American Pastoral for the 21st Century
creative nonfiction by Emily Lake Hansen
My kindergartener is confused about seasons. When I tell him, pointing to the date of the equinox, that fall starts in September, he frowns as if he’s been betrayed by the calendar. In September, after all, where he’s lived his whole life in Georgia, it’s still so hot we sweat on the walk to school each morning. How do you teach the idea of a thing, I wonder, when the thing itself is disappearing?
I envision a sentence in a futureworld textbook: the Allosaurus found fall to be the most advantageous season as it was then that prey got clumsy, easier to catch in their slow preparations for winter.
From February to September in Georgia it rains. As if spring and summer have been replaced by one long monsoon season. Some months so much rain falls that our basement floods and we wear rain boots to move the laundry. From ages 5 to 11, the ages my children span now, I lived in California. There, from the pink sky, no rain ever fell.
“You won’t be able to go back,” my husband says. “They’re drinking ocean water in San Diego now. Wastewater in Orange County.” What lengths we’ll go to, I think, to make home potable.
In Georgia, we debate collecting rain. Constructing a fountain. A pool. How much I’ve always loved to swim. What will I do one day without an ocean? When all of earth’s lakes have dried back to dust and there is nowhere left to swim?
Inside me, the cities of my childhood – the mountains of Virginia, the snowfalls of Maine, the seals making homes of California, the bayous receding along the Gulf Coast – sing competing elegies for the centuries they’ll never see. I hum them as I walk my son into his classroom, wonder what dirge he’ll one day sing for this place where he grew up.
All the rain, at least, has fruited our backyard trees. “Look,” my son points, his eyes blue-green as earth, to the small buds that bloom around the yard: cherries, peaches, blackberry brambles, even strawberries underfoot.
“No matter what we do,” I tell him, “Earth is always trying to feed us.”
What else does it mean to be an American except to look at the sky falling and insist we will come out okay? We pluck a peach from a tree limb in early March. Nothing should grow yet. Nothing should be ripe. But the fruit is flesh and flutter already. Juice.
Emily Lake Hansen received her MFA from Georgia College & State University and is currently a PhD candidate in poetry and creative nonfiction at Georgia State University. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in OxMag, The McNeese Review, So to Speak, Hobart, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Her full-length memoir was recently selected as a finalist for the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award.