Flowers at Chernobyl: Life in a Post-Human Landscape



When the COVID-19 pandemic was officially declared and a large part of the Earth’s surface was emptied of humans, Scottish journalist Cal Flynn He thought he was “dreaming about life.” I had just finished a draft of the book desertion islandsa A picture of places where nature has made its way without humans. “It was a very strange feeling to see so many of the empty urban landscapes I had imagined come to life. I had already written about human impact on nature, and I thought these desolate places were a useful way to show nature the world of the future and that human influence could change.” Cal confirms in an interview with EL PERIÓDICO DE ESPAÑA.

While Cal Flynn fiddled with the manuscript, empty cities around the world were noticed by wildlife. Herds of wild goats roamed and ransacked the streets of Llandudno, Wales, deer graze in the middle of the highways and roamed the subway platforms in Nara, Japan, pumas stalked the alleys of Santiago de Chile, and kangaroos roamed the empty business district of central Adelaide (Australia),” he wrote. In the first part of the book.

The apocalyptic pictures of the epidemic suddenly revealed, in the author’s words, “the The speed with which wildlife can colonize space If it is abandoned. ”

visited the so-called Chernobyl exclusion zone, evacuated in 1986 after the worst nuclear accident in history; a Isle of Scotland where the last herd of wild horses in Europe grows; Abandoned quarters in a once industrial city Detroit; The forest that has grown on hundreds of thousands of corpses Battle of Verdun in the First World War. boundary line that divides Cyprus (known as the mattress area); the Salton Sea It originated in the California desert when the Colorado River burst its banks. “Some locations – as the author writes in the book – are islands in the literal sense of the word, others act as such, pockets of wilderness in a sea of ​​asphalt and brick or agricultural plains reserved for monoculture.” each in their own way, offering its own “special recipe for gloom and hope,” and endorsing the surprising and major thesis of an essay he presented Sunday times 2021: “Places like Chernobyl show us that sometimes human absence is the necessary stimulus to start the resurrection.”

Life after radioactivity

Cal Flynn states that his main business Memories of Pripyat, the center of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, are the empty corridors of apartment complexes, schools and sports centers he visited: “The buildings are deserted, damp, plaster on the walls was falling off, fungus was growing from the carpet, leaves were blowing on the walls in the wind.” Suddenly, he heard an alarming noise: the screeching of a moose. I became nervous. On the streets of Pripyat, from which 116,000 people have been expelled, you feel like a lost girl wandering in the wilderness. “You could hear the birds and animals in the middle of town. In the sewers, the covers collapsed downward. And the trees sprouted from below, marked with thin boughs, like warning flags.” It was an unsettling place, the setting for a disaster movie.. I had to keep pushing myself to remind myself it was real,” says the author.

To his surprise, he discovers that the forbidden zone, also known as the dead zone, is teeming with life. Despite the fact that the rain released after the explosion of the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was 400 times greater than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Flynn realized that this posthuman city was experiencing a flowering of a new animal and plant. In the fourth chapter of the book it is written: “Pripyat is the region of birch, maple and poplar,” and thick leaves cover the asphalt. The branches appear bare and polluted. Animals such as lynx, wild boar, deer, moose, beaver, eagle owl. After 10 years, the number of all animal species in the area has at least doubled. By 2010, the wolf population had multiplied by seven. In 2014, for the first time in a century, brown bears were spotted in Chernobyl.”

Nature is wise. Chernobyl radiation is more concentrated in some places than others, allowing life to flourish in the rest: “It accumulates in lichens, in the lilies of ponds, in the shells of snails and mussels in birch sap, in fungi, in wood ashes.” After Cal Flynn’s multiple excursions into posthuman landscapes, one of his main conclusions is this Even the most polluted places in the world become ecosystems of great importance. At the mouth of the heavily polluted Passaic River – New Jersey’s manufacturing and stage center Bassic effects, Robert Smithson’s bizarre artist walks through the ruins – hay and thick salty grass grow. A few kilometers to the north, the abandoned oil refinery has become a haven for egrets and cormorants.

In the ruins of the abandoned airport of Nicosia, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Cyprus war, nature takes care of everything: “In addition to pigeons, owls rest in cracks and holes in masonry. Snakes bask on the cracked path. Foxes catch mice in the tall grass. Hawks nest atop towers Control.” Cal Flynn, without denying the danger of an apocalyptic future, shows some hope: “In the places I’ve been, places bent and broken, bare and desolate, polluted and labeled, I have found new life springing from the old, strangest life if that is possible and strangest because of its resilience.” “.

urban abandonment

In the city of Detroit, one word seems to condense all of its residents’ traumas: lesion. Although the term has agricultural origins and was used in the 16th century to refer to phenomena that caused the sudden and devastating death of crops, in Detroit it is translated as “urban blight.” the lesion It is a kind of ghostly evocation, A.J A slow-moving tsunami that settles in abandoned homes and neighborhoods. Detroit, once the epicenter bubble The American Automotive Company has 80,000 empty properties.

Its population disappeared after the city’s economic collapse in recent decades. If in 1950 its population was 1.85 million people, then in the latest census (2019), its population was 670 thousand people. Detroit’s decline, it seems, is irreversible lesionIt’s not quite physical. Cal Flynn wrote: “It consists of broken windows, balconies taken off, rafters falling off. Tile melting on roofs, tile slipping. It is also a synthesis of the ways in which neglect affects the human psyche.”

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Along deserted islands, The author highlights not only the flourishing of animal and plant life in the ruined landscape, but also the human capacity to live in the ruins. “It may be easier or more comfortable to dwell in the ruins of the old than to start over,” he says.. In the chapter entitled Flood and desertFlynn wanders the declining cities that sprung up in the Salton Sea, a lake in southeastern California born after the Colorado River flooded in 1905. The waters ripped through a poorly constructed irrigation canal, The lumber town of Salton flooded, flooding 11,000 acres. After a brief period Well done Yachting, spas and fishing, pollution has scared the inhabitants of the Salton Sea.

Today, Slab City, “more like a slum than a city”, is “the last free place in America” ​​for some of its residents, stronghold hippiesShamans, prophets, entertainers, drug addicts and adrift beings. Cal Flynn describes sentimentally the city’s most iconic landmark, Salvation Mountain, a “terrain-sculpted place of worship” built of adobe and thatch and painted in the bright colors of Sgt. Pepper’s album cover. the Beatles. Reflecting on this totem revered by the posthuman tribe of Slab City, Cal Flynn draws some of the book’s most profound thoughts: “Pilgrims flock to Slap City in search of rebirth: a new beginning, a new life, a blank page. A place where it collapses during repair.” They themselves. They trust that they can forge something new from the ruins of the old, both physically and spiritually.”



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