Apocalypse of Castor – What has man done to the environment?

THE APOCALYPSE OF CASTOR

 

It may be true that more of Earth is dry

and barren now than in the years gone by.

These ancient documents I’m sorting through

for history worth passing on to you

refer quite frequently to seas and lakes

or mountain forests cloaked with trees and brakes.

The fact that I myself have never seen

that sort of vegetation, doesn’t mean

such wooded highlands never did exist.

The Swamp, for instance, thick with fetid mist

and crocodiles and water snakes and all,

which many senior tribesmen still recall,

may be, a generation hence, dismissed

as dreamery by some mythologist.

“Our gaffers tell some good ones,” they will say

when present witnesses have passed away;

though many of us saw this, in our youth.

We shouldn’t hastily dismiss the truth

of anything the Tribal Archives say.

I try to meet mythology halfway.

 

The Beavers, in their artificial bogs,

who build their wigwams out of mud and logs,

had little use for apes; yet our first clue

that anyone outside our number knew

that God exists, was furnished by a sage

of Beaverkind, in that forgotten age.

Crude ogham symbols, gnawed on sticks, comprise

their tribal books–yet some of them were wise.

A brave of Eden, scouting to survey

a mountain valley, looking for a way

across a stream–some ford the Tribe could take–

surprised a beaver, near his homemade lake.

Our tribesman, moving stealthily between

the beaver and the water, wasn’t seen

until, confronting him with spear in hand

he challenged him, presenting his demand:

. “I’m not exactly hunting,” he declared,

“so maybe there’s a chance that you’ll be spared,

if you possess the common curtesy

to satisfy my curiosity.”

The beaver answered, in a level voice:

“I guess I haven’t got a lot of choice.”

Our tribesman asked him first which ford was best

and afterward described our tribal Quest:

“For centuries,” he said, “we’ve searched for God–

an enterprise which some consider odd.

Can you, or maybe someone else you know,

explain to me exactly where to go?”

He wasn’t pleased to hear the beaver say,

“Your tribe could waste a lot of time that way.”

“And would you call us fools for doing so?”

the ape demanded, javelin poised to throw.

“I’d better warn you, those who waste their breath

disputing our beliefs, get put to death!”

The beaver yawned, and nonchalantly said,

“I knew a wizard, once (now long since dead),

who had some ancient legends to relate.

There’s one I think you might appreciate.

Perhaps you’ll spare my life some moments more

to let me share this entertaining lore.

He told me he in turn had known a sage

who said he’d heard, at quite an early age,

from some historian his father met

–who’d gotten it from older sources yet–

this myth, to which our forebears once inclined:

“In long-forgotten ages out of mind

this Middle World was planned and built by God,

with sky and water, woods and brush and sod,

according to a well-intended plan

to make a home for Sentient Life. Then Man

was designated Guardian of Life

to moderate our ecologic strife

and intervene when some disruptive force

in Nature veered it from its normal course.

“But men devised a wholly different plan

than God envisioned, when the world began.

In human beings’ arrogant opinion

God had given them complete dominion

over all the land they could subdue

and everything that swam, or crept, or flew.

They also felt they had a valid deed

to ‘every tree with fruit which yieldeth seed.’

‘Replenish all the Earth; subdue the place;’

their Scripture told them. ‘Multiply thy race.

The fear of human beings, and the dread

shall be on every other creature’s head,

with everything which creepeth on the land

or swims the sea, delivered to thine hand.’

“In other words, they totally declined

responsibilities which God assigned,

and brashly took possession of the place

by dispossessing every other race.

Unkillable, few humans ever died.

Their greedy populations multiplied.

At first in scattered settlements, but then

in swelling multitudes, the tribes of men

appropriated forests, plains and hills,

remolding all the world to suit their wills.

Our forests toppled, not just bit by bit,

but acres every day, to make them fit

for ranches, towns and roads. They drained the bogs

and marshes, killing off the fish and frogs

and robbing waterfowl of needed space

to nest and raise their young. The human race

became unchallenged tyrants of the Earth

in every land throughout its length and girth;

and those adapting to their harsh behests,

who lived among them, were considered ‘pests.’

“Man saw creation as a gift to him,

to use according to his carefree whim,

so every patch of wilderness became

a challenge–something to subdue and tame.

The rivers could be used for dumping waste.

The ‘unproductive’ woodlands were replaced

with acres of prefabricated shacks,

or factories with richly-smoking stacks,

or sprawling highway mazes, nicely banked

for breakneck speed. Such roads were always flanked

with billboards, placed to shield the travelers’ eyes

from natural landscapes humans so despise.

The scenery that humans liked to see

was that reflecting ‘Human Industry.’

Until the vegetation was removed,

and concrete poured, they called it ‘unimproved.’

One thing a human being couldn’t stand

was unexploited, unproductive land.

He viewed each bush, or herb, or uncut tree

as ‘wilderness’–his hated enemy,

to be remolded to his own desire

with axe and plow, or steam and steel and fire.

Where water flowed, he rushed to fill it in

with cardboard, broken glass and rusty tin.

Unblemished bark of trees, and unmarred cliffs

were beautified with carved or painted glyphs.

Old beer cans and graffiti seemed to grace

the least-developed, most-unlikely, place.

Where dwindling tracts of old-growth timber stood,

the humans saw them as a source of wood.

The ground it occupied, until replaced

with streets and parking lots, had ‘gone to waste.’

To speed development of woods and plains,

they drenched such areas with acid rains.

The poison vapors from refineries

despatched unsightly flowers, grass and trees.

To staunch the flow of rivers, dams were built.

Dry channels filled with trash, dead fish, and silt.

The seas were beautified, with little toil,

by filming them with tankerloads of oil.

Pelagic life then decorated each

delightful, oily, carcass-littered beach.

The sky–that huge, oppressive pall of blue–

presented problems, but was conquered too:

the megatons of coal the humans burned

spewed forth its acrid overcasts, and turned

the azure hue to one which men preferred:

a yellow-gray unmarred by any bird.

The world was one enormous garbage can

for jetsam from the Industries of Man,

whose fondest aspiration was to make

a lifeless cesspool out of every lake,

a gravel pit or mine of every hill,

a sewer of every river, rank with swill.

They couldn’t stand the world the way things were

–or so their labors gave us to infer.

“To human beings, all the ‘lower’ breeds

existed to fulfill their ‘owners’ needs.

We beavers weren’t the only ones whose hide

became an ornament to human pride;

nor was our exploitation half as bad

as others’; beaver hats were just a fad.

For many, mankind’s interest didn’t pall

till species were extinct beyond recall.

Some birds were harvested for plumes. Some died

from eating hand-me-down insecticide.

Those species serving none of men’s behests

were locked in zoos, or massacred as pests.

The animals they’d captured and enslaved

were all the choosy humans wanted saved.

They penned the ungulates in captive herds

to breed for meat. They clipped the wings of birds

and caged them under artificial light

to dupe them into feeding day and night,

producing tender viands men preferred.

They genocided every beast or bird

that was by nature difficult to tame,

or poached on settled lands, in quest of game.

“Admittedly, all species have to eat.

Are wolves unethical, who slay for meat?

But humans killed from simple lust for blood,

and left their victims rotting in the mud.

Not many species managed to adapt,

and those who found themselves disliked, were trapped

in isolated plots of wilderness

whose acreage every year grew less and less,

and where fun-loving sportsmen roved at will

on well-paved roads, in search of things to kill.”

 

 

 

 

 

THE APOCALYPSE OF CASTOR (concluded)

 

“We beavers are a patient race. We’d learned

to wait till Balance naturally returned–

the classic Laissez-faire hypothesis,

which always worked in olden times. But this

held good no longer. Eighty centuries

of mankind’s unabashed atrocities

at last convinced us we would have to take

some urgent steps, correcting God’s mistake.

“Our wisest wizards came from far and near,

assembling on a hill, not far from here.

They spent a week or more in deep debate,

for their Responsibility was great.

They had an awesome Moral Choice to make:

to “wait and see”–or drastic measures take.

However they decided, they would be

maligned and hated for eternity

by God, by Nature, or by humankind–

no easy burden on a sentient mind.

They studied every issue hard and long.

In interfering, were they right or wrong?

“The fires of Industry were burning high.

Sulfuric acid vapors filled a sky

distinctly altered from its former hue

to yellow-gray, without a hint of blue.

The few remaining trees were stark and bare,

bereft of leaves by acid-laden air.

The barren hills were scored with deep ravines

where ores were rooted out by Man’s machines.

The seas were thick with oil and choked with waste.

The Earth was dying. There was need for haste,

the wizards all agreed. They could not wait.

In one more year, they’d be a year too late.

 

“For seven nights they watched the wheeling stars

till Saturn stood in quadrature with Mars.

Below the wizards’ hill a pit of slime

had processed garbage since the dawn of time–

a fit material for imagery

to represent depraved humanity.

A crumbling stonehenge lay in heaps nearby.

The Moon was on the cusp of Gemini,

and entering its most malefic phase.

The sky with evil omens was ablaze:

The Star of Sudden Changes, Uranus,

was in the Human Sign, Aquarius,

and would, a fortnight hence, afflict the Sun.

“Our wizards all agreed what must be done,

and saw they had to finish their design

before the Moon arrived in Saturn’s Sign.

They gathered gruesome objects to enrich

the Symbolism of the slimy pitch–

the teeth and entrails of poisoned rats,

the legs of roaches and the fangs of bats,

the eyes and tongues of vultures who had died

from eating carrion killed by pesticide.

The brain and heart and kidneys of a Sloth,

whose species men destroyed, enriched the Broth.

However they abhorred their ghoulish work,

this race with death was one they couldn’t shirk;

and as they worked the wizards chanted low

a Spell recalled from countless years ago

when raw, primeval Chaos used to range

the world, before the Age of Cyclic Change.

The words were harsh and horrible to hear,

inspiring even wolverines with fear.

“The beaver wizards labored thirteen days

to trap the mutagenic lunar rays.

They dredged up mounds of pitch, and then began

to mold them into effigies of Man.

One dozen images, there had to be,

depicting humankind in travesty.

On each of these, a potent Ogham rune

directed emanations from the Moon,

to harness and control its fickle rays

in slow, and relatively-harmless, ways–

for beavers do not act from mere revenge.

“They dragged the loathsome icons to the ‘henge

to place among the ruins, in a row.

The sickled Moon emerged from Scorpio.

The time remaining just sufficed for us.

As Luna traversed Sagittarius,

the wizards drew the Trifid Heptagon

–the ghastly Pentacle of Babylon–

and sang an ancient sorcery, so old

its age would never be believed, if told,

and so horrendous in its potency

that some who heard them lost their sanity.

The Moon turned black, conjoined the setting Sun

and entered Capricorn.

“The task was done.

A blast of lightning ripped the murky sky

from Ursa Major clear to Gemini.

An angry roar of thunder shook the world.

From sundered mountains, flaming rocks were hurled.

Our chanting wizards cringed in guilty fear,

and wished they’d never chosen their career.

The very bedrock, outraged by their spell,

gave violent shudders, felt as far as Hell;

and out across the Middle World a horde

of unseen, liberated Demons poured:

the minions of the Spell, who would enforce

far-reaching changes in the future’s course.

Then all subsided, in a pall of death.

For forty minutes, no one heard a breath.

 

“Ostensibly, the world remained unchanged–

except that certain Stars were rearranged.

The Star of Sudden Changes had regressed,

and was conjoined with Venus, in the west.

The once-familiar astrologic signs

were twisted into nameless new designs.

The baneful Pleiades had shifted east

so Pluto’s latent rays had been released

by quincunx aspect with them. Mercury

was combust, having shifted one degree.

“Astronomers among the human race

were baffled: How could stars be out of place

according to their telescopes and books?

“The beavers were exchanging knowing looks

in conscience-stricken silence. Very few

of Earth’s inhabitants knew what they knew,

or bore the monstrous burden in their hearts

that meddling with the Universe imparts.

They’d acted slowly and with great restraint,

but knew they bore a lifelong moral taint.

“Though still the chimneys smoked, and boilers burned,

and slag-heaps sprawled, and Wheels of Progress turned,

the Spell was woven. Humankind was cursed.

The wizards, burdened with regrets, dispersed.

 

“One year thereafter, every time the Moon

grew full enough to activate a rune,

it made some supernatural form replace

another twelfth of all the human race.

They suddenly awoke to find themselves

transformed to pixies, goblins, sprites or elves,

with all the special attributes of mind

and outward shapes peculiar to each kind.

As elves and dryads, they forsook their homes

and looked for wooded country. Trolls and gnomes

bored into hillsides. Towns of humankind

deprived of their inhabitants, declined

to hamlets in the midst of ghost towns, then

to ruins, then to wilderness again.

With passing years, the skies began to clear

as rainfall rinsed the filthy atmosphere.

Resurgent Nature slowly spread again

across the asphalt deserts built by men.

 

“And thus,” the beaver said, “our timely aid

repaired the tragic blunder God had made

in giving humans regency of Earth–

a role in which they showed their real worth.

The human race, divided into twelve

went separate ways to fly or swim or delve

in air, and earth, and water; and enjoy

the world they once had labored to destroy.

And, legend says, our wizards’ mighty curse

went on for years creating forms diverse

to which those twelve new shapes of humankind

were further subdivided and refined.

I’m sure there must be more than twelve today–

some half a hundred at the least, I’d say;

yet every type believes itself to be

the True Original Humanity.

“With Man dispersed, we other sentient forms

of life resumed our old instinctive norms,

on plain or mountain safely to reside,

no longer under threat of genocide.

That’s why the world’s the way it is today

with creatures living every natural way,

instead of making each minority

conform to mankind’s harsh priority–

and humankind itself transmuted to

the supernatural beings known to you,

confined to native forest, field and fen,

from which we’ll never let them rise again!

“But, as I said, I heard this long ago.

You say I’ve called you fools? That isn’t so;

for though this tale’s recorded in our lore,

Not even fools believe it any more.”

 

And while the ape debated what to do,

the beaver, with a splash, was out of view.