The Chincoteague National Seashore (technically on Assateague Island) is lovely: long, flat, and wide, a gentle slope, like a shinbone, cappuccino-colored sands pushed around by the whooshing, foamy, cold green Atlantic—an angry god armed with a broom—and looking inland, a panorama of marsh and bay spotted with green reeds and white egrets, a distant pine forest across the inlet, and aside from the broad red and white bands of the lighthouse, built in 1833, no structures to mar the view, whether you’re looking in or looking out, and, when we were there, in early June, a few weeks before tourist season begins in earnest, it was all more or less tranquil. Except, of course, for this one battle.
Down in the surf, right where the waves were breaking, a young woman in one of those one-piece suits with a skirt-thing on the hips was pulling assiduously on a black cable maybe fifteen feet in length. The cable was somehow stuck in the sand, and it wouldn’t come up, even after ten minutes of yanking. Little kids were playing in the water all around, boogie-boarding and body surfing. But the harder she pulled, the longer it grew. The four of us watching—Tom, Will, Evan, and myself—were fascinated. What the hell was this wire doing lurching from the sea? Theories abounded—the plug that would drain the ocean, a whisker of a giant hibernating catfish that would rise to eat us all, something related to the production and/or distribution of methamphetamine. Turns out it was less funny, but much scarier.
When I was little, my grandparents would take me to Chincoteague. Back then—maybe twenty years ago—there were structures on the edge of the beach: high, grassy sand dunes, a long boardwalk connecting them, and, the centerpiece, a huge bathhouse in the parking lot. And it turned out that this wire now in the crashing surf used to be an electrical cable under that bathhouse. This means that since I was maybe ten, Chincoteague Island has lost roughly a quarter-mile of its beach. The tides, it seems, are indeed rising.
Peter, you recently wrote a Weather addressing climate change. It was a fine, fine rant, and dude, I’m right with you. But this philosopher urges us to rethink what we mean by “ecology,” and to embrace not nature, but our artificiality—that nature is, like those “poor polar bears” everyone’s so inexplicably enamored of, too dangerous to hug, to reconcile with, and that we should instead learn to love our waste as our nature, our new nature. And I understand this point. I love to see wires—electrical cables, phone cables, TV cables—crisscrossing streets in older neighborhoods, great big clumps of them, tangles, medusas, clamped onto transformers. It’s nostalgic, remarkably slap-dash, like a Rube Goldberg setup, and all in the open, too, not hidden—that’s the main thing. I dislike these new neighborhoods with their cables buried underground, as if they’re cleaner or something, as if the imperfection of exposed wire reminds them of some fundamental error, some original sin they can’t handle and so instead choose to hide, to ignore, to sweep under their rugs of sod. But wires are all right by me. We are, after all, imperfect, scarred. We are intestinal. We should admit that.
Zoe House had, as a group, just that one full day at the beach. And I’d like to say this was due wholly to our diligence, that we set a limit to sunning and body surfing and furtively drinking Bud Light Lime out of Diet Mountain Dew bottles, that we stuck to our guns and that in committing ourselves to duty we actually did find liberation, as the philosophers have promised, and the retreat was in its entirety a triumph of our collective will, and well won—but that’s not the whole story. The whole story is: the beach was pretty far away. Plus, it’s a National Seashore, which means entry cost a minimum of like seven dollars.
But to be fair, that first part really is most of the story. We worked hard and long. We let loose a few times. And since Chincoteague, I’ve been floundering, trying to regain my footing, to find a routine as steady and synchronized as my footfalls were with Will on our daily runs. It was the first time in a long time, maybe ever, that I felt I’d embarked on something like a career, on a long track—that writing was sustainable. And it was because all of us in Zoe House were all-in, that we too were a rising tide, had in our group harnessed something that to me is nothing less than a force of nature: something that made writing—writing!—seem possible, and even, in the best moments, fucking practical. Because, really, why fight nature when you can become it? When you are nature, wires and all?
And I’ll tell you that for a while there, we were. But that might be all those Bud Light Limes talking. Because my tan’s faded. And writing is hard again. And I’m back to living on my adjunct budget, to paying the electric bill, to life below the poverty line, adjusting myself to this new climate. Our victories stack up like empty bottles. But they’re beautiful that way, aren’t they? Or at least, that’s the idea.
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.