A Quartet

by Gretel Ehrlich


Slowly if at all, the aspens’ last gold withers, the undressed Earth’s slow burn. Every season misshapen, the planet skewered on its axis en brochette. Early snow, when it does come, is a form of exhaustion.

Twilight to dark. No boundaries, no life-raft, no rescue. I’m neither man nor woman in search of sonnet or elegy: groundlessness is its own form.

How long has the carrying capacity of the planet been exceeded?

I’m leaving in a few hours, hounded out of my heart’s home by ozone blasts, carcinogenic hydrocarbons in local groundwater, the aggression of traffic, noise, prostitution, drug use, land abuse, and animal deaths coming from Sublette County’s Jonah Field and the Pinedale Anticline, where 4,500 more wells will go in soon.

A last, lonely chipmunk climbs the log walls of my cabin and peers through the window until we are eye to eye. He asks to be let in as if he’d forgotten how to hibernate. I’d gladly open the door for him. “Have at it,” I’d say, but when a snowflake hits the back of his head he flees.

I drive the length of the hundred-mile-long wall of mountains—my Wyoming home—where more than a million more acres of valley floor, the Green River, and foothill moraine between the Gros Ventres, the Wyoming Range, and the Wind River Mountains is about to be divied up by oil companies for drilling.

We humans have made a world where common sense, compassion, and care for each other and the planet have become rarities. Yet that same world keeps sending messages: two blue herons fly from opposite directions toward each other and meet midair. They squawk and call, then one turns and, joining the other, flies wing to wing.

The Earth cannot be managed for monetary profit only. To survive, biological health must come first, real wealth counted in human creativity and solar dollars.

I’m driving behind a long line of Halliburton trucks when the end of the cordillera comes into view. Beyond is Brown’s Park, Killpecker Dunes. I’m perched on some edge, even while moving, “hanging ten” on the eve of extinction. Is this a natural part of species diminution?

Up north, ice shelves break and sea ice is leaf-floating on the gold ocean’s rising empire. Autumn ends. As we drive, I try to register how it feels not “to be.”