The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

540 feet

From my front yard, I watch the sun creep over the hill behind my shoulder lighting the street in front of me, beginning from the far end and slowly illuminating the blackness before me like a Mother peeling the blanket from her child’s sleepy head.

I live at approximately 540 feet above sea level. Some forecasters occasionally bemoan melting glaciers and rising sea levels, but I know it will be a long time before the Atlantic Ocean laps at my door.

More than 2,000 miles to my north, the Greenland ice blanket melts into water that races to the shore and helps raise sea level worldwide, erasing coastlines in Louisiana and, almost exactly halfway around the globe, Bangladesh – where residents make inexpensive clothing for us Americans, and answer our phone calls when our computers don’t work.

It also is where a ton of fellow humans are watching their homes stolen away by rising oceans. When someone says the ocean is going to rise 20 feet in some places, they’re not talking about 20 feet closer to the beach house. They’re describing water 20 feet deeper under the porch.

But there is plenty of drinkable water available in my kitchen faucet, as long as I am willing to pay to clean it before I pour it down my gullet, and though a heavy rain makes my yard squishy for a few hours, it is not salty.

Climate crisis? What climate crisis?

Out west, the worst drought in several decades made for excellent burning conditions, turning lots of expensive homes into charcoal insurance liabilities.

I was driving down Middle Street one day last year and noticed smoke from the western forest fires filtering the westering sun. Normally, the sun makes driving westbound on Middle Street a nearly impossible task. This year, similar fires are burning farther north, but winds are keeping the smoke away from my home and, anyway, the fires are in Canada so not worth much attention on my evening news here in the eastern U.S.

The drought seems over now in the western states and record-breaking snowfall in the mountains has western planners worried about rivers of mud and stone-washed trees sweeping the Golden State into the sea. As my mom would say, were she still here, sometimes you just can’t win for losing.

There are plenty of forests only an hour or so from my home, lots of land framed by signs telling me to keep my footprints off it. It is easy to think there is room for many more of my fellow sapiens to join the ride through the cosmos. I visited my niece in Philadelphia early this week. My route took me along an interstate highway framed by farm fields and forests verifying the apparent plentitude of future rooftops and pavement that may be constructed.

We never notice how much land we are covering over until one day we pull out of our driveway and find the cornfields replaced by rows of traffic lights making us late for work. We humans appear to obey religious and civic commands to continue making babies who one day will need more housing, food and water, but we seem currently, for the most part, to be unthreatened by shortage.

There are some empty grocery shelves, but it’s become de rigeur to place the blame on a shortage of truck drivers.

On the other hand, residents of Louisiana’s coastal Isle of Jean Charles are considered among the first American climate refugees. When the ocean takes over their driveways, they have to go somewhere. In Miami, Florida, governments are raising the roads, trying to evade the ocean pushing up through the permeable coral support structure.

How long, I wonder, before those bayside escapees from high tide will be making their homes in the cornfields here at 540 feet?

©2023 John Messeder. John is an award-winning environment storyteller and social anthropologist, and lives in Gettysburg, PA. He may be contacted at

1 Comment

  1. And even in our area, Urbana clones and warehouses are proliferating.

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