The first year I was out here, because there were no flowers I beganpicking up bones. -- Georgia O’Keeffe
They are counting down harvests: 100, 99, 98, 97, and so on. Wecan almost hear the ticking, under the rattle of cicadas. I read somewhere that it takes one thousand years without human inter-ference to make three centimeters of useable topsoil, and I imagined the slowest possible blooming of dirt—long dynasties ofinsects, ancient histories of weeds, growing and dying into nour-ishment. It looks like dirt, but it’s something different. Dirt is dead, deadness in which nothing can grow, and soil is dirt that has died long enough to make something new. If you layer enough death, life worms its way inside.
There’s a lot of talk about how humans need to “take action” against the eco-crisis. We love to take things. But I think part ofwhy there is such cognitive dissonance between how we live nowand how we are going to live soon, why we are struggling to fath-om and respond, is because, maybe, we need to change the direction of our passivity, tend to a different kind of neglect. Fire the bosses, shutter the windows, close up shop, sit tight, and wait forthe soil to die and then live again. Re-wild, un-till. There is already more than anyone needs, clustered and wasted. (I want to take thatword back: “useable.”) This is the part of resurrection stories that gets left out: the patience. Thirty generations of mothers and chil-dren make a thimble of born-again dust.
Where I’m from, Los Angeles, we used to have “fire season,”which was the time of year when the land that we lived on caughtfire. The sky was the color of mud, the sun looked bloody, andschool was canceled for a couple of days. It was usually around October, after summer dried out the hills. Our autumn. But recent-ly, fire season is considered “year-round.” What is a year-round season? In this cataclysm, we are inventing new kinds of time. Theword for season comes from the word to sow; it meant the weekswhen you planted, that sweet spot when the soil wasn’t buried un-der ice or scorched in the sun, but warm enough, wet enough.
I’m only bringing this up to stress that “season” used to mean something different, and it will mean something different again. Soon, in some places, it will mean the time when there are wild-fires burning, which will be always.
I didn’t know that when the word “landscape” was first used, it exclusively meant a kind of painting. Now you could climb upsomewhere high and look around at all the green below you andsay, wow, beautiful landscape, and no one would think that was strange. But when that word began, it only meant a painting ofthat green. Is there another word that used to mean the represen-tation of something, but has expanded to include the thing itself? We don’t call someone’s face a portrait, brushing their cheek, like,wait, stop, you have an eyelash on your portrait. But it makes sense, somehow, that we would let the painting seep out onto thesoil. It’s about what we see, not what’s there. It’s about climbingup somewhere high.
We think the literature and art being produced now is going to behistoricized for its relationship with the digital, but actually, it willbe remembered as the last seasonal work, about livable tempera-ture, easy travel, trees and flowers, food to eat and many differentanimals. Because of this, it will always be precious. There will be new landscapes, new harvests, without names. Deep under thesea, there will be new ruins: submarine cables, all our knowledgestapled to the ocean floor. (There are so many places on earth thatshould have remained unseen.) But I am happy to look at a paint-ing of a sunset while we wait, still pink over swimmable water.-- Audrey Wollen