I believe in the tenacity of life and its unseen powers at work in our lives. Still, I think I heard another dead canary’s body plummet to the bottom of the mineshaft: National Public Radio just told me to expect a possible ocean rise of seventy-five yards much sooner than anyone has anticipated. I looked at a recent map of North Carolina. It displayed places in my state that were predicted to be submerged during this globally-warmed century. It painted a pessimistic picture for the East Dismal Swamp. That’s where I once worked as the only eighth-grade, language arts teacher for the entire school system.
Anyone who has tried to educate the unwilling is usually amazed at how many of them survive; even thrive, under hardship, like the seemingly soulless individual who berated my ineptitude, while my students looked on. It was my second day on the job. To take up teaching at the age of fifty-six might be considered a death wish by many, and I won’t deny that it did nearly kill me. But, I forgive those who sabotaged my lessons or stole my glasses, even the professors who neglected to tell me that “it takes fifteen years to become an adequate teacher.” That’s what one superintendent said to me–information that far was too late in coming, like news of the melting ice-shelf. Fifteen years will put me into my seventies–about the same time ocean water may be lapping up along the edges of the Coastal Plains. Still, through that great, unseen power in my life, I intend to live on as a teacher, but I fear my former students and colleagues will need to make some serious decisions much sooner than they expected.
I believe that survivable weather will somehow continue somewhere. After the fossil fuels run out, the earth may find a new equilibrium. I believe the weather is like the high-minded values we nursed during the 1960s, changing, often violently, but never disappearing. It is not unlike the swamp people who cling to the 1860’s. Many there tenaciously hope that General Lee will take back his surrender at Appomattox. They even dress up in 1860’s garb to celebrate his life and they praise “faithful slaves” namelessly mentioned on the backside of the Confederate monument in the town-square.
My former swamp-town may soon drown along with its sparrow-sized dragonflies, which ate the hungry mosquitoes outside of my over-priced apartment. At night, I actually felt safe from the shadowy forms which occasionally slithered up from the brackish water and mud. It was the heartless humans who ruled my life by day that were far more frightening. I did lose a daughter and nearly lost my mother while living in the swamp so far away from them. But, Christmas in the swamp was warmly decorated, as though lit up by that great, unseen power.
The sweet potato crops may soon be doomed in the East Dismal Swamp. But, so will the speeding tickets: The swampland’s other cash crop–which will hardly be missed. I believe tenacious, new life may replace what is lost atop the pocosin: Those floating layers of dead foliage where new plants now abide…in a swamp which I believe may soon to be much closer to my present home, far to the west.
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