The Moth Snowstorm, Nature and Joy by Michael McCarthy

Nial Moores, June 4th 2015

Last year I was contacted by one of the UK’s top environmental writers, Mr. Michael McCarthy. He was planning to visit the ROK to see Saemangeum, as part of a book looking at the loss of natural abundance from the Earth, the “great thinning” as he describes it. Profoundly appreciative of the continuing survival of the Dee Estuary in the UK, a vital wilderness near the city of Liverpool, Mr. McCarthy discovered images of Saemangeum on the web, and found that this once global wonder, this migration hub on one of the world’s great Flyways had been

“Extinguished. Rubbed out. The whole thing. It haunted me. I kept going back to Google Maps, spellbound by the satellite photo: so simple it seemed, the thin white line in the sea, stretching neatly from one point to another; such destruction it had done. There, but for the grace of God, went the Dee.

Yet no one seemed bothered about it.

It was over.

It was finished.

It was history.

It was only an estuary.

Who writes elegies for estuaries?”

(from The Moth Snowstorm)

saemangeumNASA images of Saemangeum from space, 1989 and again in 2006

the thin white line in the sea, stretching neatly from one point to another; such destruction it had done

 It was an intense few days, driving around Saemangeum and along the massive seawall with him. Each visit to Saemangeum brings great sorrow anyway – something akin to the grief and powerlessness I suspect of visiting the sickbed of someone sentenced to a slow and painless and unnecessary death; a soul-mate who could have been saved, could still even now be saved, if only the right decision were made. And this time it was with someone full of insight and compassion who had developed an almost aggressive need to question and to make sense of the near-senseless: our own species’ failing love for and destruction of the natural world.

latemarch2014-MikeMC_Saemangeumseawall_RS1Mr. Michael McCarthy on the Saemangeum seawall, March 2014 © Nial Moores

And yesterday his book arrived in the post. As with his last book Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo I read this one almost without a break. The Moth Snowstorm is an extraordinarily honest book: articulate and challenging; deeply personal at one level and yet at another, highly resonant to all of us who do love the natural world.

And much of a chapter is dedicated to Saemangeum and the threat to the Yellow Sea.

Birds Koreans will immediately recognize the truth of his observations and his growing rage at seeing Saemangeum first-hand:

“Most grating of all were the frequent attempts to portray the project as green…ranging from labelling the concrete parking places as Dolphin Bay or Sunset Bay to publicity posters illustrating smiling, attractive young families looking admiringly on plans for green Saemangeum…This, to portray the project which had done more harm to shorebird habitat than any comparable project in history; this to gild the image of the narcissistic construction which had wiped out an estuary that was wondrous, for no discernible purpose.” (from The Moth Snowstorm)

saemangeum_themyth-_latemarch2014-RSRusting sign-boards on the Saemangeum Seawall, March 2014 © Nial Moores

 The book does not only observe and lament. It helps give shape to rivers of thought that flow through many of us, calling on us all to make ever more explicit our love for the natural world – our physical, emotional and spiritual home:

“something until now has been absent from the love of nature, from the delight in spring flowers and birdsong and the sense of the reawakening year, from the wonder at dolphins and the wonder at the dawn chorus; the modern understanding we are reaching, that there is an ancient bond with the natural world surviving deep within us, which makes it not a luxury, not an optional extra, not even part of an enchantment, but part of our essence – the natural home for our psyches where we can find not only joy but also peace, and to destroy which, is to destroy a fundamental part of ourselves. Should we lose it, we would be less than whole. We would be less than we have evolved to be. We would find true peace impossible …Now as the twenty-first century crashes upon the natural world like a tsunami, with all its obliteration and merciless unthinking ruin, let this new love be expressed; let it be articulated; let it be proclaimed.” Michael McCarthy, The Moth Snowstorm


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