It flooded here today. We saw it coming, but didn’t. The warnings were clear, but insufficient. We knew the rain was coming and the rivers would rise, but they crested above the claimed heights and the water found more places to go than it seemed anyone was expecting. The ground shifted and fell, trees dropped, roads crumbled. It feels as though we’re all still figuring out what just happened.
I live on the North Coast of Oregon. Maybe you’ve heard the news about the storms here in the Northwest. It rained and rained last night, after having rained and rained Monday night, and the winds whipped and the ocean rose high. I live outside of Nehalem, a town that was partially underwater much of today. I live along the North Fork of the Nehalem River, which spread itself wide and far today.
The Tillamook County Pioneer‘s headline earlier today sums it up well: “a virtual archipelago of communities separated by floodwater, landslides.” Even as we’ve called and texted, emailed and updated statuses, we’ve been cut off from one another out here on the Oregon coast. I can’t get south past Wheeler, the nearby small town. My roommate couldn’t even get into Nehalem to her job. All three routes were flooded. So we hunkered down, lucky enough to have electricity and a wood stove and the internet. Cars drove fruitlessly back and forth on the rural highway we live on, searching for a route out that didn’t exist.
Earlier this afternoon, I walked out into the fields around my house, wandering toward the wide expanse of water a few hundred yards away. Sheep and cows live next to me, and I visited them, said hello, checked to see how they were doing. They seemed largely nonplussed, if perhaps curious to see if I had any good food for them. I didn’t. I pressed on, a coffee cup in hand, wandering along the small creek that had turned into more of a river, leaving its bank and cutting out into new paths and tributaries. A large expanse of the adjacent field was silted from the night’s more heavy flow. A portion of fencing had swept away. Walking down the raised, gravel path with a herd of heifers following dutifully behind, I came to the edge of the water and stood there looking out. It spread wide and muddy and flowed languid, at least on the surface. A few more daring bovine crept up close behind me and I stood still for them, until one started sniffing and licking at my rain jacket—a favorite past time, it seems, based on other past experiences with them—and we played a small game of feints as I would reach to touch her snout, she would pull away, I would turn my back, and she would next be snuffling and licking at my shoulders and neck.
It was lovely in its way. And yet, around me a wide variety of people seemed to be at a loss, based on my readings of social media and the local news sources. They were cut off, with roads closed that weren’t supposed to be. The emergency crews and county employees did not have any easy answers as they rushed from one bit of broken infrastructure to another, put up signs and cones, warned people, and then moved to the next emergency. People wanted to know when they could drive from one town to another, but the answers still haven’t come. Hours, maybe days. Perhaps it will end up being longer. No one knows for sure. I watched cars drive back and forth in front of my house. Maybe they were just sightseeing, but they seemed lost for lack of the usual and established routes.
This feels to me why we need stories. The routes we know and come to take for granted are not always going to be there. Increasingly in a world that seems ready to come apart at the seams, we are going to have to strike out on new paths and make our peace with the collapsing roads of old. The floods that hit us today here on the North Coast are hardly unique. They’re the worst I’ve seen, granted, but I’ve only been here about five years. As bad or worse happened in 2007, in 1996, and yet farther back. And worse will happen in the future.
It feels as if worse is going to become more and more common. And as we continue to hit the limits of our shortsighted and destructive behavior, the epic storms and crumbling infrastructure, the social chaos, the economic and political dysfunction, and the straight refusal of natural systems to continue to play along is going to hit us harder and harder.
These are the ways we’ll decline. The storms will be worse than expected, the rivers will rise faster than we thought, and the infrastructure we rely on and take advantage of will crumble easier than we imagined. We’ll pick up the pieces, but it will get harder and harder. The costs will become more and more burdensome. And we’ll keep shedding our complexity and comforts as a result.
As those limits bite, we’ll need new stories to point us forward to different ways of living and unimagined ways of coping. We face loss and disruption—material and psychological. We can only do so much about the material, but we can do quite a lot about the psychological. We can prepare ourselves for the loss and disruption and, as a result, we can face it as gracefully as possible when it comes. We can prepare ourselves for hard times we never expected and, when faced with those trouble, work to make the situation better rather than collapse under the weight of failed expectations.
That hope—that we may be very limited in the degree to which we can change the coming hard times, but that we can prepare ourselves for it and face it better as a result—is one of the key drivers behind my desire to take on this project. Into the Ruins is a venue for imagined new paths and routes, for different ways of moving forward in the world that aren’t dependent upon the destructive and self-defeating patterns of our present culture. It’s one of many ways I hope to prepare for the future and make it a small bit better.
What’s yours? Write us a letter. Tell us why you think stories of a future different than the ones so commonly imagined in our culture are important. Tell us what you see coming and what you’re doing about it. We want to launch our first issue with a robust letters section, even though we don’t yet have issues and stories for you to respond to. Tell us instead about the future, about the stories you want to see, about why different narratives are so important. We’ll publish the best, and we’ll get the conversation started. Full details are on the Letters to the Editor page.
Feel free to comment below, as well. I plan to update this blog on occasion with thoughts, musings, and news about Into the Ruins. I also want this to be a venue for conversation about the magazine, about deindustrial and post-industrial science fiction, and about the future and our predicament in general. Keep it lively, but keep it respectful. Thanks.
– Joel, Editor & Publisher