"Earth Day 2117"
A Short Story
by Lorin R. Robinson
Joss McIntyre sat on his favorite knoll and looked down at The Camp spread below in the small steep-walled valley. Though early Spring, the tree under which he sat was fully leaved, providing welcomed shade against the heat of the bright sun.
It’ll be 90ᵒ or more again today, he thought. The long, hot summers continued to start earlier every year—even at 7,000 feet in the mountains. It had been a few decades since the greenhouse gas pollution had slowed and almost stopped. But the CO² molecules could last up to 90 years. The Warming wouldn’t be stopping any time soon.
The Camp was quiet this morning, Sunday. Day of rest. He gazed fondly at home. The dozen or so cabins, bunkhouse, dining hall, workshop, large barn and outbuildings. All were made of roughhewn planks taken from the valley’s fir and pine. “Rustic” is the word he’d heard used to describe it.
Crops were in and well along. Corn on the terraced hillsides. Vegetable plots. The orchards had already bloomed. Chicks had hatched. Piglets attacked sows’ teats. There were a couple of calves in the corral. Freshly shorn sheep were in the pasture, fleece already on the looms.
Blades of the large windmill near the barn rotated slowly in the light breeze, turning the generator. Later in the day, when the wind picked up, the connection to the well would be engaged so it could also pump water. For decades The Camp had solar power. The abandoned panels were on the roof of the barn. By the ‘70s, replacement batteries were no longer to be had. Now solar was used only for hot water.
Joss opened The Book sitting on his lap. He hadn’t looked at it for a while. But something about the day’s date, April 22, 2117, struck him as familiar. One of many traditions in The Camp was to keep the calendar as accurately as possible.
It was Great Great Grampa Mac’s journal, started when he was 15. Unlike his siblings and cousins, Joss was interested in the story The Book told—the story of the McIntyres and how they came to this place. The story of the world and what had happened.
He didn’t read very well. Few did, though Mac had seen to it that many books were brought up to The Camp. They were all neatly shelved in the dining hall and well-read in the early years. But as time went by, the stories seemed increasingly less relevant. That’s where he’d found The Book, dusty and apparently forgotten. The textbooks, on the other hand, were dog-eared. Many had been crudely rebound. The dining hall also served as the schoolhouse.
He opened the journal to page one, and, sure enough, the date of Mac’s first entry was April 22, 2017, 100 years ago. Next to the date was “Earth Day.” Mac had underlined it. And, in his cramped hand, he’d written: “What a joke! Won’t do any good!”
Even as a teenager, Mac had seen through lies and pseudoscience about the climate foisted on the public by the oil, coal and utility industries. The world’s politicians, often in cahoots with the polluters, were unwilling or unable to end our destructive love affair with fossil fuels. Mac believed climate scientists who predicted The Warming would be a civilization changer. He decided to devote his life to three things—making as much money as he could, raising a family and finding someplace they and future generations of McIntyres would be safe.
For money, he learned the building trades and became a successful commercial builder. For a wife, he took Maggie O’Rourke, a fiery Irish redhead. Together they raised an adventurous brood of three sons and tomboy daughter. For safety, Mac found and bought a well-watered and secluded valley high in the mountains and, over several years, built The Camp, future home of Clan McIntyre.
The Clan would vacation at The Camp until Mac judged it was time, as he wrote in The Book on May 1, 2057, “to cut the cord” and disappear. His entry on that date: “The economy is in shambles. Government at all levels losing control. Unemployment spiraling. Riots over food and water. Coastal cities flooding. Hundreds of thousands on the move.”
By then there were additional McIntyres. Sons had married. There were youngsters. The tomboy, Nancy, remained single. She had studied nursing and became The Camp’s healer, passing her skills along to those who would follow.
The first job was to hide The Camp. The construction road was erased and replaced by a challenging and carefully camouflaged trail. Then, with all the ingredients on hand, began the long and arduous task of making The Camp self-sustaining.
Joss riffled randomly through the pages: June 3, 2059: “Grandson Jack went walkabout to find a wife. Necessary, but risky, considering what’s going on out there. But, obviously, we must expand our gene pool….”
January 21, 2062: “The West Antarctic ice sheet has collapsed. Coastal flooding will increase exponentially.”
June 29, 2063: “Grandson Ben returned from walkabout with bad news. He went to the Carpenter place in the next valley where Jack visited four years ago and brought back Jeannie. It had been destroyed, burned to the ground. Probably marauding wild ones. He went on to the Jensens on the other side of the mountain and hooked up with Maryanne.”
October 8, 2071: “All communications finally pretty well shut down—Internet, satellite TV, commercial radio. Hard to know anymore what’s happening in the world. We keep in touch with ‘neighbors’ by short-wave. Have found several other survivor communities within 50 miles. We hear from a few others at greater distance, but often in languages we can’t understand.”
July 2, 2074: “A couple of young men came calling today to try to woo away two of our girls.”
“Walkabout.” Soon it will be my turn, Joss thought. People once wondered where Mac got the word. If he ever told anyone, there’s no record.
The McIntyre boys go looking for mates when they’re about 18. If successful, they leave the bunkhouse and, with help, build a new cabin. Most of the boys have succeeded over the generations. A few had not and either went out again or accepted bachelorhood. One never returned. Somewhere in The Book was the entry about Grandson Robert. After about a year, they gave up hope and put up a marker, the first in what would become the cemetery in a grove down by the stream.
Mac wore his kilts of McIntyre blue, green and red tartan. He played The Clan theme on the pipes— “We Will Take the Good Old Way.” He said the tune echoed off the valley walls making it sound like a cathedral.
That became the tradition as the graveyard slowly filled. Still, despite deaths at childbirth, from the flu-like contagion in ’68 and natural causes, The Camp continued to grow. Nancy and her healers did their jobs, substituting natural remedies when the pharmacy was depleted of “modern” medicine.
Joss wasn’t too worried about his walkabout. It had been much more dangerous in Robert’s time. Civilization had fallen apart. Gangs of wild ones then roamed the countryside, preying on those who were trying to survive. In one of his more insightful passages, Mac had written: “The Warming’s heat has cracked, blistered and peeled away what had always been the thin veneer of civilization.”
He had had to go to the dictionary to find out what some of the words meant.
By now most believed that those who could survive had survived. Still, Joss had an occasional nightmare about being caught by marauders. The rule was never to reveal the location of The Camp. Your choices were to escape or accept certain death.
Joss thumbed ahead to the last passages in The Book. Mac died in 2079 at 77. The story goes that he had been in failing health for a few years. His last entries were not only hard to read—his handwriting had become almost illegible—but, instead of routine observations about life in The Camp, they were often thoughtful and a bit enigmatic.
He had taken time to decipher them. The last entry was two days before he passed.
February 17, 2079: “Why do we call the Earth our ‘mother?’ That might make people think ‘she’ cares about us. But does ‘she’ even know we exist? Did ‘she’ feel us scraping off layers of her soil; drilling holes deep into her body. Did ‘she’ know that we were releasing trillions of tons of greenhouse gases into her atmosphere, that we were fouling her oceans, burning millions of acres of her forests, sending radioactive mushroom clouds into her skies? Does ‘she’ know that her temperature is climbing, her oceans are rising, her surface is being battered by ferocious storms?
“Of course not. If ‘Mother Earth’ were aware, ‘she’d’ be amused that the slightly annoying vermin infesting her body were in the process of self-destructing, saving her the trouble. But ‘she’ isn’t aware and doesn’t care. If or when we go, ‘she’ will take no notice.
“If we survive, we are on our own. And we will survive only if we heed the lessons of our greedy, hedonistic and destructive past.”
Joss carefully closed dusty volume. Maybe, he thought, I should read this entry tonight after dinner. On the 100th anniversary of The Book, and of that long-ago “Earth Day,” the people need to hear, remember and take Mac’s final words to heart.