The Most Beautiful Water I Ever Saw by Annabelle Feist

My grandparents and my parents gave me a gift when I was young.  I grew up in a virtual paradise. “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw” said Thomas Jefferson. And that beautiful water was home every summer when my parents had to work so I moved in with my grandparents. At first, I didn’t understand the quote, because surely every lake must look like this.  With water clear for many meters and birds of every form flocking to roost by the brooks. What else could a lake look like? Why did my grandparents harp so much on keeping it clean and protecting the shores? My grandparents literally wrote the book on how to make your home by the lake sustainable. But why did they bother?  Surely these houses had been there forever and would stand until the end of time, the lake unchanging. Such is the world understanding of a child. But soon enough I understood, because even my slice of paradise could not be sheltered.

The first time my head broke the water in spilled oil, I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t get out; the stuff coated my lips, my mouth, it felt like it was in my lungs. The beautiful swirling pattern I’d seen underwater was killing me. That moment was the end of my innocence in many ways. Have you ever seen a picture of a dolphin or a bird coated in oil? I don’t just imagine; I know how they feel.  Next came the plastic, caught in my hair as I dove for mussels. It invaded my space and brushed away the purity of the lake much more easily than I could brush it away.  Not trying to kill me, for it was to inanimate to care about such things, but never-the-less destroying this place that had a piece of my heart simply because such is its nature. Then the fertilizer, turning my beautiful waters a brown so thick I was afraid to open my eyes, instead swimming through darkness, feeling like I’d swum off the edge of my world. My little slice of paradise had been invaded by something I could only grasp in small pieces – I’d been caught in the web of oil, of hyperobjects. And I couldn’t go back.

            The man speaking at Onkalo asks, “how far into the future will your way of life have consequences”? I don’t know, but I understand my grandparents now.  They harped on protecting the lake because they wanted to safeguard my future, to give me a world with places that were still pure. But what will that look like for my children? When only an empty shell of a person can find peace surrounded by oil, sticky in its consequences even though its slickness is what kills. When it is not our plants or cats but our children’s dolls that warn when radiation is nearby. Have we sold our children’s future for convenience and replaced the pure expanses with an illusion of beauty? Is the only rainbow they will know that of the oil left behind from the latest spill no one took accountability for? This photograph was created by electronically adding in the oil and the trash to what is, right now, a still pure lake. A place where a full person can still float in peace. But how long will it be before this photo is the truth? Before artificially removing the oil, is the only way make it pure?  The trash scattered throughout this photo is finite, but only because we cannot comprehend the vastness of the waste we have ransomed the future to produce.

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