Where the Water Flows – Chapter 3

by Irene Iris

Chapter 3: The Garden

Water is everywhere…

In the air, in the soil, in the roots and leaves of the greenery, in the hydroponic tubes.

On the periphery of the Garden complex, gigantic circular fields rest. They, in turn, embrace the smaller inner concentric circles of mixed fruit tree gardens that hold a diamond at the center – the shiny hemisphere of the Hydroponic Greenhouse.

Most of the outer open fields are planted with barley, cassava, corn and other cultures used to produce biodegradable packaging – an alternative to old-world plastic. One of the tipping points was when, in 2023, humans detected microplastics in the clouds above Mount Fuji. It was one of the first eye-opening events in the chain leading to the eventual ban on the production of plastic that, even centuries after, still plagues the environment in the form of lose ancient plastic waste and microparticles. Nowadays, plastic is substituted by what was once called the agricultural residuals. These “residuals” also fertilize the fields and power the heavy machinery.

The crops in some of the fields are already harvested. Around some, wild animals roam freely. A little bio-fueled open-top “touristractor” with a single trailer car is driving through all this biodiversity.

“Uh… Sir, there are horses grazing in your fields!” comments one of the touristractor passengers, looking astounded.

“Yep. Those are Brumbies,” replies the tractor driver, a suntanned and weather-worn stout man, without even bothering to look.

“Should they be here?” asks the other man, twisting his neck.

“Well, no. They are not endemic animals. They were imported here with the European settlers in the pre-water times.”

“No, I mean, in your fields!”

“Why not? Humans don’t have an exclusive right to life on this earth, you know. Besides, the animals pick whatever harvest is left behind. In return, they fertilize the land for more to grow… I don’t see why not…” says the tractor driver and looks suspiciously at the two passengers in expensive linen business suits. “School children are frequent guests here, but big city corporate bosses… Never in my memory!”

“Yeah, the management board decided that I, as the new boss of the water and land management corporation residing in a high-rise office, am too detached from the ground,” explains the guy slightly acidly.

“Well, those people are kinda right,” points out the farmer. “What is your name and the name of your corporation again?”

The two men exchange looks. This part usually goes uneasy with the ground-level “commoners”.

“Jack Waterson. Groundwater and Agri-Co,” says the man in a suit direly. “And that’s my assistant, Conway.”

“Oh,” replies the driver and sighs.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” nods Waterson.

“What would you expect, being the heir of the renamed corporation run by one of the richest families in the black gold era who helped destroy the planet by promoting and profiting from the fossil fuel industry? Your ancestors are basically the devil in the new Water religion!”

The two “suits” look uneasy and uncomfortable, being extra sensitive towards the slow-speed tractor vibration.

“Sorry guys, the ride on the actual ground is bumpier than the ride on thin air your fancy city cars do,” laughs the driver.

At this point, the tractor approaches the entrance to the Hydroponic Greenhouse. Waterson catches a glimpse of an eco-commercial infographics. The ad shows a beautiful prehistoric tree, with a timeline of its life measuring a couple hundred years. The next phase shows it being fossilized, with a time marker of a few millions of years. Then, an image of a plastic bottle pops up, with a timestamp “1 day”. Ultimately, the same bottle is shown floating in the ocean, with a marker “200 years, and still pending.” The following sequence shows a pineapple, six months old, its crown being cut and disposed of to be recycled into a compostable plate, used for 1 day, and, when buried in the soil, the seeds compressed in its fabric germinate to give new life. The label says, “Endless life, still pending”. This close, the images and digits on the hemispherical dome screen look crushingly big. Waterson drops his eyes as the tractor enters the Greenhouse.

Unlike the outer, open-air circles of the vegetation planted and growing in soil, the internal garden grows in the air – on transparent tube columns. All imaginable kinds of edible plants are growing here intensely intertangled yet in harmony, creating an elaborate ecosystem that can feed thousands. One can hear pollinating insects fill the air with a busy buzz. Prospering from the perfect year-round climate conditions of Australia, The Garden serves to cover the nutri-needs of the remaining infertile regions and slower-developing nation-states, along with meeting the global educational needs in naturology, sustainability, environmental ethics, agritourism and similar disciplines. Yet still, it is more of an Agrinature Museum than a farm. People nowadays are used to producing almost everything they need locally – in their villages, in their apartments.

“Stop, stop!” suddenly shouts Waterson, making the tractor driver hit the brakes.

The vehicle stops with a jolt, throwing both businessmen forwards in their cart. Steadying himself with the help of both his hands, Waterson then slides from the tractor to step on something he has never experienced before. Something that remembers the traces of his footprint, as if he were some astronaut on the Moon, and puff-billows in the air to finally settle atop his muskin leather shoe. The man squats and makes a trace on his Oxfords with his index finger, then takes a handful of dust and starts examining it.

The tractor driver is observing the scene for a long minute from his seat, then asks, sceptically.

“Why, you city boys never seen dust?”

“We do not have exposed dead areas like this, anywhere,” the businessman replies, sounding puzzled. “All walkways are either paved with thirsty concrete or covered with walk-resistant grass… but this…”

The businessman pulls a refillable bottle of water out of his pocket, unscrews it, and pours some of the liquid onto the dusty pathway. Bewildered, both city dwellers stare at the water, expecting it to be quickly absorbed by the dry thirsty soil… Only this is not happening. The water stays on the surface, ballooning at the edges and coating in a thin dust film.

The tractor driver starts to laugh loudly.

“You’ve just ruined water for nothing. The earth will not take it,” he says, knowingly. “Dust is dead soil. In the age of industrial agriculture, it fell victim to extreme erosion and was abandoned. That’s the mistake many farmers of the previous century made when tilling the soil and killing its microbiome with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

“What’s tilling?” the second businessman frowns.

“It’s an archaism. Sorry for my professional slang,” says the farmer and with a hand gesture invites both men back in, keeping the lecture talk as they proceed. “Little did the people back then knew – or cared – that damaging the soil was equally as important a contributing factor to climate change as fossil fuel burning. As soil dies and turns into dust, it releases carbon dioxide and water back into the air… And water in the air is what? Correct, another greenhouse gas… By damaging the soil, people damaged the natural small water cycles. Bare soils heated more. The results were dire. Sand storms, heat waves, less rainfall, famines, spreading dead areas… A vicious circle…”

Hardly listening, Jack Waterson tries in vain to remove dust off his hands and face, thanking destiny he was not born a century ago, when life resembled the end of the world and the world resembled the end of life. Inevitably, his mind drifts off to the anecdotal prophecy of the New Year. The man cannot but wonder if the wheel of fortune will spin back off balance… If today really is the last day of paradise on Earth?

Copyright ©️ 2024 Iryna Dihtiarova-Deslypper.  All rights reserved.

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