There never was such a time.
As if in a dream the fenlands have dwindled to almost nothing. Grandmother says it’s a punishment for our greed. Be that as it may. Now we can only witness as, every year, the reeds and grasses fail, their stalks and roots dry out and the leaves wither before they can grow tall. Their useless struggle leaves the nesting birds exposed, and the predators take them at their leisure. Fewer and fewer they’ve become, and last year we saw just one egret.
The waterways run straight and muddy all through the year, and even if you could see the fish and the crusty water bugs through the murk, there’d be nothing to see. They can not thrive in the brown soup of the charging streams. I find the water bugs nowadays only in the streamlets that begin at the slope bottoms a league or so from the seashore, where the seeps began to multiply some years ago, even as those in the uplands ceased to run.
Our town, which once stretched all the way around this inlet, is now interrupted in many places by vermin-filled and rotting wikiups. They’ve been abandoned by the once-proud families that built them, because the part of the strand that they claimed as their own can no longer support them. My family is among the lucky ones. Our hereditary grounds are the most extensive. And, while they once gave us abundance above our needs, and gave us the leisure to build wealth beyond all the rest of the village, those grounds are enough, just, to provide us still with adequate sustenance, and no more. Father says that unless this relentless change is reversed we too will need to find a place to live that’s closer to the sea. That will be a most unwelcome move for me.
The same forces that dessicate our lands are also at work in the sea. The mussels can’t find holdfasts in the shifting sands, nor the oysters. The cockles are everywhere, but they never seem to grow to the size my people have known in the past. Seals and sea lions, and their enormous cousins, find less and less to eat without the yearly inrush of the river fish. So they range more widely, and fewer every year return to the rookeries. Grandfather says that we can not deplete their numbers as much as we’d like. But he’s overruled by my father, his brothers and cousins, and by the poorer among us. What that means for the people, I can only guess. But I know it won’t be good.
My father’s oldest brother, who alone knows the concealed way to the mountain tops, goes there often during the year to observe the sun’s motion, and to carry out the rituals that must be continued for the world to renew itself each year. He returned from his mid-summer movements and told us that unlike every year past, even in the heat of summer, the far mountains are snow covered.
The world is truly upside down.
This truly was the world of California’s coast in the mid Holocene. The sea had been at its post-Pleistocene high stand from about 6000 BP to about 3500 to 4000 BP. Estuaries developed and the biome flourished. Coastal areas near the river mouths were places of optimal abundance during that time. But the world’s changelessly changeful climate did an about face, and cooled. As a result more water was bound up in the high latitudes and altitudes, and the sea level dropped some two metres (six feet) in two or three stages lasting only a few hundred years each. The picture I’ve painted here is realist, not surreal. It explains so much about that time in the world’s archaeological record. I think the world’s archaeologists could afford to pay more attention to the catastrophic transformations that sea level change can wreak among people living near the sea. I posted a similar portrait in one of my earliest contributions to the Subversive Archaeologist. That one dealt with the terminal Pleistocene marine transgression.
[Oops! I had BCE where BP now resides in the epilogue. That was close!]