A friend of the earth, p.1
A Friend of the Earth, p.1T. Coraghessan Boyle
A FRIEND OF THE EARTH
T. C. Boyle
For Alan Arkawy
Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world, and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then that the world exists for you.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, ’Nature’
The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming …
Tom Waits, ’The Earth Died Screaming’
Prologue Santa Ynez, November 2025
Part One Bring ’Em Back Alive
The Siskiyou, July 1989
Santa Ynez, November 2025
The Siskiyou, July 1989
Santa Ynez, November 2025
Los Angeles/Titusville, July 1989
Part Two Progress Is Our Most Important Product
Santa Ynez, November 2025
The Sierra Nevada, August 1989
Santa Ynez, December 2025
The Sierra Nevada, May–August 1990
Santa Ynez, April 2026
Part Three Wildlife in America
Lompoc/Los Angeles, September–October 1991
Santa Ynez, April 2026
Los Angeles, September 1993/Scotia, December 1997
The Sierra Nevada, May 2026
Epilogue The Sierra Nevada, June–July 2026
A Note on the Author
Also available by T. C. Boyle
By the Same Auhtor
Santa Ynez, November 2025
I’m out feeding the hyena her kibble and chicken backs and doing what I can to clean up after the latest storm, when the call comes through. It’s Andrea. Andrea Knowles Cotton Tierwater, my ex–wife, my wife of a thousand years ago, when I was young and vigorous and relentlessly virile, the woman who routinely chained herself to cranes and bulldozers and seven–hundred–thousand–dollar Feller Buncher machines back in the time when we thought it mattered, the woman who helped me raise my daughter, the woman who made me crazy. Jesus Christ. If somebody has to come, why couldn’t it be Teo? He’d be easier – him I could just kill. Bang–bang. And then Lily would have something more than chicken backs for dinner.
Anyway, there are trees down everywhere and the muck is tugging at my gum boots like a greedy sucking mouth, a mouth that’s going to pull me all the way down eventually, but not yet. I might be seventy–five years old and my shoulders might feel as if they’re attached at the joint with fishhooks, but the new kidney they grew me is still processing fluids just fine, thank you, and I can still outwork half the spoonfed cretins on this place. Besides, I have skills, special skills – I’m an animal man and there aren’t many of us left these days, and my boss, Maclovio Pulchris, appreciates that. And I’m not name–dropping here, not necessarily – just stating the facts. I manage the man’s private menagerie, the last surviving one in this part of the world, and it’s an important – scratch that, vital – reservoir for zoo–cloning and the distribution of what’s left of the major mammalian species. And you can say what you will about pop stars or the quality of his music or even the way he looks when he takes his hat and sunglasses off and you can see what a ridiculous little crushed nugget of a head he was born with, but I’ll say this – he’s a friend of the animals.
Of course, there isn’t going to be anything left of the place if the weather doesn’t let up. It’s not even the rainy season – or what we used to qualify as the rainy season, as if we knew anything about it in the first place – but the storms are stacked up out over the Pacific like pool balls on a billiard table and not a pocket in sight. Two days ago the wind came up in the night, ripped the roof off of one of the back pens and slammed it like a giant Frisbee into the Lupine Hill condos across the way. Mac didn’t particularly care about that – nobody’s insured for weather anymore and any and all lawsuits are automatically thrown out of court, so don’t even ask – but what hurt was the fact that the Patagonian fox got loose, and that’s the last native–born individual known to be in existence on this worn–out planet, and we still haven’t found the thing. Not a clue. No tracks, no nothing. She just disappeared, as if the storm had picked her up like Dorothy and set her down in the place where the extinct carnivores of all the ages run riot through fields of hobbled game – or in the middle of a freeway, where to the average motorist she’d be nothing more than a dog on stilts. The pangolins, they’re gone too. And less than fifty of them out there in the world. It’s a crime, but what can you do – call up the search and rescue? We’ve all been hit hard. Floods, winds, thunder and lightning, even hail. There are plenty of people without roofs over their heads, and right here in Santa Barbara County, not just Los Andiegoles or San Jose Francisco.
So Lily, she’s giving me a long steady look out of the egg yolks of her eyes, and I’m lucky to have chicken backs what with the meat situation lately, when the pictaphone rings (think Dick Tracy, because the whole world’s a comic strip now). The sky is black – not gray, black – and it can’t be past three in the afternoon. Everything is still, and I smell it like a gathering cloud, death, the death of everything, hopeless and stinking and wasted, the pigment gone from the paint, the paint gone from the buildings, cars abandoned along the road, and then it starts raining again. I talk to my wrist (no picture, though – the picture button is set firmly and permanently in the off position – why would I want to show this wreck of a face to anybody?). ‘Yeah?’ I shout, and the rain is heavier, wind–driven now, snapping in my face like a wet towel.
The voice is cracked and blistered, like the dirt here when the storms move on to Nevada and Arizona and the sun comes back to pound us with all its unfiltered melanomic might, but I recognize it right away, twenty years notwithstanding. It’s a voice that does something physical to me, that jumps out of the circumambient air and seizes hold of me like a thing that lives off the blood of other things. ‘Andrea? Andrea Cotton?’ Half a beat. ‘Jesus Christ, it’s you, isn’t it?’
Soft and seductive, the wind rising, Lily fixing me from behind the chicken wire as if I’m the main course: ‘No picture for me?’
‘What do you want, Andrea?’
‘I want to see you.’
‘Sorry, nobody sees me.’
‘I mean in person, face to face. Like before.’
Rain streams from my hat. One of the sorry inbred lions starts coughing its lungs out, a ratcheting, oddly mechanical sound that drifts across the weedlot and ricochets off the monolithic face of the condos. I’m trying to hold back a whole raft of feelings, but they keep bobbing and pitching to the surface, threatening to break loose and shoot the rapids once and for all. ‘What for?’
‘What do you think?’
‘I don’t know – to run down my debit cards? Fuck with my head? Save the planet?’
Lily stretches, yawns, shows me the length of her yellow canines and the big crushing molars in back. She should be out on the veldt, cracking up giraffe bones, extracting marrow from the vertebrae, gnawing on hoofs. Except that there is no veldt, not anymore, and no giraffes either. Something unleashed in my brain shouts, IT’S ANDREA! And it is. Andrea’s voice coming back at me. ‘No, fool,’ she says. ‘For love.’
I am a fool, a fool in a thousand hats and guises, and the proof of it is that I agree to see her, with hardly any argument and the paltriest spatter of foreplay, the old voice banging around inside my head like a fist with a gnawed bone in it. And how long has it been – exactly, now? Since ‘02 or ‘03, anyway. We used to climb mountains together, dance till the music went deaf in our ears, fuck till the birds woke up and sang and died of old age. Once we spent thirty days naked together in the Sierra Nevada, and even if it wasn’t exactly like The Blue Lagoon
But not here. No, I’m not that much of a fool. I’ve arranged an assignation at Swenson’s Catfish and Sushi House in Solvang for six this evening, despite the torrents and the washed–out roads, because I’ve got Mac’s 4x4 and whatever she’s got or how she’s going to get there isn’t exactly my problem. Not yet, anyway.
She’ll be there, though – you can bet on that. She wants something – money, a place to crash, clothes, a nice bottle of wine, my last can of Alaskan snow crab (now extinct, like everything else that swims or crawls in the sea, except maybe zebra mussels) – and she always gets what she wants. I try to picture her as she was back then, in her mid–forties, and all I can see is her eyes, eyes that took hold of you and wouldn’t let go, as hot and hard and punishing as a pair of torches. And her breasts. I remember them too. I don’t think she ever went out of the house a day in her life in anything that didn’t cling to them like a fresh coat of paint, except for the month in the Sierras when she wore nothing but bug bites and dirt.
Andrea. Yeah, sure, it’ll be good to see her, even if nothing happens – and as I say, I haven’t gone over the horizon as far as sex is concerned, not yet, and even if I haven’t actually participated in anything remotely sexual since Lori died in the mucosa epidemic that hit here three years ago, I still think about it all the time. I look at the women Mac’s bodyguards bring in and reconfigure how they’re built under their rain clothes, and I watch the lean–legged things in khaki dresses wheeling their carts around the forlorn aisles of the supermarket when I take the 4x4 in for kibble and whatever they’ve got by way of half–rotten vegetable matter for the spectacled bear and the peccaries. Sex. It’s a good thing. Even if I don’t think I could stand it more than maybe once a month, and only then if all the attachment that comes with it – the hand–wringing and nose–wiping, the betrayals and shouting matches and the animal intimacy that isn’t a whit higher on the emotional scale than the licking, sucking and groveling of the hyenas – is strictly exiled from the process.
Love, she said. For love. And despite myself, despite everything I’ve learned and suffered and the claw marks etched into my back, I feel myself soften for that fatal instant, and I know she’s got me.
I’m standing there gazing into Lily’s pen, all the rain in the universe dripping from the brim of my silly yellow rain–hat and the jutting overgrown humiliation of my old man’s nose, when a windblown shout comes to me across the yard. It’s Chuy, lit by a fantastic tendril of lightning that brings me back to my tie–dye days, blotter acid, strobe lights in a dance club and Jane, my first wife and first love, but Chuy isn’t Jane, he’s Chuy, who has no surname because he can’t remember it since the crop–dusting accident that took his hair, his manhood and half his brain and left him as jittery as a cockroach on a griddle. He’s dragging something, a bundled wet rug, old newspapers, the rain intercepting him in broad gray sheets that are just like the flung buckets of the old comedy routines – like special effects, that is.
‘It’s a dog,’ Chuy says, panting up to me through the ocean of the air, and sure enough, that’s what it is, a dog. Two, three days dead, bloated a bit in the belly, collie–shepherd mix, never seen him before and at least it’s not the Patagonian fox, because that’s all we need. ‘Found him dead in the bushes, Mr. Ty, and what I’m thinking is maybe he is the kind of something Lily can comer, no?’
Me, judicious, old, scrawny, rain–beaten: ‘Poison? Because if it is – ’
Chuy is squinting up at me, my personal reclamation project, his eyes loopy, no control of his jaws or tongue, every nerve fried and sizzling still. ‘No poison, Mr. Ty, road tracks.’ And he lifts the hind end of the thing to show the mangled legs and crushed spine.
Well, and this is good, a real bonus, and as the two of us hoist the sodden carcass to the level of our armpits and heave it up over the chicken wire to where Lily, interested, lurches up out of the mud, I can’t help thinking of Andrea and what shirt I’ll wear and whether or not I should bother with a sportcoat. I’m picturing us there at the bar at Swenson’s, her irreducible eyes and deep breasts, no change in her at all because change is inconceivable, Andrea at forty–three, a knockout, a killer, hello, look at me, and then Lily gets hold of the dog and all I can hear is the crunch of bone.
The lions have had their horsemeat and the giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are busy with some half–rotted beams full of Formosa termites, lunch enough, I expect, when finally I develop the sense to come in out of the wet. By this time – it must be four, four–thirty – the rain has slackened off a bit and the wind, which always seems to be peaking at Force 10 lately, seems a bit quieter too. What would you call it? – hat–extracting velocity. A strike and a spare and eight more frames to go. Gusty. Blustery. Not–quite–gale–force. It rattles the hood of my slicker, slapping my cheeks with wet vinyl, thwack–thwack, and my glasses are riding up and down the bridge of my nose as if it’s been greased. Things are a mess, and no doubt about it, every step a land mine, the shrubs tattered like old sails, the trees snapped in two and then snapped in two again. But what can I do? I leave all that to Mac’s gardeners and the masochistic pup of a landscape architect who keeps popping up, unfazed, whenever the rain lets up for an hour – though with all the topsoil running off and the grass gone to seed, I can see we’ll be living in the middle of a desert here in the dry season. If it ever comes.
As part of my arrangement with Mac, I occupy a two–room guesthouse on the far verge of the estate, just under the walls of Rancho Seco, the gated community to the east of us. It was built back in the nineties, with all the modern conveniences, and it’s a cozy–enough place but for the fact that the winds have long since torn off the gutters and three–quarters of the shingles and the fireplace is bricked up, as per state law. Still, I have a space heater, and it never gets too cold here, not like in the old days – never below sixty, anyway – and I’m field marshal over an army of old pots and paint cans that catch at least half the rain at least half the time. Yet how can I account for the fact that I’m shivering like a cholera victim by the time I actually shrug off the slicker and stamp out of my boots and take a towel to my head? Because I’m old, that’s how. Because sixty degrees and wet at my age is like the temperature water turned to ice when I was thirty–nine, the year I met Andrea.
The place smells of mold – what else? – and rats. The rats – an R–selected species, big litters, highly mobile, selected for any environment – are thriving, multiplying like there’s no tomorrow (but of course there is, as everybody alive now knows all too well and ruefully, and tomorrow is coming for the rats too). They have an underlying smell, a furtive smell, old sweat socks balled up on the floor of the high–school locker room, drains that need cleaning, meat sauce dried onto the plate and then reliquefied with a spray of water. It’s a quiet stink, nothing like the hyena when she’s wet, which is all the time now, and I forgive the rats that much. I’m an environmentalist, after all – or used to be; not much sense in using the term now – and I believe in Live and Let Live, Adat, Deep Ecology, No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth.
Andrea. Oh, yes, Andrea. She burned me in that crucible, with her scorching eyes and her voice of ash, and her body, her beautiful hard backpacker’s body, stalwart legs, womanly hips and all the rest. She’s on her way to Swenson’s to meet me. Maybe there already, the sake cup like a thimble in her big female hands, leaning into the bar to show off what she has left, stupefying Shigetoshi Swenson, the bartender, who can’t be more than sixty–four or – five. The thought of that scenario wakes me up,
There’s a whole crowd out on the road, storm or no storm, commuters, evening shoppers, repair crews, teenagers jazzed on a world turned to shit, and I have to be careful with the wind rocking the car and the jolts and bumps and washed–out places. This used to be open country twenty–five years ago – a place where you’d see bobcat, mule deer, rabbit, quail, fox, before everything was poached and encroached out of existence. I remember stud farms here, fields running on forever, big estates like Mac’s set back in the hills, even an emu ranch or two (Leaner than beef, and half the calories, try an Emu Burger today!). Now it’s condos. Gray wet canyons of them. And who’s in those condos? Criminals. Meat–eaters. Skin–cancer patients. People who know no more about animals – or nature, or the world that used to be – than their computer screens want them to know.
All right. I’ll make this brief. The year is 2025, I’m seventy–five years old, my name is Tyrone O’Shaughnessy Tierwater, and I’m half an Irish Catholic and half a Jew. I was born in the richest county in the suburbs of the biggest city in the world, in a time when there were no shortages, at least not in this country, no storms (except the usual), no acid rain, no lack of wild and jungle places to breathe deep in. Right now, I’m on my way to share some pond–raised catfish sushi with my ex–wife Andrea, hoist a few, maybe even get laid for auld lang syne. Or love. Isn’t that what she said? For love? The windshield wipers are beating in time to my arrhythmic heart, the winds are cracking their cheeks, the big 4x4 Olfputt rocking like a boat at sea – and in my head, stuck there like a piece of gum to the sole of my shoe, the fragment of a song from so long ago I can’t remember what it is or how it got there. Down the alley the ice wagon flew … Arlene took me by the hand and said, Won’t you be my man?
A Friend of the Earth by T. Coraghessan Boyle / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes