after the passing of an ecosystem we know. Our response to the land-
scapes surrounding us alters irreversibly.
In that case, our relationship to many other aspects of experience
changes as well. Even in a nation as industrialized as the United States,
the movement of the seasons serves as the basis of the ritual year, anchor-
ing Easter and Christmas, Passover and Yom Kippur, Independence Day
and Thanksgiving; as the seasons drift to new regions of the calendar,
plants blossom or decay at other times, and the natural world becomes
more confused, the significance of these ritual events changes too, speak-
ing less of the deep turning of the world and more of sheer convention.
Our association of youth with spring, of age with fall, begins to falter if
spring comes too soon, if fall extends into winter; our metaphors start
to melt away, even though youth and age remain to us. Our lives are cut
adrift from the seasons, our span of time knocked askew from nature's
rhythms, our mythic associations made threadbare.
We may in consequence find ourselves grieving more for the vulner-
ability of the biosphere than for our own. That emotion might lead us
also to grieve for our excessive in vulnerability, our capacity in these lat-
ter, hi-tech days to defeat disease, master the body's ills, and generally
ward of aging and death—and for that mater to protect ourselves from
cold or heat, reduce hunger and thirst, shrink every distance, and master
further reaches of the unknown. We may end up wishing for a return of
greater vulnerability, a more open acceptance of weakness and mortality,
for only with that return might we release other forms of life from the
devastating effects of our dominance.
Such thoughts, however, will ultimately demonstrate that our own
mortality fades in comparison to something altogether more harrow-
ing—the possible mortality of our societies, the natural systems we know,
and to some extent the biosphere itself. In our world, the temporal coher-
ence of a future into which our individual lives vanish—the coherence,
in short, of mortality itself—is falling into decay. What once served as an
instance of the ultimate contemplation is now dwarfed by a much more
difficult thought, the prospect that our very metaphor of what endures
and what is timeless has itself fallen into ruin.