Contours of the land

Once, the land stretched out endlessly before us, with its serpentine contours, valleys and hills, bays and peninsulas. Our paths hugged the coastline, undulating with the landscape, winding through gentle slopes and valleys in avoidance of steep peaks and unsteady terrain. Topology dictated our movement.

Then we built. Slowly at first. We learned to terrace and level land, shaping it with great labor to the shapes of our desires. As the arc of time progressed, our skill improved and with less and less movement of our hands we could shape the land with greater and greater ease.

Time passed and earth moved faster and faster. One day a dirt path becomes overlaid with gravel, and then comes steel bars and asphalt, diggers and steamrollers, and posts heralding progress of our path over the Earth. Undulating paths over the hills become raised bridges and smoothed highways on which vehicles hurtle along, and a day’s travel becomes an hour.

A band of workers, sweat flowing down their cheeks in the shimmering waves of midday sun, rest between finishing the railing trim along a new stretch of road. A local man trudges by the dirt road running alongside the highway. One of the workers calls to him, “friend, what is this place called?” The local responds, “Impasse,” hardly looking up as he picks his way between the eroded rivulets in his path. The workers laugh and the first calls back, “Well, no longer!” as they pick up their equipment to continue work.

And so the highways are built, hugging the coast, with grand equipment that belches carbon dioxide, borrowing energy trapped in the past to build our future. We build the highways for cars to hurtle over as they burp carbon dioxide, which flows upward to nestle in the atmosphere and capture warmth. And the warmth warms the oceans and melts the ice, and the sea rises. Storms and surf pound the coast, eroding the carefully manicured earth, softening rock and collapsing cliffs, washing out the roads and highways. And we begin the process of building once more, again and again, until we can no longer borrow from the past to build the future. Then waves of sea and earth will erase the highways, and our paths will once again hug the contours of the land.

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