Substations in Berlin for Literature Festival say hello to Australia!

Substations groups from Berlin, Dublin, London and Hel in Poland are preparing to share a sample of work they’ve created as part of the Weather Stations Project for a closing event in the International Literature Festival in Berlin.

On the first day, the groups created a world map and reflected on their relationship to different parts of the world. They discussed how different continents feel the impact of climate change differently.

As part of the process, the group couldn’t help give a shout to their friends in Australia! We miss you!

Reflections of an Environmental Refugee

c Xianyi Shen http://bit.ly/1JP258v

c Xianyi Shen
http://bit.ly/1JP258v

Most of my days in my twenties were spent alone writing in a rented one bedroom apartment on 15th floor in Beijing’s Wudaokou District. Fast and furious, I wrote on a first generation PC which only had one function – Chinese typing software for Word. This workaholic life continued until one morning my mother called me requesting that I return home immediately: ‘Your father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the final stage of throat cancer.’

With the guilt of not having made a visit to my parents in a number of years, I instantly stopped everything in Beijing and flew back to Zhejiang, which now had a brand new airport near my hometown. In terms of the Confucian tradition, I was not a good daughter. Fulfilling filial duty had not really been the focus of my attention for a long time. At that time, I thought the demands of being a dutiful daughter were purely an ideological tool for suppression of women. (Years later when I read English feminist writer Juliet Mitchell‘s Women’s Estate, I thought how accurate had been here analysis that the patriarchal family order created women as secondary people.) No wonder her work was not promoted in China! But setting aside all these reservations born from my political stance, I decided to give in to my mother’s request. My father was the only person in my family I respected. Not because he was my father but because his artistic spirit was something I valued and had modeled my own artistic life on. So I left Beijing, taking all my film script work and unfinished novels with me. When I finally got to the hospital in my hometown, I saw my mother’s darting, sometimes, frantic blood shot eyes and my brother’s sallow, depressed face. I knew the situation was bad. That night, my father went through a seven hour operation – because of the spread of the cancer cells to his neck and lymph nodes, they had to remove his larynx entirely. We stayed outside of the operation room, weary and on edge, waiting for what felt like a delayed death sentence. Next morning, when my father woke up, it became apparent to both us and him that he would not be able to speak again. This was a shocking reality, as bad as his not being able to swallow water or to urinate or engage in the simplest physical tasks. He lay on his bed, staring blankly at the food tube fed through his nose and into his stomach.

My father lay on his hospital bed for three weeks. He shared his room with four other patients. During that time we saw two cancer patients die in front of us. The nurses came to remove their bodies, while the remaining family members cried in their devastation. One of the patients who died was a very young girl. She was only 12 and she had had neck cancer. She died two days after her operation. This case especially shook my father, who always believed that the mind was stronger than the physical body. He thought a body would follow the will of a mind which would prevail through any condition of physical weakness, something very much in line with Mao Zedong’s way of thinking. But the cancer ward taught him a heavy lesson. Mind is powerless when it comes to a certain illness.

My mother tried everything to improve my father’s health. Apart from the mix of western pills and traditional herbal medicines, she regularly brought him a turtle to consume, to improve his nutrition. Chinese believe that turtles are long-lived creatures and there are some organic materials in their bodies that can enhance a human body’s strength. First she cooked a turtle soup for a long time with all sorts of herbs. After my father drank the soup she would then take the turtle shell to make plastrons. He would eat the shell powder. I didn’t know if that way of eating worked for his illness. But with all the radiotherapy he did later on and the western medication, he nevertheless survived for another thirteen years.

During the days we stayed in the cancer ward, we were quite troubled by seeing so many new cancer patients being carried into the hospital and dying on their beds. The wards were full, the new patients had to sleep on makeshift beds in the corridors as well as the narrow space in between the staircases. Nurses and doctors were bombarded by demands from the patients and their families. The invalids puked, coughed, and howled, seemingly, at every possible moment. The place was like a hell on earth. There was no human dignity in a Chinese hospital like this one we stayed. Zhejiang was a fast developing industrial province with many large-scale factories, there had been lots of talk about water and soil pollution, that the factories released chemical waste into the rivers. But no one could really conduct a thorough investigation provide clear evidence of the links between heavy pollution and bad effects on human health. All the big factories were state backed. For example, many women and young kids who had never smoked, nevertheless died of lung cancer. Why was that? Some doctor theorized that airborne particles known as PM2.5 (meaning they are 2.5 micrometers or smaller) contributed to many death cases of the lung cancer patients. When inhaled, these tiny and often toxic particles would pass through lung membranes and enter the bloodstream. While they didn’t always cause cancer, they were a ubiquitous byproduct of burning coal. But in China, PM2.5 has become a part of life.

Another time I read a report from the World health Organization. It said there were 13 million Chinese people dying from cancer each year and this number was rising. According to this figure, if there were 55 million people in my province, then, one could expect that about 500,000 people were dying of cancer each year. During the last two decades, there were many ‘cancer villages’ and ‘HIV villages’ appearing in China. It said in those villages every family had someone who died of cancer or blood infection. And these cases were directly linked to environmental issues. Now even the Beijing government was quite alert about the problem. They released a report recently saying more than 70 per cent of the country’s rivers and lakes had been polluted. This made me wonder, if that was admitted by the Chinese government through official channels, then what would the percentage be according to independent organizations like NGOs or the World Health Organization? You wouldn’t want to hear the real facts. Was that the reason we Chinese only drank boiled water?

My father’s cancer was the catalyst for my thinking about the fragility of human health in relation to our environment and for an increasing sense of foreboding, indeed, gloom, in particular, about China. I saw my earlier life in Beijing, frantically living within an urban system out of control, trying to meet writing deadlines, running from computer to another job and back again, always catapulting myself into the next project, but all the time surviving with a kind of tunnel vision. My life was run through with this desire for personal achievement at any cost. The phrase rings through my mind, at any cost, which sums up so much of what China is about. My costs were personal but also political. China in the last 60 years has been driven to national goals, at any cost. The cost was becoming more and more apparent. Cancer is eating up the population, even as another industrial park is built, or power station constructed.

My mother died of terminal stomach cancer just a year after my father finally succumbed to cancer. I didn’t know how much her condition was the result of environmental contamination, or perhaps it was just widow’s cancer. But I know she had been suffering from the condition for a while and that the doctor’s had misdiagnosed her ailment—they had given her pills for a heart condition rather than for stomach cancer. After both my parents died, I felt I was indeed an environmental refugee living in western Europe. Is the rain in Spain the same rain as the rain that falls on the Huabei plain in Northern China? Is the snow that falls on a Beijing roof the same that falls on top of the People’s Palace in Warsaw? If so, there are no more places for environmental refugees. It’s the same water system on this planet Earth.

The Hand on the Clock of My Life

With Yeats and Heaney in Tallaght, Islington and Reinickendorf

Mount Seskin, StudentsThese were meetings that were more than warm-hearted. Over three weeks in February and March, I spoke with young people at three different schools about two poems that I believe have something important to say about the relationship between the individual and the respective climate in which he or she lives and thus also about the consequences of climate change. The poems in question here are “The Meditation of the Old Fisherman” by William Butler Yeats, which was published in the Crossways collection in 1889, and “A Postcard from Iceland” by Seamus Heaney, which was written 100 years later. Yeats received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, while Heaney received it in 1995. Around fifty students told me the different thoughts and feelings the two Irishmen’s poems had provoked in them and I listened, frequently both moved and amazed. The schools where I presented the poems were the Mount Seskin Community College in Tallaght near Dublin, the Islington Arts and Media School in London and the Romain Rolland Gymnasium in Berlin.

The Meditation of the Old Fisherman

You waves, though you dance by my feet like children at play
Though you glow and you glance, though you purr and you dart;

In the Junes that were warmer than these are, the waves were more gay,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



The herring are not in the tides as they were of old;

My sorrow! for many a creak gave the creel in the cart

That carried the take to Sligo town to be sold,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



And ah, you proud maiden, you are not so fair when his oar
Is heard on the water, as they were, the proud and apart,

Who paced in the eve by the nets on the pebbly shore,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.



Mount SeskinIn Tallaght, Islngton and Reinickendorf, three students each read out one of verses of the Yeats poem to the class. All three classes were particularly keen on the repeated line at the end of each verse, which to many students felt like waves breaking on the shore. Others were enchanted by the “back and forth” produced by the poetic foot, reminiscent of dunes or pulsations, while others were astonished about how an old fisherman at the end of his life thinks about the world and so many different things: everything may change over time, but love and yearning always remain the same. We spoke at length about the connection between the human disposition and the climate and weather. What is climate anyway and what is weather, what are the differences between them and how can these differences be described? The boys in particular asked what “crack in my heart” might actually mean – whether Yeats, as it may seem, was really only concerned about love and its transient nature. I remember a silent student sitting with us in the art room at Mount Seskin College, shaking his head even as he read the poem again and again, quietly and just for himself. It was only at the end of the lesson that he finally gathered his courage and started talking about the floods in 2014, whereby numerous Dublin suburbs were destroyed following heavy storms and weeks of rain. “Suddenly a river that had never been there before came down the hill and carried the houses away with it, my grandparents’ house too.”

Seamus Heaney talks about another similarly unusual, yet very different river at the start of his 1987 poetry collection The Haw Lantern, whose motto is: RoRo

The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.

Us, listening to a river in the trees.

Heaney’s poem “A Postcard from Iceland” delighted the students in Tallaght, London and Berlin in equal measure. Comparisons were immediately made to Yeats’ stanzas, while many immediately noticed that this poem too contains voices from real life talking about a lost connection, albeit in a different, more ironic tone:

As I dipped to test the stream some yards away
From a hot spring, I could hear nothing

But the whole mud-slick muttering and boiling.

And then my guide behind me saying,

”Lukewarm. And I think you’d want to know
That luk was an old Icelandic word for hand.“

And you would want to know (but you know already)
How usual that waft and pressure felt

When the inner palm of water found my palm.

IAMSThe longest discussions followed my question about whether the sense of a direct connection to the Earth represented by Heaney in the poem still holds if the hand in question is being bathed in artificially heated water. Independently of one another, all the students responded here with a resounding no. We were all in agreement that Seamus Heaneys’s poem is an account of two conversations, not just one held by a tour guide with a tourist visiting an island but also the conversation that nature, the Earth or creation has with anyone who is open and sensitive enough to join in. “We all ultimately know the language of lukewarm water”, said one student in Islington and another in Berlin. “When it comes down to it, everyone remembers what it was like to be in the womb – it’s just that it’s impossible to communicate that.” The climate in which each of us lives perhaps gives us a similar feeling of unconscious security: “(but you know already)”.


IAMS, EntryWhat language is capable of making this clear and what language can speak of the dangers that climate change brings with it? In these schools on the edge of three European capitals, not even a trace of helplessness was to be found, but rather lots of youthful vigour and curiosity, a lively interest for unfamiliar standpoints, a great deal of empathy and above all the willingness to finally make some changes to things according to one’s one ideas rather than the established ones. A fifteen-year-old student at IAMS, the Arts and Media School in the London district of Islington-Finsbury, found a fantastic impromptu image for how to overcome the mutually disavowing debates on climate change in science and literature: “On the clock of my life, the language of poetry is the minute hand and the language of science the hour hand.”

Photos: Students at Mount Seskin Community College (1), Oisín McGann in front of the Mount Seskin “Substation” (2), the Romain Rolland-Gymnasium, Berlin-Reinickendorf (3), Students of the IAMS (4), the entrance to the IAMS in Islington. John Keats went to school in nearby Finsbury. The four tenets of the school at its entrance: “Confidence Aspiration Reflection Respect” (5)

London Graffiti by Sophie Crook

There is a piece of Banksy graffiti that simply has the statement “I don’t believe in global warming” written on the side of a wall against a London canal. The statement is half submerged by the water itself. IAMS student Sophie Crook came across a photo of it and wrote the following about the image.

London Graffiti

This photo says a lot. A lot about what we as humans are and what we are choosing to believe in the world. To use a word as ‘believe’ says much about how we are too stubborn to admit what we have caused. The problem is not the fact that we have made this mess. The problem is the fact that we are blind to our own mistakes and unable to make considerable changes. We have caused a problem and now it is time to pick up the pieces. All we’re doing is discussing it. Blatantly, the words are right on the wall, sea levels are rising and so is the temperature. A contaminated, toxic sheet has been draped over our eyes since 1901 (this was when climate change was first discovered). We are able to see the problem started in our hands, we are able to spray ‘I don’t believe’ on a wall, but unable to use our hands to do anything. We have closed our eyes, let C02 and the ocean take its toll. There is a difference between truth and belief. You may not believe in global warming, but the facts will one day drown you out. You will be unseen, just like this opinion, on a wall in London.

 

Sophie

 

 

 

Frozen Freedom by Rita Paz

1st Year

The cold breeze hit my face leaving my lips frosted. No matter how much lip balm you put on your lips crack. But I didn’t care because I knew that if I could reach the top, the journey would start. I had that heavy breathing provoked by nerves and the little voices in my head were louder than my own. I had one hand holding on and the other one making sure everything was zipped and ready to run. As we reached the top I saw everything and felt… as if nothing mattered right there. I felt just like a bird when it starts flying, with freedom as a price for that one thing that requires practice. The tall man in the distance approached me as my family left me. I was completely amazed by the masterpiece one calls nature. I knew pretty much how to talk Spanish so communication was not my problem but the fear of falling was. I then stabbed the snow underneath me with my stick to push myself forward. I remember the feeling of starting over, like a fish when out of water doesn’t know what to do or even how.

After 2 hours I knew how to not fall and although I could only slide down the beginners way I was already tasting my little freedom. But my biggest fear was yet to come- however tomorrow was going to be a fresh start I thought. And that’s when I discovered the best type of tired someone could imagine because when you lay down in your bed your feet felt as if they were still sliding down the mountains, melting snow and crushing ice. This is what I would call post-freedom syndrome – when your body craves more for that one moment when your courage has won.

The next day I was on the slopes ready to face it. There was a weird thing that pulls you up the slope. ‘So you place the metal stick in-between your legs, fitting a round shaped lid that goes on your bottom ‘ I thought just to confirm. Of course no one told me that I had to pretend like I wasn’t sitting down because otherwise the little pushchair wouldn’t stay and you just fall on the ground. So I went ahead and sat down and fell. My biggest worry was that I was going to be run over by the other starters. So, with no capability to stand up, my feet just slid different ways (and since I couldn’t do the splits) I just lay there waiting for help.

2nd Year

I was ready to put in test all my previously learned skills. Or at least the idea of not falling again. I knew that the beautiful view was different this time, not only because we were going to a different place but because I had been told it had changed. But I had to see it for myself. But once I reached the top I could see nothing different, so why were people telling me such things? From what I’d learnt it was global warming that was causing the snow and ice to melt. But when I got there I thought that no such thing was happening… There was no evidence. ‘How come this snow hasn’t melted?’ I thought. But at that moment everything else was so overwhelming that that one thing vanished from my mind. A few days had passed and all I could see was snow and ice, and more snow and ice.

But this was until I had a lesson and we took a different route this time- not only because I was improving (well, at least I believed so) but also my teacher was getting slightly bored of the same route for 2 hours per day. So I was a bit nervous but this time we took the chair lift- fancier than the fake chair, I must say, for advanced students. We were skiing down the slope and it was so foggy that the only thing I had to guide me was my teacher’s Spanish voice. ‘iVamonos!’ he would scream ( for those of you don’t know Spanish that means let’s go!). The ride was tranquil and I was so proud of myself that I decided that since my lesson was over, I was going with my family up that track again. And so I did until we got to the final part where the fog decided to lift suddenly. This brutally changed the happy family moment. I was terrified. ‘No, no, no, no!’ I screamed in my mum’s face. I decided that going down was going to be impossible. I sat down and just refused. My mum tried to convince me and even in desperation- frighten me with that one stick. I was literally sitting down in the middle of the track, crying and wishing I did not exist. Let’s just say that I was there for about one hour. And then my mum realised I was not going to get up and have an epiphany so she gave up and went to seek for help. While in the process of calming down I decided to not look down and avoid thinking about my ice diaper (by the way so incredibly painful). I looked to my sides. And I could see the type of slushy ice covering the outsides of the track. I thought ‘Well it actually looks like the ice is melting.’ After 5 minutes I was carried down by a special ice motorcycle. And I thought the incident the year before had been the most embarrassing moment of my life. I was wrong. Why was it high season? There were too many witnesses there. On our way back home I was incredibly silent because of those two words ‘Global Warming’.

_______________________________________________________________________________

I was 11 back there, now I am 15 and realise how this issue is getting worse every second. And for our sake I really do hope that working together we’ll put an end to our self-destruction. The small things matter, let’s save the planet together. And maybe who knows when I am older with my kids I will be able to take them through the same ski tracks but not the same experiences.

We of the Western World

We of the western world

Indeed have the power

To preserve what was once held

But have only acted in the closing hour.

 

We stand protected in our bubble,

With our vast wealth

Protecting us from any trouble,

Wasting what can keep our earth in health.

 

How could it take so long to detect?

Why do we show no sorrow?

We know how to profit but not how to protect

The people of tomorrow.

 

Mo Konteh

Postcards from the Baltic Sea

  1. The Palace of Culture

Before heading towards the Baltic Sea, I have to stop in Warsaw and stay in one of those over heated small hotel rooms which stink of smoke. Well, each time I visit Poland, I get a mixed sense of desolation and nostalgia. Even though this time I come here for the Weather Station’s project to do with the issues of climate change, still, I feel I am a cultural tourist – wandering in those foreign streets reminiscent of some old Polish films I watched when I was in China.  From a historical point of view, one can say Poland is a sorrowful land, that gives an impression like the solemn landscape of Siberia seen through a Dostoevsky novel. As a Chinese growing up in a communist house, we had some interesting ideological connections with East European countries. Bolesław Bierut’s name is still mentioned a lot in post-Mao era China. As I walk along some stately broad street in the center of Warsaw, I feel I am back again in Beijing, passing through a gigantic brutalist urban space, trying to find somewhere agreeable to sit and think. Actually, the more I walk around Warsaw, the more the city resembles for me Harbin – the northern capital of Chinese Manchuria. Harbin has this particular style of architecture that shows up in Warsaw: a mix of classical European mansions and brutalist socialist buildings.

The Palace of Cultural and Science was the place where I screened my film UFO In Her Eyes some years ago. I thought it was a perfect place (a gift from Soviet Union) to screen a film about totalitarianism. The building itself reminds me of my mother. For about twenty years, my mother worked in the Cultural Palace of our hometown Wenling in South East China. The Cultural Palace of my hometown was not as grand as the one here, but its function and its style were very similar – serve the people with well intentioned entertainment. And my mother was proud of her job, until one day the building was torn down along with other socialist buildings in my hometown. For some nostalgic reason, I do hope this grand building survives in Poland, not only symbolically, but also pragmatically, despite its complex ideological background.

  1. Czesław Miłosz

Last night I was drinking with some obscure Polish artists in Café Amatorska, discussing the gloomy future of our planet. ‘Stop worrying! Humans will die, but the planet is not going to die! That will be the scenario. It’s a good scenario as far as other species concerned.’ They told me in Vodka infused loud voices: ‘Human species are over-rated! The most selfish species should have been wiped out long ago’. Obviously this bunch of Poles was not Christians. ‘You know what’s the most ecological way to live?’ A painter stared at me earnestly: ‘It’s this: we humans must stop giving birth. So the most destructive species can eventually die out. Charge me with the crime of Against Humanity? Oh yes, please!’ He concluded bitterly. Perhaps they were right, and were more absolute than me. The night continued with sarcasm. But I have never been a good drinker, nor do I like to indulge in fantasies of an apocalyptic world. So I left early with a headache.

This morning, on a train to the Baltic Sea, I am clear-headed, and want to write again. I enter the dinning car, ordering a bowl of Zurek – Sour Soup – meanwhile reading a book from Czesław Miłosz. Is there any connection between this sour soup and Milosz? There must be. Both are great stuff. Sour soup is one of my favourite Polish dishes. The thick broth comes with a boiled egg and sausages, a hearty thing to eat in the cold weather. Miłosz, the exiled poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, was someone whose poetry I loved reading when I was still writing poems in Beijing. He was hugely important in China with his books – especially ‘The Captive Mind’ and ‘Miłosz’s Alphabet’. Exiled in France then in the USA for 30 years, his writings examined the moral and psychological pressures of life under a totalitarian regime. In that respect, Milosz is similar to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, except the latter went through a much harder life in Stalin’s gulags. I, naturally, feel akin to these writers, especially when they talk about the dilemma of the impossibility of returning to one’s homeland, and the alienation of living in the western ‘free’ world. Even though Miłosz had a good professorial position in California, he still referred to himself as ‘The Wrong Honorable Professor Milosz who wrote poems in some unheard-of tongue’. He returned to Poland after decades of life in the west and died in Kraków at the age of 93.  Some of best lines from Milosz in my opinions are these:

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

 

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

I close the book, thinking back to the conversation we had in Café Amatorska last night about the end of the world. Yes, no one believes it is happening now, as long as the sun and the moon are above.

  1. Gdańsk

It’s a three hour train ride from Warsaw to Gdańsk. I pass the grey yellow plains of April. Ah, northern landscape, I sigh. How ironic that a southern person like me has ended up in the north. All my adult life seems to be about living in the cold and big northern cities: Beijing, London, Berlin, Zurich. And how I dream everyday about returning to a warm and lush semi tropical land. I miss the heat and those big leaves and smelly flowers. In my eyes, those small-leaved northern trees are never as beautiful as the big-leaved tropical plants. But probably there are fewer and fewer big leaved plants surviving in my tropical land. This is not only a metaphor but a reality: the tropical land is going. It only exists in our memory or imagination. It only remains in an anthropologist’s photo archive. The Amazon rainforest appears only enchanting in those well-angled expensively-produced documentary films. Perhaps the day when Claude Lévi-Strauss finished ‘Tristes Tropiques’, the tropical land had already been swallowed by the northern civilization – the process that began in England with the pre-Victorian era factory chimneys.

Gdańsk is another sorrowful place. The most famous thing in recent history about the town is perhaps its German character. After the World War One, Germans formed a majority in the city and Gdańsk was not under Polish sovereignty. In accordance with the terms of the Versailles Treaty, it became the Free City of Danzig. In  1939, Germany invaded Poland and the attack began in Danzig; later on the Soviet Union trashed the city entirely. Double rape! No wonder the country has produced those incredible poets and artists in the last century. But the future of Gdansk looks uncertain – the houses have been re-built after the war but most of houses are empty and unemployment is high. People are poor here, with all their good qualifications fading in their drawers.

I stand by the once famous port, now abandoned, with broken ships and messy cranes lit along the bank. The area by the water is waiting to be ‘developed’, to ‘shine’ again. I try to stretch my imagination, visualizing the newly built budget hotels one after another along the harbor in the next five years, with the holiday makers from all over the word coming here to kill their summer days.

  1. Sopot

This is where the famous ill-tempered German actor Klaus Kinski came from. One could not be totally convinced that the eccentric German cinema icon actually was born in this calm and pretty little Polish beach town. Now the city has a population of 40,000. Most are elderly people, and then many tourists. On the beach, the Royal Hotel stands proudly on the white sand facing the peaceful blue bay. Somehow, those grand family houses remind me of the rich town of Deauville in northern France. Maybe Poland’s Sopot is the Deauville of France, if you restrict the comparison to landscape.

In the local library I meet a little group of readers who were given some photocopied pages of my novel. In fact, three pages out of my four hundred page long novel. They admitted that they didn’t have time to read through my book. One woman told me she hadn’t read a single book for years after she had her baby. ‘Of course, I understand that,’ I reassured her and everyone else: ‘Don’t worry, we will just chat.’ So we talked about the reality of being Polish, being Chinese, being in between German power and Russia power. It seemed to me that everyone preferred to be under German influence rather than Russian influence. ‘And what about Communism?’ I asked. A blonde woman shook her head violently: ‘No, communism kidnapped our freedom. We prefer to hide in the religious’. Then a man from East Germany added: ‘And capitalism. It’s better. There is no freedom anywhere anyway.’

  1. Hel

Hel is a pine-tree covered beautiful peninsular. ‘It is the end and the beginning of Poland’, as the locals jokingly claim. It is so long and slim that nearly every house is located right next by the water, with a great sea view.

We stay in the Marine Station where they have kept members of many endangered sea species in their lab. The grey seal is a big thing in the Marine Station. They even have four infant seals in the pool at the moment. As I stare at one of the large, fat, young seal babies diving in the water, I am almost sardonically surprised that this big sea mammal has managed to survive alongside human world for so long. And their great whiskers! I can only admire them. I am told that when they sleep, if they are in the water, half of their brains remain awake, so they can detect any danger around them. But if they sleep on the land, both sides of their brains go into sleep mode. I wonder, given human’s barbarian nature, wouldn’t the seals be killed more often on the land than in the water? In order to survive, perhaps they have to learn to not sleep at all.

In the noon, there are about 20 middle school students around the age of 15 walking me through the forest by the sea. Most of them are local, born in Hel with their parents working on the island for the fishing and tourism industry. The boys impatiently want to show me all the war remains on the peninsular. The girls are talking to me about the pollution in the sea. We enter the ruins of bunkers which were built during World War II and look at the burnt forest in the southern end of the land. Young, beautiful, but vulnerable, they seem to be hopeful but also fearful to leave this place and to enter the big cities for their future.

‘Hel is the most beautiful place in Poland. Look the sea and the forest here! But I think maybe California is better.’ A 14 year old boy remarks while I gaze into the shimmering sea shore.

Standing by the edge of the water, a naïve but profound question rings in my ears: where is our future? What is our future? Well, I think the sea is our future. The sea is the place that gives birth to everything. Yet, humans don’t want the sea, Humans want the land, the useful land. One of the ancient folksongs from the Baltic Sea region goes like this:

Now I’ll sing the sea into grass, the seashore into fish,
The sea sand into malt, the sea bottom into a field.

‘Can we imagine a human world without the sea? Or, the Planet without the sea?’ I ask the students around me. They look gloomy when hearing such a question. We wander about some more, strolling by the abandoned fortifications one after another under the bright burning sun of Hel.

Falling in Love with Polzeath – Molly Slight

Polzeath - Cornwall

Every summer, my family would pile into two cars at three o’clock in the morning and set off to Polzeath, Cornwall, arriving just as the sun was coming up over the water. Before even checking in to our holiday apartment, we would change into our wetsuits in the car park off the beach and run straight for the sea. If you’ve ever swum in the English Channel – you know how brave this is, even in a wetsuit.

We would surf until our hands turned blue and then struggle up the beach, making lines in the sand where our boards dragged behind us, to the little café where we would buy bacon sandwiches and hot chocolates which scalded our tongues. Other people went to the Caribbean or Malta for their holidays, but sitting on the beach, warming our hands on polystyrene cups until they were pink again, this was perfect for us.

Molly Slight lives in London and works as a Publishing Assistant for Scribe. She escapes to the sea whenever she can.

Thoughts from inspiring quotes.

Martin Luther King JR:’Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.

(“Lets be aware of climate change because its real!”)

Albert Einstein: ‘Anything seems impossible until it is overcome’.

(“How do we know that we can’t prevent global warming if we have not tried enough?”)

We should not be afraid of failing the task ahead of us. This fear of failure should not be an excuse for turning away from looking at the problem of climate change. We have to tackle this task and change it for the better. That is why I believe we have to make the world’s leaders and peoples realise that change needs to begin as soon as possible before sea levels rise even higher, before any more species become extinct due to natural disasters, before vast bushfires occur, before severe droughts and floods take place in the next 50 years or even less and before countless more disasters that are just waiting to happen!

Anas Ahmadzai

 

The Island’s Caretaker

By Mirko Bonne February 17, 2015

Tell It to the Bees: Australian Journal 16

My fear of the sea floor’s rapid drop into the submarine night beyond the reef, of encountering a moray, a fear as old as my thoughts of what could happen if a shark, a spider crab, a school of poisonous jellyfish trailing yard-long strands of burning nettle hooks, a grouper… my fear that panic could seize me in the water is too great for me to go swimming and snorkeling with the rest of the group. I gaze out at the water. I don’t dive, but my eyes dive down.

Suppenschildkröte

A pale turquoise sea turtle lollops past. A fish swims by so close to the boat that I freeze in wonder: so big, so bright red, almost perfectly round and striped black. And several pale-brown sharks, not very big, but big enough, circle around, crouching as it were, making a school of fusilier fish part before their flat snouts and whir off in different directions like finches before a buzzard.

After returning to the ship, several snorkelers post the photos they’ve just taken on Facebook or wherever, while I gaze over at Woody Island, a clump of mangroves where access is forbidden, and probably impossible. At least I certainly wouldn’t survive there long, what with my fear of those creatures waiting for God knows what in the salty mud between the tidal trees.

Bell Rock-Leuchtturm vor ArbroathOn Low Island there’s a lighthouse that was imported from Scotland in the 19th century – it might even be the work of one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s relatives, who were among Scotland’s leading lighthouse builders.

The island where the Scottish lighthouse stands is so tiny that a ten minutes’ walk takes me past the same seagull standing just as before in the sand, looking at me questioningly.

A museum little larger than a bicycle shed covers the history of Low Island, the first island in the Great Barrier Reef to produce all its electricity solely from the wind and the sun. But then, it has only one inhabitant.Low Isles

And not always the same one. The island’s caretaker switches every three weeks; the Low Isles Preservation Society LIPS organizes the volunteers. The “Sailaway IV”, a sailing catamaran whose diesel motor is used only near the coast, is taking the past weeks’ caretaker back to Port Douglas: a stocky elderly lady who talks about the cooperation between the LIPS and the local aborigines.

The skipper of the “Sailaway” recalls a caretaker from his boyhood. In 1972 the man took his two sons out to the island in a dinghy to save them from an approaching storm, and none of the three was ever seen again.

The only person shocked by the story is me. After all, Australia is the continent of disappearance, so much so that you have to wonder whether Australia as a whole won’t vanish from the earth someday, just like that.

WallabyEverything disappears here. Person after person gets lost in the outback. Whole swathes of land burn. A tornado destroys the sugar cane harvest. A prime minister sinks into a kelp forest. Animal species seem to die out overnight. A river dries up. People clear forests that for thousands of years have housed koalas, and bats that exist hardly anywhere else in the whole endangered batless world.

Everything belongs to an endangered species, everything is endangered, mangroves, platypuses, dingoes, parrots that now exist only in zoos. Restaurants catering to day-trippers keep pythons in glass cases, and barbed-wire cages house wallabies with eyes so sad that they bring you to your knees. No one knows whether the Tasmanian tiger still exists. They’re looking for it, but decades on, it still hasn’t been found.

Lagoons turn into train stations; droughts devastate a region as large as the great country of Poland. Tasmania’s aborigines were wiped out, except for one woman and one man. And another man, charged with the care of a coral island, rides out onto the sea with his sons in a little motor boat.

He rides and rides and rides and rides and doesn’t even notice that he and the two boys are long dead.

Photos: green turtle (1), lighthouse at Arbroath, Scotland, built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather (2), the Low Isles in the Great Barrier Reef: Woody Island, left, and Low Island, right (3), Wallaby (4)

 

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole