There’s something about these tsunamis that has totally gripped me. I suppose it could be that I have been convinced for a long time that if we keep abusing the Earth, or Nature, as we might call it, eventually Nature will strike back. I may have been influenced towards that thinking by my contacts with the indigenous people of Canada, whose fundamental beliefs are built on the assumption of respect for other creatures, and for what they call their mother Earth, respect for the Earth’s rivers, mountains, grasses, winds, rocks and trees. Respect for everything, because, according to their beliefs, every thing has in it a spirit, very similar to what we regard as the spirituality of human beings.
I have known native hunters who told me that you cannot expect just;to take from other entities on this Earth: you also have to give back something. So these people would hang the skull of a rabbit or the paws of a bear they had just eaten, in a tree as a matter of respect for the animals that gave themselves to them to eat, and for the tree which would carry the message to the animal.
In this context, one can see most of the works of industrial human kind as an abuse of Nature, and unfortunately much of it is egregious and offensive. Of all our works, I personally would say the most offensive to Nature is nuclear power, something that, once released, will remain in the environment for thousands of years, something that cannot be adequately stored because we have no storage vessels that we can depend on lasting for thousands of years.
One cannot see the pictures taken of the recent tsunamis without being impressed by the overpowering force of Nature, when it is aroused. Of course, volcanoes have shown us something of the same power; and hurricanes; but nothing equals the destructive power of these tsunamis, which are a force no human can expect to survive, except by good luck.
I am writing this because it is just a year since that malevolent black water swept in along 200 miles of the Japanese coastline, smashing before it towns, villages, humans and all their works. Two programmes screened by the CBC last week paid eloquent testimony to the force of this natural event: the way people talked about it said all that needed to be said:
“The things we were seeing were completely unimaginable,” said one man.
“All we could do was just watch,”said another, who had managed to find higher ground. “We were just speechless, shocked, we just felt it was the end. I could see my house, and I had lost everything.”
“I was not expecting Nature to be so dreadful,” said a fisherman. “It was horrible. We did not know what was happening. I don’t know what to say.”
A man who had taken shelter in a school watched as the water rose around him, sweeping everything before it. Then when fire broke out in what remained of his town, he said, “It was like being in hell. We thought it was the end of the town.”
Fifty years ago, a huge tsunami devastated Chile, and the people in Japan, always conscious of the possibility of tsunamis because of the frequency of earthquakes, had built retaining walls, 17 feet high, that were expected to defend them from any wave. But this wave was bigger, three times as high as the retaining walls, and the movies taken by the amateur photographers who decided it was their duty to record what was happening clearly showed how inexorable these waters were. One group was standing in what they thought was perfect safety above the whole thing, behind a retaining wall, but within a few seconds not only had the waters begun to creep along behind the wall, but they had suddenly turned into raging torrents, deep and powerful, that had carried half the town down towards these people, who niow began to doubt that they were really safe.
Well, I don’t know what good writing about this does, except it gives me a chance to reaffirm my belief in the insignificance of human beings. While I wasin Texas visiting my son recently he showed me a film called The Making of the Earth, which, he said, had influenced him more than anything he had ever seen. It detailed the various phases the Earth had passed through since it was dragged out of the gases in the universe some four and a half billion years ago, (at which time it was an unimaginably hot place), and finished with a firm prophesy that within 15,000 years another ice age, similar to the last one --- that ended 10,000 years ago --- would overtake the earth, completely wiping aside all the works of human kind, all our fabled cities, all our sciences and so on.
To an agnostic like me, all of these things prove the i impossibility that there is somewhere a benevolent God overseeing all this stuff.
A very moving film shown by CBC last week was called Children of the Tsunami, and it had interviews with dozens of very composed Japanese children who spoke in extremely pertinent sound bytes. Here the vulnerability of nuclear power wazs established by little boys and girls who said, “If there is an exclusion zone, it means there is something bad in there, and you cannot go in.” You can say that again, kid, but these kids were restive at having to wear masks, and not being able to go outside to play. Is that a real life? They knew, as did their adults, that the preparations made 50 years before against the possibility of a major tsunami were completely inadequate.
Although the Japanese had been warned of the effects of radiation by being the only nation to have suffered such explosions on their soil, the adults of these children had let them down by building nuclear power stations in areas vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Though quite a few people in these films did seem to put their faith in God, or in prayer, none of them, surely, could have expected any help from that quarter. Not against his revenge of Nature, showing us we should be more careful.