Rising Dispatches from the new American shore

Elizabeth A. Rush

Book - 2018

"Harvey. Maria. Irma. Sandy. Katrina. We live in a time of unprecedented hurricanes and catastrophic weather events, a time when it is increasingly clear that climate change is neither imagined nor distant--and that rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways. In this highly original work of lyrical reportage, Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and from New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish in place. Weaving firsthand accounts from those facing this choice--a Staten Islander who lost her father during Sandy, th...e remaining holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles, a neighborhood in Pensacola settled by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago--with profiles of wildlife biologists, activists, and other members of the communities both currently at risk and already displaced, Rising privileges the voices of those usually kept at the margins. At once polyphonic and precise, Rising is a shimmering meditation on vulnerability and on vulnerable communities, both human and more than human, and on how to let go of the places we love." -- Amazon.com.

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 551.457/Rush Checked In
Travel writing
Minneapolis, Minnesota : Milkweed Editions 2018.
Main Author
Elizabeth A. Rush (author)
First edition
Physical Description
299 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 269-299).
  • The Password: Jacob's Point, Rhode Island
  • Part 1. Rampikes
  • Persimmons: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana
  • On Gratitude: Laura Sewall: Small Point, Maine
  • The Marsh at the End of the World: Phippsburg, Maine
  • Pulse: South Florida
  • On Reckoning: Dan Kipnis: Miami Beach, Florida
  • Part 2. Rhizomes
  • On Storms: Nicole Montalto: Oakwood Beach, Staten Island
  • Divining Rod: Oakwood Beach, Staten Island
  • On Vulnerability: Marilynn Wiggins: Pensacola, Florida
  • Risk: Pensacola, Florida
  • On Opportunity: Chris Brunet: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana
  • Goodbye Cloud Reflections in the Bay: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana
  • Part 3. Rising
  • Connecting the Dots: H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon
  • On Restoration: Richard Santos: Alviso, California
  • Looking Backward and Forward in Time: San Francisco Bay, California
  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
Review by New York Times Review

A drowned world: It's an ancient fear and a very old story. Noah and his biblical flood, a taie likely descended from the even older story of Utnapishtim in the "Epic of Gilgamesh," but there is also Da Yu and the flood that supposedly inspired China's imperial feats of hydraulic engineering, Brahma and Manu, and, perhaps oldest of all, the 10,000-year-old tales of certain indigenous peopies of Australia, who sing of homelands lost beneath the rising waves at the end of the last ice age. Most of these tales take the form of a warning and an elegy, and now Elizabeth Rush's deeply felt "Rising" joins that long tradition. This is a book about language, first and foremost, a literary approach to a realworld problem. So while facts and figures do find their way in, conveying how fast the waters will rise or how far the sea may ultimately intrude, they are not the main focus, unlike, say, in Cynthia Barnett's illuminating and gorgeous "Rain: A Natural and Cultural History." Instead, this book is interested in a new vocabulary - using words like "rampike" (a tree killed by saltwater intrusion) or the naturalist's lingo of tupelo, catbrier and bull (rush, not animal). As Rush argues: "I believe that language can lessen the distance between humans and the world of which we are a part; I believe that it can foster interspecies intimacy and, as a result, care." Just as a wetland can adapt to rising sea levels through the process known as accretion - the slow buildup of organic material as the marsh lives and dies - so too does the accretion of detail here help make the case that the seas have already risen as a result of human-driven global warming, affecting Americans who confront this change on every coast with feelings of loss, fear and confusion. Even the maps have changed; in the most recent government surveys, Louisiana has shed the names of 31 bayous and other coastal features. Those bayous have slipped beneath the waves of living memory, along with some 1,900 square miles of land. As befits a literary effort, the writing strives for beauty: A persimmon from Isle de Jean Charles becomes a "shiny globe," "full of sun and the little freshwater that still snakes its way along the island's stubborn spine." Rush captures nature with precise words that almost amount to poetry; the book is further enriched with illuminating detail from the lives of those people inhabiting today's coasts. But language raises as many questions as it answers in the case of this crisis. What distinguishes a refugee from a migrant from an exile? When does retreat become flight? What is wisdom versus recalcitrance, and who determines what makes a happy home? The American language seems to lack the words to adequately capture this creeping calamity, the words that will help Americans comprehend the future, accept the fact that the waters will rise and continue to rise for decades and centuries thanks both to melting glaciers and to the physical expansion of warmer waters. The last time carbon dioxide made up this proportion of the air, the rock record suggests sea levels were 100 feet higher. By 2100, the seas could rise anywhere between five inches and 10 feet, or more, depending on what we do and whom you trust to make that forecast. How profound our ignorance has been, how relatively new our knowledge. This provokes the need for new words, like "endsickness," a kind of vertigo that Rush and others experience when confronted by weird climate phenomena like warmer waters intruding in the Gulf of Maine. The dispatches of the subtitle really come straight from the people on the front lines of this drowning, much as Svetlana Alexievich skillfully accomplished in her Nobel Prize-winning reportage. Rush transcribes a range of voices, from a victim of Hurricane Sandy's harrowing tale of devastating human loss to the plain truths spoken by people like Dan Kipnis, who has already fled Miami Beach: "Their dream is gonna drown." To me, these are the most intense portions of the book, yet there is no character, not even Rush herself, to guide you through the whole of this story. Nor is there really a plot to follow, not even a chronology that points the way through a series of essays veering from haunting survivors' tales to poetic musings on science. It's an intentional series of vignettes, however, bolstered by deep reporting and a sense of history, reminiscent in part of W. G. Sebald's works evoking place, even up to including photographs, like the pictures of rampikes that mark various chapters. It's often a treat to figure out where Rush is going with any particular story, "to discover the direction of your own thinking in the course of mining the past," as she writes. "The conclusion arrived at not in advance but through the process, by unearthing whatever is buried in the strata." There are also few solutions on offer beyond what she calls the "radically egalitarian" nature of "organized retreat" - the water will affect us all, and getting out of its way demands a collective response. Rising seas trouble us so much not just because of global warming, but because of the choices our society has made about how to treat the coasts. Our ancestors filled in the wetlands, built more and more roads and homes along the seashore as well as dams that hold back replenishing, river-born silt, all of which has contributed to the coastal problems we face. We have hemmed in the natural world with urban forms, making it impossible for a wetland to retreat and adapt to changing conditions. And then there are the countless actions of heedless humans, constantly in motion in this time of great acceleration, perhaps even traveling to report a story about environmental change and changing the environment inexorably with that very travel. How much did all that travel add to the rising of the seas? I think it's a question worth confronting. Homo sapiens has long dealt with rising waters: Prehistoric Europeans had to move away from now-drowned Doggerland, the glacial outbursts of North America, even perhaps a sudden flooding at the Bosporus. Fine writing, no matter how exquisite, has yet to make most people care enough about global warming to make the changes necessary to combat it or adapt to it. That requires perhaps harsher language, like the conundrum of "raise or raze," about the decision to increase a building's height or relocate it along the future coastline. Class differences will determine who profits from this future coastline and who suffers, and, as Rush rightly notes, sea level rise could easily deepen the social problems we already face in this nation. On top of that, future flooding may not be gradual and manageable, but rather sudden and violent, like Hurricane Sandy. This is a book for those who mourn the changing climate and coast as well as, perhaps, America's diminishing literary culture; sadness benefits from lyrical prose. Rush's faith in the power of words is real and touching and I obviously share it, or I wouldn't be a writer myself. Elegies like this one will play an important role as people continue to confront a transformed, perhaps unnatural world, and grieve for the doomed or already lost. And then there will be a need for new tales, new songs, new speeches in perhaps the most important language in this crisis: the language of politics. To cope with the rising waters, we will need as many options - as many stories, especially ones of hope - as we can muster. Louisiana's coast has shed the neunes of 31 bayous. DAVID biello is the science curator for TED Talks and the author of "The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [January 31, 2019]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Timely and urgent, this report on how climate change is affecting American shorelines provides critical evidence of the devastating changes already faced by some coastal dwellers. Rush, who teaches creative nonfiction at Brown University, masterfully presents firsthand accounts of these changes, acknowledging her own privileged position in comparison to most of her interviewees and the heavy responsibility involved in relaying their experiences to an audience. These include the story of Alvin Turner, who has lived in his Pensacola home for more than five decades, survived numerous hurricanes, does not carry flood insurance, and lives "alone on the edge of a neighborhood threatened from all sides." Alvin's story is not unlike that of Chris Brunet, a native of the shrinking Isle de Jean Charles in a Louisiana bayou, who must decide whether to stay on the disappearing island or leave. While showing that today's climate refugees are overwhelmingly those already marginalized, Rush smartly reminds readers that even the affluent will eventually be affected by rising sea levels, writing that water doesn't distinguish "between a millionaire and the person who repairs the millionaire's yacht." Rush also presents a legible overview of scientific understandings of climate change and the options for combating it. In the midst of a highly politicized debate on climate change and how to deal with its far-reaching effects, this book deserves to be read by all. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Rising sea levels are not just a vision of the future as a result of climate change; it is happening today. Environmental writer Rush (English, Brown Univ.) visits Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and California to see the effects of climate change for herself and meet people impacted by rising waters along with the researchers who are documenting the change. More than a case of higher water, the resulting increase in salinity is killing plants that shore up the soil in coastal areas. Animals depending on that coastal marsh area are dying, too. Native birds, mollusks, and seagrass are among a few of the topics covered in this beautifully written title. The afterword brings the text up to date with coverage of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in 2017, and other devastating storms. Rush's travels cause her to examine her own personal journey as she confronts the experiences others are facing. Artistic black-and-white photographs of rampikes-the bleached skeleton or splintered trunk of a tree killed by fire, lightning, or wind-are reminders of what once was and starkly illustrate the text. VERDICT A fine example of creative nonfiction that sounds an alarm yet satisfies on multiple levels.-Teresa R. Faust, Coll. of Central Florida, Ocala © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

from Divining Rod Oakwood Beach, Staten Island This is a book with many beginnings. One takes place in Bangladesh. Another deep in the Louisiana Bayou. Sparks also flare from the eastern shore of Staten Island, after the storm that took Leonard Montalto's life. Before I moved to the Ocean State, I lived in New York City. Before Miami and Phippsburg there was Oakwood Beach. I was working at the College of Staten Island the fall that Sandy spun into the harbor. Both the size of the storm and its unusual track were unprecedented in scientific memory. Never before had the water reached so high. Of the city's nearly eight million residents, over four hundred thousand were inundated, many of whom lived atop land that had been formerly zoned as tidal marsh. While flooding in these neighborhoods was common, Sandy exceeded all previous experience. In Oakwood Beach the storm surge topped fourteen feet, an all-time record. The college campus remained closed for weeks. When classes finally resumed some of my students were missing, displaced or worse, by a previously unimaginable amount of salt water. One, a brilliant Russian woman named Lena, had been living in a basement apartment in Midland Beach. During the storm the ocean poured into her rented room. The little she had was ruined. Her bed, her books, even her computer: all became bloated with water. I offered her my couch but she said she would stay with a friend. As the semester progressed, Lena stopped coming to class regularly. I don't know if it was the commute from her temporary housing in Jersey or her lack of funds that finally did her in. Either way, she disappeared. A few months later she wrote me a short email from her landlocked home, saying thank you and goodbye. I suppose you could say it was then that I knew that the coverage of the storm and all that it gestured toward was incomplete. Where was Lena's story? And though I had yet to meet her, where was Nicole's? Where were the stories of those who had been flooded before Sandy? And of those who, in the wake of a storm so powerful it sucked the light right out of the tip of Manhattan, had left? For much of the last half century, the eastern side of Staten Island was the kind of place where teachers, firefighters, cops, and sanitation workers could have their own version of the good life, digging for mollusks in the mudflats, fishing for stripers off the pier. In places like Oakwood Beach, there were clambakes in the summer, and the neighborhood kids played soccer together at night under the streetlights. Sure there was a flooding problem and a wastewater treatment plant, but it was considered home and a good one at that. Leonard Montalto grew up there and he liked it so much he stayed put, raising three daughters in the little white cottage on Fox Beach Avenue. His sister, Patti Snyder, raised her family just down the block. And when Patti's daughter moved out, it was to a bungalow right across the street from Leonardand his children. Despite their love for the place that had long defined them, after Sandy residents of nine local communities began begging the state government to bulldoze their homes and allow the land to return to tidal marsh. This, more than anything else about Sandy and its aftermath, surprised me. Not the fact that Goldman Sachs was the sole building below Chambers Street to keep its power intact through the storm. Not the fires that raged out at Breezy Point or the elderly stranded in the Red Hook Houses for weeks. It was the clamor rising from the sodden side of the city's only Republican borough, the signs that read: Mother Nature wants her land back and Buyout Wanted, Buyout Needed . What did these residents of right-leaning, climate change-denying, low-lying, working-class neighborhoods know that the rest of us did not? How was it that they were interested in retreat, one of the most progressive and controversial sea level rise adaptation strategies? When I finally make it out to Oakwood Beach that spring, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Sandy recovery funds have been allocated to purchase and demolish the tight-knit seaside community. The work of unsettling the shore has begun. [sb] The trip from Manhattan takes a little over an hour. From the ferry deck I watch the century-old skyscrapers recede. Once on Staten Island, I ride my bicycle down Bay Street through the Sri Lankan neighborhood of Tompkinsville, among the 250-year-old stone cannon mounts at Fort Wordsworth, and out along the boardwalk on South Beach. The bustle of the city starts to fall away. The bike path is suddenly studded with dunes and cedars and black needle rush. An abandoned airplane hangar, a washed-out teal jungle gym, and a stone-gray wastewater treatment plant. I feel like I am in some neglected corner of the Hamptons yet I have not crossed city lines. Twenty-two thousand years ago the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet began to retreat. It had covered New England and all of New York City in nearly mile-thick glaciers. When the ice withdrew, much of the land that lay just beyond its farthest edge subsided, creating hundreds of miles of swamps, bogs, and tidal marshes, including those that line Staten Island's eastern shore. In 1900, there were over three hundred square miles of wetlands within a twenty-five-mile radius of New York's City Hall. Where the land met the sea muskrats made mischief, white water lilies bloomed, and egrets nested. For much of the last five hundred years, the fundamental nature of North America's wetlands kept them from being routinely explored and developed. They are, by definition, periodically wet enough to limit human use. But ever since the Swamplands Act of 1850, which gave states ownership over any marsh they could drain, these unique ecosystems have been under threat. Land that once was deplored, in part, because of the difficulties speculators faced in placing hard boundaries around blurry edges, suddenly provided a chance to make money from something that was, for the longest time, thought of as less than nothing. As the population of the New York metropolitan area expanded, roughly 90 percent of the city's wetlands were backfilled and hardscaped. Chinatown was once a wetland. Coney Island was once a wetland. East Harlem was once a wetland. So were Red Hook and the Rockaways. Broad Channel, Bergen Beach, and Inwood. John F. Kennedy Airport is sited atop former tidal marsh. So are Freshkills Landfill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a healthy chunk of coastal Queens and almost all of Staten Island's eastern shore. It's not just Gotham where wetlands once reigned. Much of the northeast corridor, the most densely populated portion of the country, was covered in cordgrass and salt marsh hay not that long ago. Since the eighteenth-century, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland have all lost over 50 percent of their coastal wetlands to development. Big chunks of Boston, Providence, New Haven, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, were all once so wet that no one dreamed of living there. These seemingly mundane landscapes were not fawned over or earmarked for preservation. Instead they often became informal garbage dumps. Around the turn of the last century, a significant portion of these wetlands-turned-landfills got paved over to meet the demands of the regions' growing industrial ports. Then, as the shipping industry waned in the forties, the mixed industrial areas were redeveloped once again. At the time, living alongside our country's polluted waterways was considered a nuisance, so public and low-income housing often went in. The population boom of the fifties led to a housing shortage and the once soggy edges of many cities provided cheap, if flood-prone, housing to those who did not have enough money to live anywhere else. As the century progressed these were also the neighborhoods that didn't receive much infrastructural support: the places that flooded most regularly and got the least help. [sb] A few months after my first visit to Oakwood Beach, I stop by Alan Benimoff's office at the College of Staten Island. Our resident geologist, Alan has been working on a series of papers that attempt to unearth some of the underlying causes of Sandy's devastating impact. When I first see him, he is hunched over his computer, at the far end of a dimly lit room littered with different earthbound artifacts--rock samples, embossed topographic maps, and replicas of prehistoric fossils. Alan lets out a sigh big enough to travel. Then he looks up and gestures for me to come closer. It is an unseasonably warm late winter day and the sky beyond his window threatens thunder. The campus should be covered in snow but instead is pocked by mud and puddles. Pot-bellied, balding, an old-school Italian American with a big white mustache, Alan strikes me as an unlikely climate change specialist at first. While he is reluctant to talk about the future, he has no problem discussing how poorly planned urban environments contributed mightily to the chaos Sandy wrought. On his computer he pulls up a map of Staten Island's eastern shore compiled from various data sets. Most of the land is coded red, meaning that it lies no more than ten feet above sea level. Some is shaded light blue, making it difficult to distinguish from the bay. "Blue means the area is zoned as a wetland," he explains. Alan's map also shows building footprints. He clicks and the map changes. "This is the turn of the century," he says. "You can see that the area was mostly marsh with a few buildings indicated in black." I am surprised to discover that a hundred years ago the borough had a different shape. It was not the triangle I tend to think of it as being but rather more of an hourglass, with most of the desirable neighborhoods buffered by a belt of arterial wetlands cinched around the island's waist. Alan shows me the last hundred years of Staten Island's development in ten-year intervals. As the century progresses, the number of black building footprints increases, even in the area that previously wasn't considered land. There the jagged lines that indicate marsh grasses are plastered over and a street grid emerges. "Wetlands act as giant sponges, absorbing storm surges. When they are paved over, that water still has to go somewhere, crashing into everything in its path," Alan says. "No one talks about it, but the way we have developed the coast amplified Sandy's destructive force." He looks at me through rimless round glasses and adds one final data set to the map. Twenty-four red dots appear scattered along the coast. "I've plotted every single Sandy-related death as well. The important thing to realize is this: over half of the people who died in the storm were standing atop land that once was a tidal marsh. If you ask me," he says, his cursor hovering over the fragile fingers of development that comprise the easternmost reaches of Oakwood Beach, "none of those homes should have been built in the first place." [sb] After forty minutes of riding I eventually arrive at the edge of Oakwood. I have seen a single building razed before, but nothing prepares me for watching an entire community as it is wiped off the map. The crunch and snap of backhoes eating away at siding sounds at the far end of Kissam Avenue. One yellow machine mounts a pile of debris and gnaws like a praying mantis dismantling its prey. The further I ride down the street, the less I hear because the demolitions are mostly complete, some of the houses already gone. I lock my bike to a tree so I can move more slowly. Waves of invasive grasses keel around the dozen or so concrete foundations that remain. They look like extraterrestrial landing pads or the rubble of a city that has been destroyed by a nuclear bomb. I walk down what was once a driveway, out to a slab that was once a house. Most of what made this place home, in the strictest sense--the walls, the roof shingles, the joists--have all been broken apart and now wait to be carted away. A family of geese waddle across the rubble then veer off, disappearing into the marsh like soap bubbles popping: one-two-three. I follow them, walking a little farther into the caterwauling green. The cordgrass and cattails get caught by the wind and sway. I step carefully, feeling out the uneven ground. Red, tannic water wells up around my feet while a zebra-winged finch sings from the broken branches of a nearby tree. It is not my first time visiting a marsh, but it is, in truth, one of the first times that I am really paying attention. The calm that washes over me is immediate, the city's tension sloughing off in thick sheets. I had expected this day in Oakwood to feel like an excursion to a ruin, but the neighborhood and the surrounding tidal marsh are both accursed and holy, the land both forsaken and reclaimed. I feel at peace. For most of my life I never gave the landscapes of wetland and tidal marsh much thought, but now they are, in their sly and unassuming way, absorbing much of my attention. To most a wetland is just a mess of grass. The sulfuric scent of decomposition. Miasmas and mud. But I am beginning to see them as divining rods, foretelling where there will be more water in the future. And even more importantly, that the future is, in many cases, already here. Excerpted from Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.