In the name of the Mome

Published in The Niche, British Ecological Society, Vol 50, no 3, p60. This came from wondering where the red lines are in eco-activism – at what point do we become too similar to the current regimes that we dislike? I explored the edge of comfort in fiction, and in writing I think I found where my line lay.

A bedraggled man staggered down the cobbled streets, his shoes sliding off and his tie askew. Smeared with eggs and rotten fruit, he looked down at the oozing marrows that littered the floor. Just a few more metres, he thought. Just one hundred metres more and it will all be over.


An excited youth screamed from behind the barricades as he lobbed a mouldy tomato.

‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’

His gut twisted like a boa constrictor as he realised it would not be over. Sure, the ritual would end and he would be free to leave, to shower, to change his clothes. But life as he knew it would be over. He was being delisted, and would have to retrain as a shoe-repairer or mudbrick-maker. And in his free time he had 1000 trees to plant, water and tend over five years, with at least a 90% survival rate.

Damn eco-nuts, he thought. Always drooling over some butterfly or jaguar or lesser spotted arse-weevil. So his mines had leaked a little mercury. No pain, no gain. His shareholders had been happy. And he had been gaining just fine until those bloody sandalwearers had taken over. Sure, he’d bent the knee and mouthed the words – it helped keep the Sector governments onside. He’d even attended a mass by the ridiculous new female Pope who bleated on and on about looking after Pachamama. But surely nobody had really expected him to change? Business was business after all, even if the religious geeks and their girl-guide governors were measuring business success in CO2 reduced or whatever. He wasn’t about to spend half his hard-earned cash on cleaning up like GreenMine or SilverBullet just to get a badge for recycling. Though perhaps he’d have done a bit more if he’d realised the Mome had grown teeth…

Watching the former CEO of GoldDigga slip and slide down the street was a cool-eyed woman in her forties, her crisp uniform displaying her rank as one of the top advisors to Her Holiness the Mome. She turned to the younger woman on her left.

‘So the Mome is popular in Europe Sector Three then?’

‘Yes’ replied the younger woman. ‘Even this sector had slipped in allegiance to the Pope, but they’ve rushed to the Mome. Confessional booths are full of people repenting for eating beef or flying to the southern European sectors, and the young especially seem to embrace invasive species removal and tree-planting as penance more than they did Hail Marys. Carbon emissions were down 5% last year and we are on track for a further 15% this year, and we have seen increases in large carnivores of up to 20%.’

The older woman nodded, impressed.

‘I am not sure, however, that I can give a mandate for quite such… public penance for those who do not confess and repent. What happened to the guideline committee?’

The younger woman blushed, and spoke to her feet.

‘I, well, the thing is, nobody gets hurt, much, and, I, we, the guideline committee… we stayed up all night watching Game of Thrones series 17, and then had to write the guidelines in a hurry and we got a bit carried away, and once they were in place they were so popular…’

The older woman pursed her lips. She took in the stinking, swearing man, the excited hordes behind the barricades, the mumbling local official. No pain, no gain, she thought. So long as most people were happy, where was the harm?

‘Sector Three, you pass inspection. All methods approved, in the name of the Mome.’

The Road to Nowhere

My first blog post is an ecological fiction or ‘eco-fi’ story I wrote for the British Ecological Society’s ‘The Niche’ magazine. It is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Mi primera entrada en este blog es una historia de ‘ficción ecológica’, escribí para la revista ‘The Niche’ de la British Ecological Society. Se reproduce aquí con su permiso.

The Road to Nowhere

Marya was used to being underestimated. At school, they thought she was backwards because she had spent five years in the forest and spoke Spanish with a thick Tsimane accent. In her job they underestimated her because she was small, and quiet, and never showed her feelings. The police didn’t even bother to beat her much at protests because she was so tiny. Being overlooked had its advantages.

Some of her family had thought they’d won for good. They’d protested, they’d marched all the way to La Paz, hundreds of kilometres of blisters and aching muscles, bruises from being beaten, smarting eyes from tear gas. They’d won; the road was off, said the government. The TIPNIS national park was inviolable from now on. No tarmac scars through their forest. No cocaleros bringing degradation and violence. They could go home, and their home was safe.

Marya had not been so sure. Once the road had been thought it could not be unthought. A lot of people did not want it to be unthought. People with money, and guns, and friends in high places.

Our power comes from the forest, her father had taught her. We are part of the forest, like trees, or fungi, or jaguars. All of these things have power; the power to kill, to recycle death, to grow something vibrant and new out of the old and rotten. She saw the forest and saw that it was true. But the power of chainsaws and greed worked faster than the power of trees or mushrooms.

She’d learned more about the power of living things studying biology at university. She’d not been quite so overlooked there, coming third in her class. But foreign universities still didn’t want her as a grad student; her degree was considered second rate, at best. Fortunately her mama’s sister worked as a lab tech in Los Angeles, and could get her a job there. The lab heads were happy for this solemn, efficient young woman to work late, processing their samples. Microbiology was her forte; a whole world in a petri dish. Invisible, overlooked organisms, with surprising powers.

It was five years later that the protests began again. Apparently, the forest was now un-inviolable again. The stroke of a pen, lines on paper, and the lines through the trees started. She returned home; her father needed her. Every day machines were rumbling through the coca farms to the forest edge, cutting and digging and consuming the trees and all that lived in them. Bird’s nests lay smashed on the ground. Lizards were run over by bulldozers. The air was thick with the acrid stench of asphalt being laid.

It was strange when a few months later the road stopped making progress. They laid the tarmac, hot and black and steaming, and within a few weeks it was gone. The machines started to break down, almost from within. They suspected the indigenous, and guarded the road with lights and guns and dogs. But they never saw anybody. The rains came and trees started to grow over the scars of the road. Bushes sprouted from the diggers.

Marya’s father knew his little girl was somehow involved.

Marycita, he asked her. How did you do it?

The power of tiny things, she said. Tiny living things that eat tarmac, and metal. They had them in the lab in L.A. I bred them. I made them stronger. I let them go.

What will happen now? He asked.

This, she replied. This, everywhere. The workers have the tiny living things on their shoes. So do the government officials who came to see the works, and the foreign company chiefs. Everywhere they go, they will spread my little living things. They will take over the world. We will be safe again.

Marya, he replied, tears in his eyes, Marya, chiquita, I never underestimated you.

‘The Niche’ December 2018, page 66. 

This story is fiction; but both the TIPNIS Resiste movement and tarmac eating microbes are real.

El Camino a Ninguna Parte

Gracias a Alfredo Romero-Muñoz por la ayuda con la traducción.

Marya estaba acostumbrada a ser subestimada. En la escuela, pensaban que era retrasada porque había pasado cinco años en el bosque y hablaba español con un fuerte acento Tsimane. En su trabajo la subestimaban porque era pequeña, callada y nunca mostraba sus sentimientos. La policía ni siquiera se molestó en golpearla mucho en las protestas porque era muy pequeña. Ser pasada por alto tenía sus ventajas.

Algunos miembros de su familia pensaban que habían ganado para siempre. Protestaron, marcharon hasta La Paz, cientos de kilómetros de ampollas y dolores musculares, moretones por los golpes, ojos irritados por los gases lacrimógenos. Habían ganado; la carretera estaba cancelada, dijo el gobierno. El parque nacional TIPNIS era inviolable a partir de ahora. Sin cicatrices de asfalto a través de su bosque. Sin cocaleros que traigan degradación y violencia. Podían irse a casa, y su casa era segura.

Marya no estaba tan segura. Una vez que se pensó en el camino, no se lo podía olvidar. Mucha gente no quería que sea olvidado. Gente con dinero, armas y amigos en altos cargos.

Nuestro poder viene del bosque, le había enseñado su padre. Somos parte del bosque, como los árboles, los hongos o los jaguares. Todas estas cosas tienen poder; el poder de matar, de reciclar la muerte, de hacer crecer algo nuevo y vibrante de lo viejo y lo podrido. Ella vio el bosque y vio que era verdad. Pero el poder de las motosierras y la codicia funcionaba más rápido que el poder de los árboles o los hongos.

Había aprendido más sobre el poder de los seres vivos estudiando biología en la universidad. No había sido tan ignorada allí, siendo la tercera de su clase. Pero las universidades extranjeras todavía no la querían como estudiante de posgrado; su título era considerado de segunda clase, en el mejor de los casos. Afortunadamente, la hermana de su mamá trabajaba como técnica de laboratorio en Los Ángeles y pudo conseguirle un trabajo allí. Los jefes de laboratorio se alegraron de que esta solemne y eficiente joven trabajara hasta tarde, procesando sus muestras. La microbiología era su fuerte; todo un mundo en una placa de Petri. Organismos invisibles e ignorados, con poderes sorprendentes.

Fue cinco años después que las protestas comenzaron de nuevo. Aparentemente, el bosque era ahora no-inviolable de nuevo. El trazo de un lápiz, las líneas sobre el papel y las líneas a través de los árboles comenzaron. Volvió a casa; su padre la necesitaba. Cada día había máquinas que recorrían las plantaciones de coca hasta el borde del bosque, cortando, cavando y consumiendo los árboles y todo lo que vivía en ellos. Los nidos de pájaros yacían aplastados en el suelo. Los lagartos fueron atropellados por excavadoras. El aire era espeso con el olor acre a asfalto siendo puesto.

Fue extraño cuando unos meses después la carretera dejó de avanzar. Colocaron el asfalto, caliente, negro y humeante, y en pocas semanas ya no estaba. Las máquinas empezaron a averiarse, casi desde dentro. Sospechaban de los indígenas y vigilaban la carretera con luces, armas y perros. Pero nunca vieron a nadie. Las lluvias llegaron y los árboles comenzaron a crecer sobre las cicatrices del camino. Los arbustos brotaron de las excavadoras.

El padre de Marya sabía que su hija estaba involucrada de alguna manera.

Marycita, le preguntó. ¿Cómo lo hiciste?

El poder de las cosas diminutas, dijo ella. Pequeños seres vivos que comen asfalto y metal. Los tenían en el laboratorio de Los Ángeles. Yo los crié. Los hice más fuertes. Los dejé ir.

¿Qué pasará ahora? Preguntó.

Esto, contestó ella. Esto, en todas partes. Los trabajadores tienen las diminutas cosas vivientes en sus zapatos. También lo hacen los funcionarios del gobierno que vinieron a ver las obras, y los jefes de las compañías extranjeras. Dondequiera que vayan, esparcirán mis pequeños seres vivos. Se apoderarán del mundo. Estaremos a salvo de nuevo.

Marya, contestó, lágrimas en los ojos, Marya, chiquita, yo nunca te subestimé.

Esta historia es una ficción, pero el movimiento TIPNIS Resiste y los microbios que comen asfalto son reales.