I wrote this after reading the poem 'The Way Through the Woods' by Rudyard Kipling; its last line, "But there is no road through the woods", particularly inspired my own writing. I was struck by the idea of nature reclaiming itself from humans and by the thought that human existence may one day be erased by the very elements we are dangerously altering today. This prose piece is in a way what I hope will happen if we drive ourselves to extinction someday; it's much nicer to think that the world will heal and carry on without us than that the plastic and concrete we leave behind will remain as monuments to human greed forever.
They shut the road to the beach twenty years ago, after the waters had carried away most of the dunes and the jungle grass lay drowned beneath the waves. The rock-pools are only pock-marks on the sandy floor now, submerged under ten feet of rolling sea, and only the seagulls venture to what was once the shore, echoing the long-forgotten singsong shrill of children’s voices. The sea has swelled its way far beyond where the dunes ever stretched; the walls of sand tumbled into the water long ago, poured from a cracked hourglass. You would never know that there was once a tarmac road, turning to dust and sand as it wound towards the distant roar of the waves. Now, the old way to the beach lies beneath the sea. Only the fish roam the shoreline, picking over stones and shells and a long-lost bicycle wheel, and nothing but the waving seaweed marks where the path through the dunes once lay.
Yet, if you stand at the last remaining bend of the old road, before the fence and the danger signs warn you to turn back, you can see a new beach forming from sand carried miles by the rising sea, becoming dunes where forests used to be. And beyond, the endless, empty ocean looks as it might once have done, before the crowds came, escaping the cloying carbon clouds of the cities, in search of the refuge of crabs and wild rabbits. Perhaps some of the shells they took home still whisper the long-lost sea-sounds from the corners of forgotten plastic photo-frames. You can almost feel the currents pulling towards you, changed and charged by the surge of melting ice and turning tides, striving to take back every rock and blade of grass that belongs to nature and not to man.
And if you listen closely, you can hear the soft roar of water moving, drawing closer on the old dirt road – from a distance it sounds like car tyres carving a path over the ground. The shrieks of seagulls are a joyful child’s call as they run laughing from the cold, docile waves of thirty years ago up the sloping beach. You can almost see the sand thrown up behind them as they run, skipping over the bottles and polystyrene cups that dot the stony shore, chasing a bag blown high above the dust track, leaving the sea far behind at the end of the old lost road to the beach.
But there is no road to the beach, nor any child left to run it.
*Illustration by Isobel Williams*