuously, year after year. Many scientists have looked at this question, noticed that the human population was fairly stable at about half a billion (500 million) before we started using the Earth's stored energy (coal, oil, gas, and uranium), and made a good guess that the "carrying capacity" of the Earth for people is about that many. I agree with that thinking. It's not something we can ever know for sure. By the way, the current human population is about 15 times that many.
The problem is ... half a billion appears to be the carrying capacity of the Earth for people WHEN THE CLIMATE IS NICE. It's been nice for about the last 10,000 years, the time period when we learned how to farm and ranch to raise our food.
During the last half of the 20th century, scientists started warning us that we would lose our nice climate if we didn't quit pouring "greenhouse gasses" into the air. Our leaders of all kinds (government, business, religious) looked at this and said, "Nope. Chasing money and power is more important. We'll go on with business as usual."
If we had listened to scientists in about 1980, the climate would have gotten a little warmer (1-2 degrees C, we think), but probably not hot enough to cause our extinction.
Today, scientists believe we are on the road to a world that is MUCH hotter (4-6 degrees C), and STILL our leaders are saying, "Nope. Chasing money and power is more important. We'll go on with business as usual."
So it looks like we, as a whole people, are not capable of doing anything about this problem. We keep choosing leaders who can't think of anything but "business as usual." I believe it is reasonable to predict that planet Earth, several degrees hotter than today, will NOT have a carrying capacity of half a billion people, or anything close to that.
How many people will there be in the year 2100? If we're lucky, the Earth will still be livable by a few strong people, perhaps like the Sahara Desert today. If I had to guess, I might say a million, total. Maybe ten million at the most. But that's if we quit pouring greenhouse gasses into the air VERY SOON. If we don't ...
The idea of human near-term extinction is explored at the web site Nature Bats Last.
Sometimes the right thing to do in ordinary times is exactly the wrong thing to do in extraordinary times ... what might be considered reckless in other circumstances is now prudent ... inaction and caution may seem so much more rational than action, unless you're in a burning building or on a sinking ship ...
2 April 2014: 5-minute redux of key findings from the IPCC report on climate change impacts
This is an excellent summary of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was just released. Only the topic headings are shown here, as the summary itself is in very dry adult language, but they are informative for open-minded people who want a 30-second "summary of the summary."
1. Climate change is happening now - here, there and everywhere
2. And it's rapidly getting worse
3. It's not just the polar bears, corals and rainforests that are threatened – it's us
4. Climate change interacts with other problems we're causing and struggling with
5. How bad it will get depends on how much more we will pollute
6. And, well, it truly can get bad, threatening our security and fueling conflicts
7. But with faster cuts on climate pollution, risks can be reduced substantially
8. And we will need to adapt too
9. But we can't count on adaptation alone
10. Nor should we count on simplistic economic models that can't capture the true costs of climate change
Today, it is especially difficult for most people to understand our perilous global energy situation precisely because it has never been more important to do so.
4 March 2014: A cosmic perspective on our task
At the end of an excellent 5-part series of articles about "edge dwelling," Dianne Monroe gave a beautiful summary of "what Earth and Cosmos are asking us to do."
~ Create something new from the place where two things meet
~ Vision beyond the horizon, beginning the bridge between now and beyond
~ Rewild ourselves at our culture's edge, while remaining connected and sharing what we learn with those still within
~ See both within and beyond the boundary of some place, thing or social structure
~ Look beneath the surface and beyond the edge
~ Hold the tension between knowing and certain uncertainty
~ Embrace the edge between the known and (capital-U) Unknown
The full article (with links to the previous four installments) is at Resilience.org.
There is nothing more mysterious than destiny - of a person, of our species, of our planet, or of the universe itself.
13 January 2014: Climate Change: some weather vocabulary you need to know
All of the weather patterns described here are natural and have been occurring since long before humans walked the Earth. However, they seem to be some of the events that will occur more frequently as the Earth warms, and are therefore good to know about for anyone interested in understanding and surviving that warming trend.
Strong winds high in the atmosphere, steady but slowly meandering, that are driven by the rotation of the Earth, and the interactions of the huge convection cells (rising warm air and falling cold air). There are four major jet streams: North Polar, North Sub-tropical, South Sub-tropical, and South Polar.
POLAR VORTEX, POLAR CYCLONE, POLAR LOW, CIRCUMPOLAR WHIRL
The normal, circular weather patterns above northern Canada, Siberia, and the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica, that are strongest in the winter. When weakened for any reason, the polar jet streams are affected (more meandering), and Blocking Patterns can result, sending unusual weather far from the poles. A breakdown of the North Polar Vortex can cause a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event.
BLOCKING PATTERN, BLOCKING HIGHS, BLOCKING ANTICYCLONES
A stationary or barely-moving air-pressure pattern that causes weather to stay in one place for a long period of time. They sometimes affect the polar jet streams, causing them to meander farther from the poles and then stay in that shape for long periods. They caused the European severe winters of 1985-6, 2009-10, and 2010-11, and the Australian drought of 2006.
SUDDEN STRATOSPHERIC WARMING
When a Polar Vortex slows or reverses, it often causes a very sudden and dramatic warming over a large area.
A line of thunderstorms that occurs ahead of a cold front, causing heavy precipitation, hail, lightning, Derecho winds, and possibly tornadoes and waterspouts.
DERECHO, LAND HURRICANE
A large, long-lived, straight line of severe wind storms near a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms. They occur mostly in summer.
An unusually large wildfire, usually caused by drought conditions.
FIRE STORM, FIRENADO, FIREWHIRL
Convection from a wildfire that swirls upward in "towers of flames." It causes air to be drawn in rapidly along the ground, drying more fuel for the fire and making it self-perpetuating and very difficult to fight as long as any fuel is available.
A sudden drop in temperature of tens of degrees, causing dangers to exposed skin, and possibly Frost Quakes.
FROST QUAKE, ICE QUAKE, CRYOSEISM
Rapid expansion during a Flash Freeze, sometimes with explosive force, of water in soil, rocks, or building materials.
A severe dust or sand storm usually caused by the collapse of a thunderstorm in an arid region. It can appear to be a wall of dirt rapidly approaching.
Similar to a Haboob, but with little or no dust or sand, causing strong winds and rapid temperature increases.
An extreme lack of snow in a region that usually has plenty, causing drought conditions the following summer because of reduced runoff.
Hail large enough to be dangerous to people, animals, windows, and utility wires.
An abnormal sea level rise caused by a storm, which causes most of the damage of the storm. They are the very worst, of course, when they occur at high tide.
This term has been used to describe the very worst storms, including:
- Columbus Day Storm (Typhoon Freda), October 1962, Pacific Northwest
[Time Shamans are those who] diagnose the unseen and unaddressed aspects of spiritual conditions of the present in order to find out what was needed to heal as individuals, as families, as entire villages ... to heal the tattered holes we left in the Holy Net of Time.
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