Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Icecapade and Alligators Galore!

I write this as one year has ended, and a new one begins. And after many holiday festivities, with gifts given and received. The irrepressible Virgil, my blogging assistant and muse, received his share of presents, too, so we acquired some new alligator relatives, extending our already large alligator family. The first was a pale green (imitation) jade alligator brought back from China by Hank and John, who came up from Boone to deliver it.

"Is this your father?" I ask Virgil, just to get the ball rolling.
He shakes his head. "I don't know who that is."

Then there was the Rolls Royce of alligators with a raffish leer, a white replica of its living albino counterpart in the Audubon Aquarium, brought back by Jane from New Orleans. And last night, Eileen pressed a small bronze alligator into my palm when we met for New Year's Eve dinner at India Garden.

Now all the alligators huddle together on my kitchen counter, sleeping against each other as alligators sometimes do. "It's the triumph of a niche culture," says Virgil.

Meanwhile, as we were busy partying, Pakistan was in flames over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and Greenland was melting. I think I first fell in love with Greenland when I read Gretel Ehrlich's "This Cold Heaven" a few years ago. I just couldn't get enough of her descriptions of sea-ice, polar nights, spring snow melts, calving glaciers, and suns at midnight. Ehrlich has performed one of those magical feats of writing (rather like Cormac McCarthy in "The Road") which makes you feel like you are right there, and part of the scene. I could even smell her dinners of curried seal and rice, see the long shadows like sharks' teeth cast by the icebergs outside her window, hear the sled dogs tethered by long chains barking endlessly into the black night. When I was really sick a few years ago and reading her book, I would hang out with Ehrlich, reclining on a reindeer skin, bundled up in sealskin pants and fox-fur trimmed anorak, sharp bits of ice flying in my face as we rattled along together on a sled, hunting for polar bears and seals. She was my inspiration.

Ehrlich first traveled to Greenland in the summer of 1993, after which she was so smitten she went back every year for the next seven years. Greenland is the largest island in the world, and ninety-five percent of its surface is ice. Now Greenland's ice sheet is melting--recently at a rate of fifteen percent more than the usual summer melt, and quadruple the amount that melted fifteen years ago, according to satellite data released not long ago by NASA. If Greenland's ice were ever to completely melt, it could add twenty-two feet to the world's sea level.

People are going to the Arctic and the Antarctic these days in droves, to see the ice caps before they disappear: it's the latest offshoot of "disaster capitalism." The travel industry has cashed in with its own sub-industry of "doom tourism," specifically targeting destinations that are destined to suffer the devastating effects of global warming. Boatloads of artists, teachers, journalists, and scientists can be found cruising the icy waters to study the effects of climate change. One artist traveling on board the Schooner Noorderlicht recently observed, "If we have learned anything on this expedition, it is that the forces that will be released against us will not be manageable."

How do you stop an iceberg from melting? What if this is the way it is, beyond all the palliative technologies we might invent, and the therapeutic constructs?

"Well," offers Virgil with a smile, "I reckon it's all bridge under the water from here on out. So either you are very post-postmodern about it and maintain a philosophically respectable depression, or maybe you can take up surfing like a Babylonian seal. You could enter the new world as an amphibian and discover the lost meaning of all that. Or, you might try to attain the condition of music. A world that no longer sustains human life may be in the making, but alligators could continue on just as they have after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Of course, if all else fails, as a last resort, you could always marry me. Like Saint Francis, we could find a cicada, and then sing to each other."

I can't help smiling back at Virgil, who on New Year's day is sporting a homemade snood made from a supermarket onion bag.

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