How Paul Dano Came to Adapt a Richard Ford Novel for His Movie “Wildlife”

Paul Dano sized up the menu at Dumpling Galaxy, a brightly lit eatery inside a mall in Flushing’s Chinatown. “I’ve never been here, so I wanted to try it,” he said. “And it’s a good name, Dumpling Galaxy.” He wore a denim shirt, round glasses, and a red cap bearing the logo of a ranch store in Scottsbluff, Nebraska—a gift from his longtime partner, the actress Zoe Kazan, which she brought home from the set of the new Coen brothers film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” At thirty-four, Dano still has the boyish, pincushion face he had at twenty-two, when he played a spazzy teen-ager in the indie comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” though his manner is that of a sedate old gentleman. “Lamb and squash,” he told the waiter. “And what beef one do you recommend?”

That blend of youthful befuddlement and wise-beyond-years reflection suffuses his directorial début, “Wildlife,” which opens this weekend. Set in small-town Montana in 1960, it follows an adolescent boy (Ed Oxenbould) who watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate. Mother (Carey Mulligan) is a part-time swimming instructor with a self-destructive flair; Father (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job at a golf club and heads for the mountains to fight a wildfire. The film is based on a novel by Richard Ford, which Dano discovered several years ago while browsing at BookCourt, the erstwhile store in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He was hooked by the first few lines, which he recited from memory: “ ‘In the fall of 1960, when I was sixteen and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him. This was in Great Falls, Montana, at the time of the Gypsy Basin oil boom, and . . .’ ” Dano trailed off. “Something about ‘My father had come here hoping to get a piece of that good luck.’ ” He scrunched his face. “It’s very good, and I’m not happy that I can’t remember it.”

Dano was struck by the book’s unhappy family portrait. “There’s something moving to me about the idea that we just don’t know what’s going on in the lives around us,” he said. He knew that he wanted to make a film version after envisioning the final shot, so he wrote to Ford, who granted him the rights and added, “My book’s my book, and your picture’s your picture.” “That was such an incredible sense of permission,” Dano recalled. He wrote a first draft and showed it to Kazan, who is also a playwright and wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film “Ruby Sparks.” “She was, like, ‘It’s good . . .’ in a way that was totally not believable,” Dano said. “She had notes on every page.” They became co-writers, trading off drafts and occasionally reading aloud in their Brooklyn apartment. The script took several years to finish: at one point, Dano went to Russia for six months to play Pierre in a BBC One adaptation of “War and Peace,” while Kazan starred in films like “The Big Sick.” “ ‘Wildlife’ was my little secret,” he said. “When I was on the subway, I had something to daydream about.”

For atmosphere (and location scouting), he and Kazan took a road trip from Lewiston, Idaho, where the film’s fictional Brinson family moves from, to Great Falls, Montana. “I don’t think we wrote—we took some pictures, hung out, did bed-and-breakfasts,” Dano said. He was determined to shoot in Montana, but Great Falls looked too modern to play itself, and the state lacked the right tax incentives. So they budgeted four days in the Montana mountains and shot the rest in Oklahoma. Day Three, Dano recalled, was a doozy. The crew had rented two identical forest-green vintage cars, to save time switching camera angles, but one of them came with a busted windshield. That, plus iffy weather, an indie budget, and an underage lead actor with restricted work hours, made the whole thing a logistical feat. “That was the first day I had to drop a shot,” Dano said. “I remember feeling, Oh, fuck.”

He drew on his past collaborations with directors including Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”), Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”), and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”). Of Anderson, he recalled, “I remember seeing him wait for the oil to be dripping right. It’s time and money, but it’s got to be right.” A New York City native, Dano has been acting professionally since age eleven, when he was in a play in Stamford, Connecticut. He made his first appearance on Broadway soon after, in a 1996 revival of “Inherit the Wind,” starring George C. Scott and Charles Durning. (“I remember he’d often eat raw tomatoes,” Dano said of Durning.) One night, Arthur Miller came to see the show and asked to meet Dano, but Dano has little memory of it: “I was more concerned with getting Ben & Jerry’s afterwards.” He met Kazan in 2007, when they acted together in an Off Broadway play directed by Ethan Hawke—Dano had played a younger version of Hawke in the film “Taking Lives.” This winter, they’ll play brothers in a Broadway revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West.” “We’re quite different, which is good for the brothers,” Dano said.

He finished up his dumplings and went exploring. There was a grocery store hawking dragon fruit and pigs’ feet, an underground DVD shop stocked with action flicks. Passing through a Chinese herb store, he said, “It’s really fun to be so out of your element, so close to home.”

 

A New Biography ~ Gandhi

Gandhi in 1937. Credit The New York Times

GANDHI
The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948
By Ramachandra Guha
Illustrated. 1,083 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $40.

“The number of books that people write on this old man takes my breath away,” complained the politician B. R. Ambedkar of the proliferation of Gandhiana. That was in 1946. Ramachandra Guha must have smiled when he quoted that line in his new book, the second — and final — volume of his biography of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Few figures in history have been so extensively chronicled, including by himself (Gandhi’s own published collected works run to 100 volumes and over 50,000 pages). The really surprising thing is that there is still so much to say.

“Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948,” encompassing both world wars and the struggle for Indian independence, is a portrait of a complex man whose remarkable tenacity remained constant, even when his beliefs changed. It is also extraordinarily intimate. Gandhi drew no distinction between his private and public life. He made his own body a symbol, mortifying it through fasting or marching for political and spiritual change. He even went public with his sexual life — and the negation of it through brahmacharya, or chastity.

It is difficult to write about a man who was a revered spiritual leader as well as a keen political operator. Guha, the author of “India After Gandhi” and “Gandhi Before India” (the first volume of the monumental biography that this book concludes), approaches Gandhi on his own terms while trying not to gloss over his flaws. Perhaps inevitably, with one who has been regarded almost as a saint, it is the flaws that will capture many readers’ attention. A key theme that emerges is Gandhi’s effort to control himself and those around him. This extended from his own family to his political allies and opponents.

 

Even while he still saw some value in the caste system, Gandhi opposed untouchability. Guha is at pains to refute Arundhati Roy’s dismissal of Gandhi as a reactionary on caste. He details Gandhi’s exhaustive campaigns to allow untouchables into temples, and his many attempts to persuade other Hindus of his caste to accept them. Certainly, Gandhi did much brave and important work. Yet he still characterized untouchables as “helpless men and women” who required a savior — namely, him. As Guha says, Gandhi’s rhetoric “sounded patronizing, robbing ‘untouchables’ of agency, of being able to articulate their own demands and grievances.”

Gandhi fought Ambedkar over establishing separate electorates for untouchables, arguing that these would “vivisect” Hinduism. “I want political power for my community,” Ambedkar explained. “That is indispensable for our survival.” Gandhi’s reply, as quoted by Guha, was that “you are born an untouchable but I am an untouchable by adoption. And as a new convert I feel more for the welfare of the community than those who are already there.” Gandhi cared passionately about untouchability: He repeatedly emphasized his willingness to die if that was what it took to end it. What he could not seem to do was let untouchables themselves take the lead.

At the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Tall Tales, Resonant Rhymes ~ NYT

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At the 2018 convention: Colter Runnion from Wells, Nev.CreditKim Raff for The New York Times
Dom Flemons performed with Brian Farrow.CreditKim Raff for The New York Times

By Chris Wohlwend

 

As a sellout crowd jostled its way into the first big show of the 34th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering on a late-January night in Elko, Nev., old friends backslapped each other and laughed about past gatherings. It was a rowdy, good-natured opening of what has become the premier celebration of The Cowboy Way.

The atmosphere was not surprising — Elko, population about 18,000, sits in the northeastern corner of Nevada, an oasis in the Great Basin’s high-desert terrain and the center of the area’s ranching lifestyle. And the gathering commemorates the end-of-the-cattle-drive festivities that defined the Old West, with camaraderie and all that the term encompasses: tall tales, poetry and songs, dancing, gambling, thick steaks and strong drinks.

Beaded buckskin and swirling skirts dominated the dress of the women, string ties and cowboy hats the men. But when the cowboys took their seats, the hats came off: The Cowboy Way dictates respect for other audience members — no one wanted to block views of Riders in the Sky and Wylie and the Wild West, the gathering’s kickoff musical entertainers.

The sun sets over Idaho Street in Elko, Nev.CreditKim Raff for The New York Times

Most of the participants and many of the attendees make their living as ranch hands, whether riding the range on horseback, herding sheep with quick-moving dogs or trying to manage acreage that is measured in square miles. Others come because of the event’s welcoming atmosphere.

 

 

Excerpt from “Old Eagle Eyes” by Yvonne Hollenbeck:
He’s got eyes like an eagle for finding new calves
that their mamas have hidden all snug;
so why can’t he see the mud on his boots
that he’s tracking all over my rug?

Elko, as the event’s name is short-handed, yearly draws an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 revelers from across the American West and beyond. Past participants have included drovers from Australia and gauchos from South America. And there are Basques from their homeland in the Pyrenees Mountain areas of France and Spain, visiting relatives whose ancestors immigrated to the Great Basin. That diaspora began in the mid-1800s, many seeking gold, others to work as sheepherders.

The 2019 gathering — Jan. 28 to Feb. 2 — will be the 35th. The theme is described in the official program as “about preserving tradition and about the quest to find truth and beauty in the creative voices of everyday people.”

~~~  CONTINUE ON  ~~~

King of Pain … Jim Harrison book review from 2007, NYT

The novelist and poet Jim Harrison, who reviews a new collection of Charles Bukowski’s poems in this issue, has been treated pretty well by critics over the course of his more than 40-year career. Some of Harrison’s early novels, though, were attacked for featuring characters who were perhaps on the far side of macho.

Credit Christoph Niemann

Harrison’s response to those critics, published in Esquire in 1983, is still a funny and instructive blast of pique: “Reviewers think there is a basic uniformity of behavior in America. They believe this because they have told each other so, over and over, from their vantage points on America’s dreamcoasts. … Macho is a woe-begotten word. Actual macho is biting off your sleeping mother’s toe, throwing a rattlesnake into a baby’s carriage, murdering a virgin with a swan. I prefer the word nacho, that delicious little tidbit, to describe my behavior.” (Let us be the first to say it, then: Jim Harrison has always been American literature’s most nacho writer.)

Harrison does not review books often, and we are always happy to have him. “I write reviews only rarely when a book actually intrigues me and a book is offered to me,” he told us by e-mail. At the moment he’s finishing work on a new novel, “The English Major,” that will appear next spring.

~~~~~~~

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Poetry shouldn’t tell us what we already know, though of course it can revive what we think we know. A durable poet, the rarest of all birds, has a unique point of view and the gift of language to express it. The unique point of view can often come from a mental or physical deformity. Deep within us, but also on the surface, is the wounded ugly boy who has never caught an acceptable angle of himself in the mirror. A poet can have a deep sense of himself as a Quasimodo in a world without bells, or as the fine poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote:

A feast of brief hopes, a rally of the proud,
A tournament of hunchbacks, literature.

Charles Bukowski was a monstrously homely man because of a severe case of acne vulgaris when he was young. Along the way he also had bleeding ulcers, tuberculosis and cataracts; he attempted suicide; and only while suffering from leukemia in the last year of his life did he manage to quit drinking. Bukowski was a major-league tosspot, occasionally brutish but far less so than the mean-minded Hemingway, who drank himself into suicide. Both men created public masks for themselves, not a rare thing in a writer’s paper sack of baubles, but the masks were held in place for so long that they could not be taken off except in the work.

Throughout his life, Bukowski held a series of low-paying jobs so dismal that they are unbearable to list, though he did keep a position as a mail carrier for many years. Early on he was a library hound, and there are a surprising number of literary references in his work. (Quite by accident while I was writing this, the French critic Alexandre Thiltges paid a visit. He confirmed my suspicion that Bukowski had closely read Céline.) Even more surprising in this large collection are the number of poems characterized by fragility and delicacy; I’ve been reading Bukowski occasionally for 50 years and had not noted this before, which means I was most likely listening too closely to his critics. Our perceptions of Bukowski, like our perceptions of Kerouac, are muddied by the fact that many of his most ardent fans are nitwits who love him to the exclusion of any of his contemporaries. I would suggest you can appreciate Bukowski with the same brain that loves Wallace Stegner and Gary Snyder.

It is uncomfortable to realize that I have been monitoring American poetry for 50 years and am now even a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which a friend refers to as “The Dead Man’s Club.” All the scaffolding around the five-story building of this poetry is actually a confusing blemish and should be ignored in favor of the building itself, but this is probably impossible until a date in the future far beyond our concern. Time constructs the true canon, not critics contemporaneous to the work, whether they are the Vendlerites of the Boston area, the Bloombadgers of New Haven or the Goodyear Tires of New York City.

Bukowski was a solo act, though his lineage is fairly obvious. You detect Whitman, Bierce, Mencken, Sherwood Anderson, Kenneth Patchen, William Carlos Williams, perhaps Villon and Genet and strongly Céline. He loved classical music, and there is an amusing poem in which he feels for Bruckner because he wasn’t a better composer. He despised Fitzgerald because to a man from the lower depths, Fitzgerald seemed sensitive only to the sufferings within the upper class. Bukowski seemed far more worried about his cats’ health than his own. One had been shot and run over but survived, though its front legs didn’t coordinate with the back, a metaphor of something, probably Bukowski’s life. He observed birds, but one cannot imagine anyone less a nature poet, if you discount the infield of a racetrack, where you could see him in the long line at the $2 window. He was deeply enthused about bars and keeping company with whores, and seemed to like the spavined landscapes of the nether regions of Los Angeles, which I myself used to visit. They are so resolutely charmless compared with the slums of New York I knew in the late ’50s, which I visited because I was advised not to.

Charles Bukowski Credit John Cuneo

I have wondered, when asked about Bukowski in Brazil and France, if that’s not why so many foreigners admire him: he’s simply the American of their imagination, a low-level gangster as poet. Some are Abel poets and some are Cain poets, and Bukowski is clearly the latter (there are those who think of themselves as Cain poets but shift to Abel when they get a job in academia). It is clear in reading him that Bukowski didn’t live in a gated community, whether academic or economic. His was the hard-found music of the streets.

But then, fuimus fumus — it all drifts away in smoke. It is not poetry that lasts but good poems, a critical difference. An attractive idea is that the test of poetry should be the same as Henry James’s dictum for the novel, that it be interesting. Pasternak said that despite all appearances, it takes a lot of volume to fill a life. Bukowski’s strength is in the sheer bulk of his contents, the virulent anecdotal sprawl, the melodic spleen without the fetor of the parlor or the classroom, as if he were writing while straddling a cement wall or sitting on a bar stool, the seat of which is made of thorns. He never made that disastrous poet’s act of asking permission for his irascible voice.

It is hard to quote Bukowski because there are virtually none of those short lyrics with bow ties of closure that are so pleasant for a reviewer to quote. I will excerpt a poem evidently written quite near the end of his life:

it bothers the young most, I think:
an unviolent slow death.
still it makes any man dream;
you wish for an old sailing ship,
the white salt-crusted sail
and the sea shaking out hints of immortality

sea in the nosesea in the hair
sea in the marrow, in the eyes
and yes, there in the chest.
will we miss
the love of a woman or music or food
or the gambol of the great mad muscled
horse, kicking clods and destinies
high and away
in just one moment of the sun coming down?

I am not inclined to make elaborate claims for Bukowski, because there is no one to compare him to, plus or minus. He wrote in the language of his class as surely as Wallace Stevens wrote in the language of his own. This book offers you a fair chance to make up your own mind on this quarrelsome monster. It is ironical that those who man the gates of the canon will rarely if ever make it inside themselves. Bukowski came in a secret back door.

THE PLEASURES OF THE DAMNED

Poems, 1951-1993.

By Charles Bukowski.

Edited by John Martin.

556 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $29.95.

Why Artists Need Oddball Residencies ~ The New Yorker

There may be no more trenchant metaphor for the creative process than the Artist in Residence program at the San Francisco Transfer and Recycling Center, a forty-seven-acre garbage dump on the western banks of the 101. Since 1990, select artists have been offered studio space and “scavenging privileges”—a chance to stumble through mounds of discarded scraps and impedimenta, cart their finds back to their garrets, and reassemble those armfuls of trash into something deep and resonant. Using repurposed materials is certainly a noble and necessary endeavor (the program was founded by the progressive artist and activist Jo Hanson, with the hope of normalizing recycling). But the symbolism of sequestering artists to the garbage pile is perhaps too hilarious and heartbreaking to ignore.

In the past decade, a spate of unconventional residency programs have offered unused (or otherwise flexible) space to artists starved for time, solitude, or simply a room of their own, and as a result artists have taken up residence on moving Amtrak trains, a barrier island off the coast of Texas, the tower of a bridge that crosses a shipping canal, and an oceanographic research vessel. I can’t decide whether the grimness of some of these places (many are a stark contrast to the silent, idyllic pastures of the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, two of the nation’s most venerated and competitive residency programs) is simply funny or an apt and horrifying reflection of how America presently esteems its artists.

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la poeta residencia, Santa Fe, N.M.  photo credit rŌbert

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Don Tim Lane breaking his meditatión retirada in the Andes

 

Last year, more than four thousand (!) writers applied to a residency program at the Mall of America, in Bloomington, Minnesota. The gig included a twenty-five-hundred-dollar honorarium, a four-hundred-dollar gift card, hotel accommodations for four nights, and the opportunity “to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere,” sucking in the salty wind of corn dogs and freshly buttered pretzels, pondering the whirr of the Pepsi Orange Streak roller coaster, watching shoppers idly browse for shorts. This summer, the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey partnered to install a series of Queens-based artists and writers at LaGuardia Airport—perhaps the most desperate location in all of New York City. (Artists accepted into the program occupy a repurposed Hudson News kiosk for three months.)

 con-Artist in residence Matt Wells at Macho Acres, Marshall, Colorado… for more information concerning accommodations call Paul Sibley.

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Writers love lecturing anyone who will listen about how the work requires total isolation and commitment. It does, at the very least, demand sustained thought, which is an especially difficult thing to make space for in the present era. I myself have taken off for the hills when the static started to seem insurmountable—when a deadline was bearing down, and I could no longer discern the signal from the noise. Obviously, it’s a privilege to be even moderately equipped or allowed to do this—the luxury of frantically hollering “Not today!” to your unswept floors, to your loving partner, to the person on Twitter offering unsolicited advice, to your family members, to your other deadlines, to the thirty-seven kindly e-mails requesting an hour or eight to “pick your brain.” It is unquestionably a gift to be able to cram a pile of clothes and notebooks into the passenger side of a car and mash the accelerator.

Making art almost always requires failure—you’ve got to flail for a while, to swing and miss, miss, miss. But failure requires a financial cushion, a way to pay the bills while you figure out what you’re doing. Almost every working artist I know has several sources of income—they cobble together a Franken-career of freelance gigs, teaching appointments, one-off projects, and periodic office or restaurant stints. The stress of managing a dozen concurrent jobs can become paralyzing. The proliferation of oddball residencies simply reiterates how hysterically difficult it is for contemporary artists who are not born rich to nurture or sustain any sort of creative practice. In the midst of this, a silent room with your name on the door—wherever it is, and regardless of whether it has plumbing or not—becomes a kind of life preserver.

Of course, to advocate for the arts now, in an age in which so many people are suffering so urgently (from lack of health care, shelter, sustenance), feels like outing yourself as a pretentious gasbag. The culture so often considers creative work an indulgence, a trifle—the terrain of dilettantes, heirs, and heiresses. (When struggling artists gather to kvetch, “Oh, they’re rich” is the most biting insult hissed across the bar.) To hold and affirm that creative work is essential to the spiritual well-being of any thriving civilization feels almost too pie-eyed to bear.

Residency programs suggest that the best thing to do is to shrink and compartmentalize the whole process—to arrange for some brief, glorious period of time in which you get to live in the bathroom of a McDonald’s, or rattle around the back of a U-Haul, or, if you’re particularly lucky, decamp to some breathtaking cabin in the countryside, and make your stuff. Perhaps one no longer lives as an artist but merely vacations as one.

 

Our Hubris Will Be Our End

Then we’ll adapt and start telling ourselves new stories, just as humans have always done.

By Roy ScrantonRoy

Scranton is the author of “We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland on the Delmarva PeninsulaCredit Lexey Swall for The New York Times

You can walk to the beach from where we are staying. It’s a long peel of dun-colored sand bordered by tidy rainbow summer houses, monotonous black and white condos and monstrous blue McMansions that blister the length of the Delmarva Peninsula. On the other side of the sand lies the heaving, implacable mass of unfathomable gray-green water that covers nearly three-quarters of the globe, once a boundary between the known and unknown, a limit-space of mystery and terror, now tamed, or so we think, to a vacation fun zone. There are lifeguards, though, lean summer kids with lazy tans, and to the north, rising from the low trees, towers built to defend the American coastline from Nazi subs.

Ten minutes away, the highway connects you to an outlet mall, a Walmart and a cinema showing the latest superhero movie. We walk back and forth from the beach to the house, brave the cold Atlantic rush and the biting flies, make dinner, put the baby to bed, play a board game and sink at last into our screens, each of us burrowed into a different dark corner of the living room. Tablet light, phone light, laptop light flicker on our slack, rapt gazes.

Five hundred years ago, the people who lived here did not believe in progress. They did not believe in individual liberty, the autonomous self, the freedom of markets, human rights, the state or the concept of nature as something distinct from culture. They lived for generations without electricity, refrigeration, automobiles, Wi-Fi, on-demand streaming, police, homogenized milk, antibiotics or even The New York Times, and they were almost entirely wiped out in the centuries-long campaign of displacement and genocide that forms the through-line of North American history from 1492 to the end of the Apache Wars in the 1920s.

 

Indeed, some historians and anthropologists — such as James C. Scott, in his book “Against the Grain” — argue that life before modernity was better than our own, with more leisure time, fewer diseases and afflictions, and a more robust phenomenological and spiritual engagement with the world around us. True or not, the argument feels right, especially any time I find myself sitting by a campfire after hiking through the woods all day, or hanging out at the beach watching the waves crash.

Then I go back to my habits: the computer at which I write; the gas range, with its reliable, smokeless flame on which I heat my coffee; the flush toilet — indoors! — that carries away all bodily waste; the electric lamp I turn on to read by; the heating and air-conditioning that regulate our house’s microclimate. And I cannot help but feel an abiding sense of relief. I am adapted, whether I like it or not, to a certain built environment, a certain sense of space, a certain social order.

We humans of the Anthropocene Era, inhabitants of a global capitalist civilization built on fossil fuels, slavery and genocide, are used to living with the fruits of that civilization. We are accustomed to walking on concrete in mass produced shoes. When it rains we go inside or open an umbrella made of nylon, a synthetic polymer first designed in 1930. When we have to travel, we take a train, bus, car or plane, journeying hundreds of miles in a few hours, at speeds that would have been unimaginable 250 years ago. When it gets hot, we turn on the air-conditioning or go to the beach.

The extended coastal urban areas where about 40 percent of all humans now live, so blessedly near the sea, including this very beach town from which I write, would have been incomprehensibly strange, even grotesque, to the people who used to live here. Yet we are no different from them in any essential way, only accustomed to a different way of life, a different built environment, a different set of narratives and concepts that shape our sense of reality.

The thing we humans of the Anthropocene share with the Nanticoke and the Unami-speaking Lenape who used to live on the Delmarva Peninsula, and with the !Kung of the Kalahari, the Yukaghir of Siberia, the medieval Persians, the ancient Mayans, the blue-painted Picts, the Neolithic proto-Chinese Peiligang peoples and the Paleolithic nomads of the Pleistocene Era is precisely our ability to adapt to changing conditions, primarily through the collective use of symbolic reasoning and narrative. Homo sapiens can live almost anywhere on Earth, under almost any conditions; all we need is a story telling us why our lives matter.

In the transition from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras, around 65 million years ago, when the North American continent began to take shape, much of what we call the Eastern Seaboard was under water. No human beings existed then; it would be millions of years before any hominids evolved.

Today, Delmarva’s highest point is barely above sea level, a low hill on the peninsula’s west coast where you can sit and watch Chesapeake Bay slowly rise as Antarctica and Greenland melt, as the planet warms one-tenth degree by one-tenth degree, and the world to which we have adapted changes into something else. The beach will disappear, the McMansions will fill with water, the lifeguards will age and die and even the towers built to watch for Nazis will crumble and fall.

In some unknown future, on some strange and novel shore, human beings just like us will adapt to a whole new world. You can see them sitting circled around a fire on the beach, the light flickering on their rapt faces, one telling a story about a mighty civilization doomed by its hubris, an age of wonders long past.