“We will all drown, eventually.” He kicked at the marshy water, his black rubber boots sending merry splashes arcing out over the green heads of the grasses that struggled to grow there. A short distance from where we stood, a half-submerged tractor poked its holed and rusted canopy up from the water’s surface. I couldn’t tell what its original color had been, maybe green (though that could have been mold) or perhaps orange (but with all the rust, who knew). We didn’t dare walk out there, for the buried state of the old mechanical plow-engine signaled the presence of a sinkhole, or quicksand. The paddy was a terrible place, and I wouldn’t have been out there had it not been for our hunger.
“Aye,” I said, trying to sound as agreeable as I could. Considering where we were, it came out damn near cheerful. “Cranberries and peat, the whole lot of us in the end.”
“Should’ve moved to the highlands,” he said, and not for the first time.
When the water levels had started rising there had been a minor panic in the municipal government, though most of the conservative members of parliament had been quick to assuage any fears. They explained away the rainfall and the bloated height of the water table with a lot of hand-waving and mumbling about the evidence being inconclusive. Even with state-sponsored scientists coming out and telling us that it was normal, pointing the finger of blame at everything from sunspots to the planet’s axis shifting to polluted air currents from China. Once most of the coastal farmland was under water, the eggheads changed their tune and owned up to mistaking the environmental catastrophe for something other than what it was, but by then they had all fled for higher ground.
“Why didn’t we?” I asked, raking a shovelful of muck aside and shoring up the small, raised island we’d been forming all week. It was almost dry enough to stand on and would serve us well until the next rain.
“We’ve lived on this land for a dozen generations or more, lad. We’ve never been ones to quit on a claim. Think of your old great-grandfather Horance, and how he worked that plot of his like a dog all his life. The land was mean back then, it hated our clan. Killed more of us than it let live, that’s a historical fact. They’d dread the winters back then, and how the cold would come and claim a dozen of the infirm or infantile. A culling, they’d call it. But Horance, who lived well past the first frosts, picked away at his plot until it bled oil, and his find provided for the rebuilding of the clan and all our prosperity ever since.” He spat on his hands and rubbed them together. “That was this land, so it was.”
I pondered his words as I shoveled muck onto the island and flattened the wet brown clumps. I wanted to say something smart, something inspiring that might have moved the old man, or opened his eyes to the slow suicide he was committing, but nothing came to mind.
2015.02.09 – 2023.09.06