I sat outside on Friday afternoon, home sick with a fever and sore throat, reading about civilization collapse. I had been waiting for the right time to sit down with “Rule of the Pheonix” by Craig Childs, a new essay in Orion Magazine, and as I read how the rise of illness and disease prelude collapse, I reached for my chamomile tea to soothe my throat. Next to my mug sat a rosemary plant, and as I brought the tea to my mouth, I breathed in the scent of rosemary and looked up to see tall grass moving in the wind, dandelions going to seed, the dense canopy of maples and birch shading the perimeter of the field, and a phrase entered my mind:
The things that remain
As Childs points out, civilizations have come and gone, risen and fallen, are always evolving, and are always left with enough people living past the “end” to create something new in a few generations. Here are the things that remain through it all: grass and air, dandelions and trees—the natural world, which is also always evolving, changing, and living. The plants, air, and water—these things remain. Yet as I write this I think of fracking contaminating and decreasing the water supply; I think of deforestation, and of climate change pushing plants and animals beyond their native habitats; I think of paved roads and lost topsoil.
Still I have to believe these living things go on, just as we do, despite times of pressure and decline. I have to believe it because it has always been so. I have to believe it because I believe in life, in energy constantly moving and the fact that, though it may shift form and move in a new direction, energy never goes away. This is what I believe, because I feel energy in my body, and my body is physical truth, solid and connected by bones and blood, in this physical world, solid and connected by roots and rivers. The body holds truth.Body as human Body as animal Body as earth
The body holds truth. “When the land is strained, so are the people,” Childs writes. If we are to see our civilization endure, we will return to the lessons of the body, we will slow the workings of technology and allow the body to rest. We will remember what it is like to sleep deeply.
At the base of every civilization is water. I gulp it, letting its coolness slide down my throat. I heat it, letting its warmth soothe my throat. I drink and drink until my fever comes down. I make it past the part about illness and disease as a prelude to collapse. I make it all the way to the end of the essay, which doesn’t feel like an end at all, but instead like a diving board into a blank page, empty and filled with every possibility.