“There can be no war like the one you describe,” Sariel answered, frowning at them. “In my village, the elders knew stories of war from their elders. Long ago, there were wars that threatened to swallow the entire earth. Many of the elders had gone off to fight, many years ago, when they were young.” She looked off into the distance and appeared to shudder. “Their stories are terrible, full of suffering and devastation.” And then she re-focused her attention on Chess. “And you thought you were going off to fight in a war like that?” She laughed again, shaking her head.
Chess, too baffled to answer, remained silent and let her continue.
“When I worked at the hospital,” Sariel explained, “I sometimes watched the television. This is something you know from civ?” She looked to Ileana for reassurance and she nodded.
Sariel inclined her head. “I liked the news stations, most of all. They told about things happening in our country that I had never heard of: the structure of law in civ… and the system of barter that they use. There was often talk of beautiful people doing destructive things to themselves… and, sometimes, there were mentions of murders… but there was no talk of war.” She looked at Chess again. “If there was a terrible war, it would have been talked about all the time. I never heard about it.”
Chess and Ileana shared an uncomfortable glance. “You’re right,” Ileana answered softly. “I guess people just got sick of hearing about it.”
“Sariel,” Chess ventured, once again, “how did you end up at that hospital, anyway?”
Sariel waved the question away with an irritated expression and did not answer.
They sat together in the quiet, deepening shadows for a little while, each seeming lost in personal thoughts. But then Sariel broke the silence.
“I have an idea,” she suggested, with an earnest expression on her face. “On cold winter nights in my village, there was a word game we used to play - a riddle game. And since, tonight, we cannot entertain ourselves by building a fire and eating… shall we try it now?”
“Yes, please!” Ileana answered immediately.
“Okay,” Sariel began, “I will describe something to you, and you must try to guess what it is.” She inhaled visibly, and then she began.
“In a snowstorm, I can keep you warm.
“When I am red, I can make a nice bed.
“When I am green, I can wipe you clean…”
Then she glanced at Chess with a lopsided grin.
“And when I am crunchy, I might make you go hungry.”
“Oh…” Chess laughed and rolled his eyes. “Leaves,” he groaned, remembering how stepping in the low spot filled with dead leaves had almost lost them their goose stew.
Sariel nodded, her eyes shining. “I created that one as a child. Well, most of it.”
“Ah, that’s great!” Ileana cried. “Wait, I’ve got one. It doesn’t rhyme, though.”
“Once, I was a mighty force upon the earth.
“Once, I was unstoppable in my path.
“Even the mountains gave way before me.
“Once, I helped create life upon the earth.
“And the people knew me as their life sustainer.
“But, now, I am drained. And I will never again reach the ocean.”
“Sounds like a god,” Chess murmured thoughtfully. “Sort of.”
“No!” exclaimed Sariel, looking delighted. “It’s a river.”
Ileana nodded enthusiastically. “I was thinking of the Colorado River, specifically, but it could probably apply to just about any large river, these days.”
And then both girls turned toward Chess, looking expectant.
Continued next page...
“What have I got in my pocket?" he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.
"Not fair! not fair!" he hissed. "It isn't fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it's got in its nassty little pocketsess?”
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
On the subject of The Ripple Effect, the second point seems most important to us, as a country, right now: that we can pollute water beyond our ability to clean it. One way that we do this, which has been in the news lately, is with the process known as “fracking,” which is used to obtain natural gas from the earth. In order to perform hydraulic fracturing, vast amounts of water are injected into the ground, along with some potent chemicals. The chemicals seem to pollute not only the injected water, but, more importantly, the groundwater in the area. We have not yet come up with a satisfactory way to filter out most of these chemicals and make the water safe for use again.
Another way, related to the energy industry, that we pollute water is, of course, with all the oil spills that we have. It’s true that we constantly hear about terrible oil spills in the ocean, but there are also leaks in the pipelines that stretch across groundwater throughout the country. The Keystone Pipeline -- the several thousand miles of pipes that will bring oil from its source in the oil sands of Alberta,Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico -- is yet another concern: will that be properly maintained and protected, or will it spill out and threaten the groundwater of the entire midsection of the country?
We cannot destroy water with our chemicals. But we can ruin vast quantities of it so that it cannot be re-used -- at least not until we come up with a good way to clean it. Many chemicals can be removed from water by our current methods. Different types of filtration and water softening techniques can remove much in the way of bacteria, some viruses, and even some chemicals like magnesium and phosphorus. There are even some recently-devised “natural” ways of removing chemicals, such as an algae system invented by a high school kid, which, among other contaminants, has the ability to remove silver particles and collect them. But the key word is particles. The bigger the molecules are - and bacteria are pretty huge compared to dissolved chemicals - the easier they are to remove. Environmental engineering companies like the Blacksmith Institute have shown some promise, but we need to develop a comprehensive water purification system that would remove all contaminating chemicals, no matter what they are. That would actually change the current trajectory of our environment.
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