AS THE WORLD SCREAMS
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Imagine that the earth itself is a living organism. T= he dirt and rock we walk on is only its thick protective skin, but its vuln= erable body lies deep inside. Imagine it's like a sea urchin, with a hard s= hell on the outside and a soft living coral center.
This sea urchin image comes from a science fiction story, "When the Eart= h Screamed," by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is narrated by an employee of th= e central character, Prof. George Edward Challenger, an arrogant but brilli= ant scientist with revolutionary ideas. He advances the sea urchin theory a= nd then digs eight miles into the ground, to the earth's living core, to te= st it out.
I was thinking about the image of the world screaming as I watched the L= eonid meteor shower early on the morning of Nov. 18. It was cold and crisp,= and the first twilight on the eastern horizon mixed with thousands of bril= liant stars in the Western sky. There were blazes of blue-white light as th= e meteors streaked across the sky, sometimes three at a time, and it was al= l close to being unbearably beautiful.
But it was no more beautiful than the Connecticut River is on most morni= ngs, all foggy and mysterious. Or the bare branches of the trees on the mou= ntains that have those orange blankets of leaves below them.
In fact, the beauty of the earth leaves most of us speechless at least s= ome of the time. If it didn't, we wouldn't be living in Vermont, where we e= arn 30 percent less than we would earn for doing the same work anywhere els= e.
I'm not speaking here as an environmentalist or even a conservationist= .
My interests are purely aesthetic. Beauty is hard to come by in thi= s world, and it seems important and sane to protect our limited natural sup= ply. For example, I've personally never seen the Arctic National Wildlife R= eserve, but I've seen the pictures that were taken there. What kind of madm= en would want to destroy such natural splendor for an oil pipeline and some= temporary profit, when we should all be falling on our swords to protect i= t?
Or why, as the Bush Administration is working towards now, allow road-bu= ilding in national forests? Or snowmobiles in national parks? Or mining on = public lands? Or nuclear plant expansion when we can't seem to find a safe = place anywhere for nuclear waste?
Why not protect what little beauty remains to us? Why make the world scr= eam? So I recently searched out Conan Doyle's story and read it again.
I = was surprised at what I found. I remembered the story as a plea for protect= ing the earth. It turned out to be a high-handed and imperialist approval o= f earth-rape.
Prof. Challenger's experiment is not scientific, in that he= does not merely wish to investigate whether his sea urchin theory is corre= ct.
"The earth has not the least idea of the way in which it is utilized by = the human race," he says. "I propose to let the earth know that there is at= least one person, George Edward Challenger, who calls for attention -- who= , indeed, insists upon attention."
There you have it, in a nutshell, the great ego of Western man. His divi= ne right is to dominate and penetrate, even to the core of the earth itself= .
So Prof. Challenger digs eight miles into the ground and only stops when= he encounters, "some greyish material, glazed and shiny, which rose and fe= ll in slow palpitation. The throbs were not direct, but gave the impression= of a gentle ripple or rhythm, which ran across the surface."
At the appointed time, Challenger assembles the most important men (and = only men) in London -- journalists, bankers, merchants, members of the roya= l family. The surrounding hills are filled with the more common people.
At the moment of the piercing, the narrator says, "Our ears were assaile= d by the most horrible yell that ever yet was heard. Who is there of all th= e hundreds who have attempted it who has ever yet described adequately that= terrible cry? It was a howl in which pain, anger, menace and the outraged= majesty of Nature all blended into one hideous shriek. For a full minute i= t lasted, a thousand sirens in one, paralyzing all the great multitude with= its fierce insistence, and floating away through the still summer air unti= l it went echoing along the whole South Coast and even reached our French n= eighbors across the Channel. No sound in history has ever equaled the cry o= f the injured Earth."
That indescribable scream, and the volcanoes, earthquakes and tidal wave= s all over the world that followed it, did not teach Conan Doyle's characte= rs a lesson. Instead, when the scream faded away, the crowd bursts into app= lause.
"And then suddenly the mighty achievement, the huge sweep of the concept= ion, the genius and wonder of the execution, broke upon their minds," the n= arrator says. "With one impulse they turned upon Challenger.From every part= of the field came the cries of admiration."
The narrator concludes, "It has been the common ambition of mankind to s= et the whole world talking. To set the whole world screaming was the privil= ege of Challenger alone."
It was a privilege, mind you, not a sin or a shame. My personal prayer i= s that if anyone ever drills into the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, the= y will hear that scream, run, and be forever chastened. But Ihold out no ho= pe at all.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes about culture,politics= , economics and travel.