August 15, 2024 – The high Pacific sea wind lashed softly against me, dancing across my light-burned face, playfully tossing my dirty, tangled hair. On the surf-beaten beach far below – a few hundred feet at least – I could see our fire, and perhaps barely make out the figures of Sarah, Daniel, and Aaron huddled around it. Along the miles of coast that I could survey from this vantage point, I saw several more fires dotted, flickering blobs of yellow-orange waxing and waning with the wind, appearing smaller and smaller with increasing distance.

I had climbed up here, perhaps recklessly, for many reasons. Or perhaps for no reason whatsoever. To see how many other groups of survivors were in the vicinity. To clear my head and try to make some sense of it all. To get away from Sarah for a little while – she wasn’t holding up well, and serving as her emotional crutch was starting to take its toll on me, as guilty as that made me feel. 

“To jump?” I thought half-jokingly. No, probably not that. Not yet, at least. I would put one foot in front of the other for a few more weeks or days before being at that point. But who knows? In a situation like this, everything could unravel in an instant, and had more than once already. My toes on the edge of the rock, I surrendered for a few moments to the whims of the ever-shifting wind. At times it gusted violently, more than strong enough to take me if it wanted. I dimly recalled reading of some island tribe that, in order to determine a man’s guilt, required him to jump from a high windy cliff. If the wind blew him back, he was innocent. If not, trial and punishment merged into one short act. Such a form of justice had a direct and frightening appeal to me now. Perhaps I even leaned into the wind ever so gently, not minding if its pressure subsided for that one brief moment, letting me fall, and fall… But then I took a few steps back, to a safe distance from the edge. Not yet.

With my pocket flashlight, I found a patch of relatively rock-free sand large enough to lay down in and look up at the sky. What little light pollution there usually was on this part of the coast was now an afterthought, and the stars shone brilliantly down on me, the band of the Milky Way slicing brightly across the overweening sky. With the perspective of the nearby objects around me taken away, I imagined for a moment that I was looking not up, but down – that I was hanging from my back above the oceanic blackness of gigaparsecs – and my head began to swim as though I might fall into the cauldron of distant fusion reactors. In times past, this would have been a perfect moment – perched above the Oregon coast, alone at the solemn and noble end of the land, surveying so much of God’s creation.

But no more. God had abandoned his earthly children, at least for a while. Or were these the mysterious ways that everyone had always referred to so lazily? That seemed a miserable joke – there was nothing mysterious here. These ways were cruel and unsparing, enamored of destruction. This moment was now poisoned, figuratively and perhaps literally. Who knew anymore where the fallout was spreading? And this was not the only poison – more than one of the seals had been broken. In these last few weeks I had gained a direct and personal insight into that Cold War line that those killed in the nuclear war were the lucky ones, though the scenario had unfolded in a way never predicted by the Rand Corporation or the Soviet Defense Ministrty.

How could it have happened? I didn’t have a very good answer to that question. The devolution had happened so quickly that it was difficult to reconstruct in any detail, even though the events were still fresh and immediate in memory. What else could you say? The shit had hit the fan. There would be no well-edited Encyclopedia Britannica version. The elaborately constructed facades of civilization had come crashing down with astonishing rapidity. Not long before all this happened, the informed concern had been that humanity only had a few decades left – and even this had been widely dismissed as pessimism, fear-mongering, or an outright hoax. These predictions had missed the mark – but by overstating how long was left… Virus. Fires. Storms and Floods. Collapse and chaos. We thought that we had conquered pestilence, plague, fire, water, and nature itself, but found that we are subject to forces vastly outside of our own power. Perhaps what is happening is simply Earth’s way of restoring the balance, of forcefully reasserting control over a species that had attempted to transgress all limits.

A fragment of poetry had stayed stubbornly with me in these last miserable days and weeks, like flotsam from an ancient ocean washed up on the littered shores of my so-troubled mind: “I feel those wheels rumble. I feel the sway of speed. The horses are mad and running faster. They ought to check. They ought to answer the reins. There out to be reins. But there are none.” I seemed to remember that this was from the Georgics of Virgil. Perhaps a liberal arts education was good for something after all. And what was that? Insight into the final catastrophe, an eloquent understanding of man’s folly and hubris? I’d much rather have a cheeseburger, thank you. With fries, fresh golden salty crispy french fries. And nice fresh lettuce and onions, on a pub bun with mayonnaise and…