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         The night was fully upon them, the moon shining brightly, when they finally got to eat the stew.  It tasted wonderful to Chess and - even better - Ileana shared it with them.  With a full stomach and a feeling that was closer to contentment than anything he had felt in a very long time, Chess wrapped his arms around his knees and leaned back.
         “Hey,” he suggested, “we haven’t had a story since, well…”  He felt hesitant saying Razor’s name, as if it might bring the dragon himself down upon them.  “For a long time.”
         Sariel seemed cheerful, also.  “Do you have one for us?”
         Chess thought for a few moments.  The stories were originally Sariel’s, but it seemed like he had taken them over.  And she seemed happy to let him, so maybe he could do it again, if he could just come up with an idea.
         He realized that many of the stories that he had told were sort of about Ileana.  Well, maybe she was his inspiration for them, he decided, so he considered her now.  She sat calmly near him, a shadow in the firelight, and he reflected on how she, of all of them, had given up the most in order to be outside.  She didn’t need to be here.  She had never needed to leave civ, but all along the way, she had put herself in tough situations that were consequences of choices that had seemed right to her.  Chess sat upright.
         “The goddess Lilumei…” he began haltingly, “uh, having great affection for her creations, humans, of course, gave them, uh… an awful lot of help.”  He stared at the fire for a moment, too self-conscious to look toward his audience.  “And, uh, with her guidance, you know, humans came to be the most powerful creatures on earth, gaining some amount of control over everything else.
         “Well,” he added, his voice growing more confident, “this, as you might imagine, did not please the other gods.  But, since they did not take a whole lot of interest in man, they didn’t really notice what was going on until some major changes had taken place.  I mean, there was pollution, for one thing, from all the machinery the humans made...”  Chess began enumerating on his fingers.  “Man-made climate change: I mean, who among the gods expected that?  And extinction of some species of animals: that was certainly annoying.  And, uh…”  He faltered for a moment, and then Ileana spoke up.
         “The water,” she suggested.  “The oceans became polluted.  And the rivers were all dammed up and diverted by humans.  And by the time that water had been used in their industries, it was so polluted that no one could figure out how to make it drinkable again.”
         “Exactly!” Chess exclaimed, seizing on that.  “Of all the things that humans had done to the earth in their own progress, they had polluted the water most of all.  And that’s why Enthirath,” he intoned, with a quick glance at Sariel, “the god of water, was especially angry with humans.  And he was terribly angry with Lilumei, because he knew that all this devastation would not have happened without her help.”  Chess had a sudden, brief memory of a recent dream, one night when the rain had been pouring down: a vision of a council of angry gods.  “And, so, it was Enthirath who, one day, got all the gods together for a meeting… to discuss what Lilumei had done.”
         “And Lilumei?” Sariel asked abruptly.  “What did she think about what had happened?”
         “Oh,” Chess turned toward her, “well, of course, she had just been trying to help her creations.  I mean, she had just been doing what she thought was best, without really considering the possible consequences.  But when the gods confront her, she is overcome with sadness for what has happened, and she is also fearful that the gods might punish humans.  So… she promises that she will put everything right, if they will just allow her to.  And all the gods agree to that, but they decide to send her to earth, to ‘live among the humans that she loves so much,’ for a time.  And Enthirath, standing before the gods, cries, ‘Let her experience, firsthand, what humans have done to the earth.’
         “And so,” Chess concluded, leaning back again, “Thus begins the story of the goddess Lilumei’s adventures here on earth.  And how the gods -- especially Enthirath -- make trouble for her while she’s here.  And…” he gazed thoughtfully at the fire, “How she overcomes all these trials, and manages to put the world to right.  Yeah, she does, with the help of some human friends that she meets along the way.”

Continued next page...

Even more exasperating was what his PhD student Mark Browne had discovered while shopping in a pharmacy.  “Exfoliants: little granules that massage you as you bathe...  [It’s okay if ] the granules are actually chunks of ground-up jojoba seeds and walnut shells...  The rest of them,” he says, with a sweep of his hand, “have all gone to plastic.”
On each, listed among the ingredients are “micro-fine polyethylene granules,” or “polyethylene micro-spheres,” or “polyethylene beads.” Or just polyethylene.
“Can you believe it?” Richard Thompson demands.. “They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.”
- Polymers Are Forever: excerpt from The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

         I mentioned that my sixth grade teacher was the first to call my attention to major environmental problems: pollution, the limits and dangers of fossil fuels, and the growing scarcity of potable water.  Now, decades later, we are all aware, to some degree, of the growing crises in our environment.  Many people diligently recycle, conserve water, minimize the use of chemicals, etc.  Unfortunately, there are still things that we do to harm the environment that we just can’t change even if we want to, given the demands and norms of our modern world.  However, there are also harmful things that we don’t realize we are doing.  Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, gave me a shock when, somewhere in the middle of his book, he focused on the subject of the waste that is going into the oceans and killing life there.  The worst problem seems to be all the plastic, which makes its way to the oceans by various routes and gets eaten by sea creatures.
         One ocean research group that Weisman interviewed was particularly concerned with the tendency of plastic to break down into tiny particles that even the smallest ocean-dwellers might ingest.  The plastic then might either block their digestive tracts or cause toxic effects.  In the course of their research, they discovered plastic bath beads, which are already tiny and, once used, are sent immediately and directly into the water supply.
         After reading this section, I ran to look at the ingredients in my bath scrub and found that word: polyethylene.  I was appalled because I had no idea that I was contributing to this problem so unnecessarily.  I threw the bottle in the trash.  From there, eventually, it might well make its way to the ocean.  But at least I won’t be sending it there directly.



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