The swamp was cypress forest within your parents’ lifetime; it will be open water within yours.
Death and the Midden
The swamps of Southern Louisiana are deep wells of iconography. In pictures, stories, legends and tchotchkes, the swamp and its denizens occupy a space of allegory larger and far healthier than what remains of the swamp’s miserable, mostly destroyed reality.
Experienced directly over a span of years, the swamp in actuality is a depressing Global South trash-heap, gutted and ruined at an every-accelerating rate by global industries. These days, to spend any length of time in the swamp is to understand it’s too late for the swamp. It’s poisoned; it’s ravaged beyond recovery. We’re just working out the last few variables of the equation’s already obvious result.
The tipping point is far back. The balance of the swamp’s life, the complex interplay of flora, fauna, tides and weather that comprise its intricate algebra, was fatally skewed long ago, first by the region’s logging boom in the late 19th century, and later by the petrochemical industry.
The very canals by which we navigate the swamp are tunnels carved through its guts, infected bullet-wounds aerating its organs. The timber industry dug the first canals, to expedite clear-cutting; the oil industry dug many more. Salt from the Gulf of Mexico has flowed into those injuries, poisoning the swamp at least as seriously as the constant spills and effectively unregulated effluvium from the refineries.
Those refineries glitter now on the swamp’s periphery, their towers topped with eternal flames, cybernetic future-cities expressly built to generate toxins in quantities sufficient to satiate the ravenous realities of late capitalism. These Blade Runner-looking post-nationalist metropolises each gush a million gallons of toxins, both liquid and gaseous, daily into the swamp; they’ve been doing so for decades.
The swamp is still beautiful, but it’s a morbid beauty. The time I spend in it speaks to me of death: my own death, the swamp’s death, and the inevitable and incipient death of everything I’ve ever known.
Come with me into the swamp, into the dumping ground for all the breakthroughs made by all the bright and clever chemists, scientists and engineers. This is the sacrifice zone, and most of you reading this will outlive it. This swamp was cypress forest within your parents’ lifetime; it will be open water within yours.