Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Way of All Things

This toney giant suburb was recently thrown (and is still being thrown) up here on our remote North Coast beach. The houses in the picture, sited directly on the ocean, are of course the most expensive.

A few weeks ago we got lots of rain. "Lots of rain" is sort of the definition of this coast. And so, therefore, is "massive landslide". (See illustration.)

I've been on this beach for almost 50 years. In that time it has changed dramatically, and I'm not talking about the housing estate. An extensive dune system, entirely absent when I was 7, now lines the shore. Entire ecosystems that I grew up with are gone, replaced with brand new ones: new plants, new animals, new worlds.

Look at the cliff face in the photo, above those dunes that weren't there. See all that brush growing on either side of the flume, and the stuff the slide scraped off, piled at its foot? None of that vegetation was there either; the entire headland, for miles north and south, was slick, barren, shiny red clay.

None of these changes were human-caused. It's just what happens here. We live on the precipice of a planetary-scale body of seawater that is literally never still. Dirt doesn't stay put in this place. Doesn't matter how much dirt there is.

Nor how rich you are. Fact is, even if you encased the entire cliff in reinforced concrete (seen it), you'd only buy yourself a few decades; the North Pacific eats solid basalt like candy, so concrete is basically its popcorn.

I struggle not to feel satisfaction over the above scene; I know that these people are essentially innocent of ill intent. (Maybe a little good old-fashioned self-centredness, but who among us…) And I'm mostly annoyed that their town-in-a-box is destroying a lifestyle I've always known, loved, and somehow considered a right. Obviously, the thousand-odd people it contains love the new lifestyle better. And as much as I rebel against the notion, at ground level, both opinions are equally (in)valid.

'Course, ground level changes. Down here, it changes a lot. And despite human arrogance – inflated exponentially by wealth – it will continue to do.

Members of my generation were raised on a succession of annihilation threats. Nuclear war. Pollution. Climate change. But since I was a small boy I've loved to look out to sea and know that it will always be there. Long after the last living one of us has belted out the last political speech demonstrating conclusively that there is no threat, the sea, in whatever shape, filled with whatever creatures, will pound this shore.

Wherever it is; ten-thousand years ago the beach was eleven miles west of here. Since then, multiple towering tsunamis have instantly smashed out brand-new worlds stretching miles inland; the last time just 300 years ago. Chances are better than zero that in another century or so my grandfather's house – built on the bluff that tsunami created – will have slid under the surf.

But the ocean will endure. Nothing short of a nova is going to change that.

And it's not even a little bit arrogant.
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