Today's Reading

A little before we left Earth, we rehearsed our arrival. Supposedly we did not know where we were, but within minutes after the trucks had left us on a dirt road in a forest, we had guessed.

I noted majestic white pines with long bluish-green needles, coniferous tamaracks, and quaking aspens, their flat leaves rattling in the hot breeze. "This is northern United States, east of the Mississippi," I said. "If we were in Canada, the trees would still be healthier."

Merl listened to birds squawk and sing. "Sure enough. Grackles and Carolina chickadees." He shrugged his wide shoulders. "That doesn't mean we're in the Carolinas. They've been moving around a lot on account of the heat."

Paula looked at the clouds. "Thunderheads. Let's think about shelter."

Eventually, we got more precise, identifying it as Wisconsin even before we ran into a pair of Menominee women gathering vines to make baskets. The tribal council supported our project and was allowing us to spend two months trying to survive in their reservation's forest, and the women were sorry to spoil our isolation. But before they left, they suggested coating our skin with wood ash and grease to repel the clouds of mosquitoes, advice we badly needed.

Other than that, survival held no major challenges because we already knew a lot about the environment. Deer were edible, for example. Instead, the rehearsal deepened our commitment as we witnessed the disaster of the forest despite the Menominees' careful stewardship. Global warming was turning the forest into a prairie. All around us the trees were dying of heat and thirst and disease, bringing down the ecology with them. But the flora and fauna weren't simply moving north. The disaster was at once too fast and too slow. In southwest Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold's treasured Sand Counties were becoming sand dunes, and their prairie species were going extinct. The forests in northeast Wisconsin hadn't yet become prairies to welcome them, so when the forests finally became grasslands, there would be no surviving prairie species to welcome.

I got to know Uri in the Menominees' forest. His English was even worse then. For both of us, English was a second language, but the colony was strictly monolingual. We would avoid the disputes over language that were poisoning so much of Earth.

"Of course I volunteer for army," he said. "I work for food. Like now, but not so nice food." We were knee-deep in a swamp collecting cattail pollen, which could be used like flour to make pancakes. Actually, every eighteen-year-old in Russia had to serve. He had been a marksman.

He pulled a cattail head horizontal and batted it while I held a clay bowl underneath to catch the falling yellow pollen.

"Rifle is not antique. Is fallback, what we use if high tech would be jammed. And very entertaining. My unit gave shows like circus, even with horses, and was when I decided to join this project after my duty is finish. I saw too much of Mother Russia during travel and give shows. They are raping her. I not can endure stay and see it."

That was true everywhere on Earth, environmental devastation that we wished we could fix, but the best we could do was try again elsewhere.

"I wonder if there will still be humans on Earth when we get to Pax," Vera said one evening after dinner as we worked on the many tasks that survival required. It had been harder than we thought but also more rewarding.

"The people on this planet don't deserve to survive," Bryan said as he made fishhooks out of wire.

"The thing is, we can learn," Merl said. "We'll just have to do better. And how hard will that be?"

We were all in our twenties, selected for our skills and personalities. Merl, a sandy-haired Texan, had scored low on anxiety and high on agreeableness. I was responsible and self-disciplined. We were all glad to have something to hope for.

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This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardcover edition.

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