I’ve carried the burden of extinction on my shoulders since I was a child, haunted by the sacred spirits of panthera uncia, tigris, and leo, by puma concolor and acinonyx jubatus, by the wailing specters of the burning Amazon and the melting Arctic. Even then I saw the irreversible trajectory of our folly and in the years since no amount of hope in mankind nor faith in divinity could shake that nihilistic certainty. I do not need cursed Cassandra’s terrible gift to know we crossed the point of no return long ago; we will never invent a technology capable of undoing the evils mankind has wrought, and certainly not in time to reverse the mass death we’ve set in motion. Even my childself, full of the dreams and promises of youth, understood the planetary genocide to which she’d bear witness in her lifetime.
Yet as I drown in grief I must remember my own words: turn to geology on your deathbed, it is the only science that can save you. When the ocean is clotted with orcinus orca’s ghosts and plastic shopping bags, it will still wear away continents and heave forth cataclysmic waves. When the mountains are littered with canis lupus corpses and abandoned solar panels, they will still cleave the sky and bury empty cities in eruptions of ash and mud. When every living thing is dead and we have finally committed the last of our species’ incomprehensible crimes, the earth will still remain. The planet will continue its endless cycles of upheaval and erosion, rupture and subduction, its titanic geologic metamorphosis, as if we had never been. Earth, at least, we cannot truly kill, no matter how hard we try.
It’s late June and I’m cleaning out my desk… throwing away old papers… saying my goodbyes… but not because school’s out. It’s because…
I’m changing jobs!
See, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with disasters, both manmade and natural. I watched Twister religiously as a kid and was supremely disappointed that I was born eight years too late to witness the famous 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. If asked what historical event I would most want to go back in time to experience, I could never pick between the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of Pompeii. Pompeii would probably win out, though, because geology is the coolest of the hard sciences.
This is me as both a witch AND a geoscience major.
My obsession with disasters is formed of equal parts horror and fascination: horror because these events prove how quickly and completely our human-centric world can be reduced to rubble; fascination because their scale and power are frankly awe-inspiring, especially if you understand the forces at work. Disaster movies might take some scientific and artistic liberties, but they still offer insight into how fucking terrifying the earth can be.
I say all this because emergency management is my passion and finally, after six years in a different career field, I’ve found my way back! Starting this week, I’ll be working for my state’s Emergency Management Division as an Emergency Management Program Specialist to, and I quote, “provide professional level emergency management and public education assistance in implementing the statewide Tsunami/Earthquake/Volcano program.”
HOW FUCKING COOL DOES THAT SOUND??
They’re gonna pay me actual money to talk about natural disasters! And science! And emergency preparedness! Those are like my favorite things!! I’m just so excited that it almost doesn’t feel real. This is literally my dream job. I can’t even.
Actual footage of other people (left) versus me (right) during a disaster.
You collected outcasts with hearts of broken glass, promising to fill their cracks with gold, but you made a grave mistake with me. My heart is not a fragile piece of blown glass – it is a chunk of volcanic glass, deep black obsidian, and when it breaks each shard is sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. I was never an outcast, you see. Outcasts yearn to be told their worth yet I inherently knew mine, for I had been born and tempered in the earth’s deep fires where no mere man may survive. I loved you, yes, and I believed in you, but I did not need you like the others and thus was the first to see through you when my rebellious edges drew your blood and then your anger. It’s no wonder you could never fix those broken hearts you hoarded; without one of your own, how could you know how the pieces fit together?
We anthropomorphize what we do not understand and deify what we fear. Perhaps, therefore, I should call this terror and awe Cascadia and give it a name, a form, a realm to rule. Grand Cascadia, She Who Slumbers Uneasily, She Who Builds Mountains and Destroys Cities. Ancient Cascadia, who sleeps beneath the earth’s crust and whose every toss and turn rattles the land above. Cruel Cascadia, whose laughter stirs tsunamis, whose anger detonates stratovolcanoes and sends shockwaves of destruction through two thousand miles of rock and earth. I see her body made of the fine silt of the ocean floor; her eyes glow the hot white of magma; her hair is ash and smoke and seaweed and minerals. She is a uniquely Pacific Northwest goddess, one link in the great ring of fire through which she and her sisters transform the world.
It is tempting, I’ll admit, to hand the fear of what I cannot control over to a deity I can at least implore. I could light red candles in her honor and leave her offerings of seashells, saltwater, Mt. St. Helens ash. Beneath her altar I could store flashlights and emergency rations. I could write songs and poems for her, about the people she has killed already and those she will kill in the future. I could, I could, I could – but what good would it do? Even if Cascadia were a true goddess, she would not be swayed by offerings or pleading. She would be something more terrifying than Kali and more uncontrollable than Sekhmet, something that gloried in death even more than Inanna or the Morrigan. There would be no appeasing her. She would only sleep, wake, slaughter, and sleep to wake and kill again. All the prayer in the world could not reckon with her, and when she next wakes her death toll will be in the hundreds of thousands.
when the storm surges and the waves crash, I will be your rock, I say
and you reply, but rock erodes until it’s no longer recognizable as what it once was
I do not argue, because that is true; even stone is not eternal
but you forget I have studied the earth, its cycles, its processes
and so I know that while stone is not eternal, its matter is
and can neither be created nor destroyed
if your storms weather me, I will become sand on the ocean floor
and perhaps from there the earth will push me up against the land
or perhaps drag me deep beneath its melting crust
either way I will transform, become a mountain once again
and when the wind and rain and time begin to carve me away
I will welcome that change as I welcome yours
the earth awakes
in violent tremors, roaring
cacophonous subterranean thunder
bridges buckling, overpasses shuddering
brick collapses in clouds
of red dust like the skies of Mars
glass shatters and power lines topple
while beachfronts slough off into white-capped water
and it seems to go on forever, minutes becoming an eternity
while the world shakes and quakes and destructs
like nothing Chicken Little ever could
have expected, the sky is falling
the sky is falling
and in the aftermath
nothing is untouched or
unharmed and yet
sand is pushed
upward by the wind
and joins its fellows to
form a great desert sand dune
which in time turns to bright sandstone
all reds and golds and oranges
which in time weathers down
from wind and rain
to a single
sand is pushed
upward by the tide
and joins its fellows to
form a beach and then hills
which in time are pushed into mountains
looming tall above the ocean shores
which in time weather down
from wind and rain
to a single