Letter to my Unborn Child

by Alma Hromic

February 5, 2001



There are so many things in this world that you will never know, my darling. Some of them I would have shielded you from, a mother's duty; there would always be time enough to learn about cruelty and savagery and greed. The human race is always all too ready to display those qualities whenever they believe themselves or the things which they covet are being threatened by other human beings, whom they perceive as the enemy and therefore fit only for slaughter. There has always been this, and there will probably always be. But that which is wantonly destroyed by our actions, directly or indirectly, has been termed "collateral damage", and it is often seen as somehow forgivable if it is incurred in the pursuit of the "larger goal".

What will you not see on this earth, you and those of your generation? What have we taken from you already?

Maybe one day you would see an old movie, and it would show you endless savannah - African plains under the shadow of mountains like the Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, plains teeming with great herds of gazelles, stalked by tawny lions and swift cheetahs, traversed with unexpected grace and dignity by great elephants with curving tusks. But it will be only a movie, and the herds and their predators will have been a memory for many years. I have seen them, my darling, these animals which once owned the African heartland. I have seen the cheetahs and the gazelles. I have seen leopards in the trees, and zebras galloping across expanses of golden grass spooked by the scent of a lion. I have held a lion cub in my arms. I grieve that you will not. Someone once said that slaughtering a rhino in order to remove its horn, and leave the rest mouldering on the plains until the carcass is stripped by hyenas and flies, is akin to throwing down a cathedral in order to remove the cross from its spire. But there will always be those for whom the few shopworn dollars they get for that horn will be enough of an incentive to throw down the cathedral. The tragedy of it is that it isn't even these people who get rich off it - it is the disembodied businessmen in Africa and Asia, who sell and resell things to other gullible people, who will skim the cream off someone's belief that this rhino horn, ground into fine powder, is the only thing on this planet to help keep his manhood up and rampant. So this poor sap will buy the rhino horn aphrodisiac, make more children he cannot feed, and go back for more rhino horn again and again. Until no more rhinos are seen on the African plain.

Maybe one day you will leaf through a sheaf of photographs of what used to be the Everglades - the River of Grass. You will not believe, my darling, that so many birds ever existed in one place. But they did; and with them and around them existed mangrove swamps where fish came to spawn and grow, Florida panthers, grandpa alligators who looked like they had survived intact from the Jurassic era. You would look at the great vista of sawgrass and glinting water and think, oh, how beautiful. But there are roads now across the Everglades, cutting ancient migratory paths, damming the water so that it no longer knows how to behave (people, after all, NEED to get from one side of Florida to the other as quickly as they possibly can). There are now plantations of sugar whose detritus is burned every year, belching huge clouds of brown smoke into the sky, instead of being ploughed back into what was once rich topsoil - once, my darling, it was 100 feet deep; now it is less than 20 feet in some places (people NEED sugar, after all, and doing things any other way would make the industry less profitable). There are bridges across the wetlands, and condominiums on reclaimed marshes. And yes, there is still an Everglades - shrunken, shredded, but still beautiful. I have seen it. You, my darling, may not get to.

Maybe you will read about the great forests that once covered this planet. If you are very lucky you will still be able to see the thousand-year-old redwoods on the western coast of America. But you will never again see the rainforests of Brazil, or the mystical butterflies and birds that used to inhabit their deep shadows. You will never see the chestnuts of the Appalachian mountains - they were gone before even I had a chance to know more of them than the story of their magnificence - and you may not see a great many other trees that today still cling to life in an environment polluted and constrained to an inch of its life. The elms are dying, the dogwoods are threatened, the forests of Europe are decimated by neglect and acid rain. There may come a time, my darling, when seeing a green tree casting a cool shadow on a hot summer day may be likened to God's own Eden, for such a thing will no longer be seen on God's earth. I remember seeing the remnants of the kauri trees in the rainforest of New Zealand; straight they grew, and tall, and sailing ships needed masts to explore the world. So the trees paid. Now they are cherished - but how much is too little too late…?

Maybe you will hear talk about a wondrous place that once existed, and was known as the Great Barrier Reef. They say it can be seen from space. But we tampered with climate and temperatures, and the vulnerable coral started dying… and we did not know how to stage a reincarnation. There are endless expanses of bleached coral skeletons where no life remains, an indictment of our treatment of what should have been a precious heritage. And we still read in newspaper headlines of oil tankers laden with lethal cargo running aground on coral reefs, waiting to be floated off by the tide… dripping deadly diesel or worse into the sensitive ecosystem, slaughtering where it falls. You may never see an angelfish, or a parrot fish, or a sea anemone, or a living coral with branches blushing pink and dark red. But they were a part of your world, once.

Such cities we built, my darling! But you may never get to see the glory that used to be Venice because we have tampered with that, too, and it is dying, drowning. Elsewhere, artworks which have stood untouched for centuries are crumbling in a matter of mere decades as the pollution bites. All you will know are the behemoths of glass and steel; to you a city will mean an epidemic of urban sprawl like the one which is now engulfing most of the east coast of the United States. You will not know the peace of the small town under leafy ancient trees and a green common. You will, in time, forget the glories of your race because their existence will remain real only in ancient books or maybe, if you're lucky, a few sites on the Internet. It will not matter to you, alas, that Venice used to make delicate glass as green as the sea, that monasteries a thousand years old with frescoes of saint-kings of olden times were dynamited in the Balkans, that so many fields in the Middle East, Africa, Asia have been ploughed by bombs and are graves of ancient trees, cultural treasures of great antiquity and beauty, and many people.
We invented poison gas, missiles, the nuclear bomb. We thrive on inventing bigger and better machine guns, racing to beat the other guy who is trying to do the same. We have reached the point where something can be either a cherished ideal or an indictment, depending on who is doing the judging and who is being judged.

It is a sad old world that I am looking at, my darling. I am looking at it with your eyes, and I can feel outraged innocence prickling mine, bitter tears. I have no words to tell you how sorry I am that your mother's generation has so squandered your inheritance.


       Alma Hromic, the author with R. A. Deckert of Letters from the Fire, was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. However she has lived outside her native country for much of her life: Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, the UK and New Zealand. Trained as a microbiologist, she spent some years running a scientific journal, and later worked as an editor for an international educational publisher. Her own publishing record includes her autobiography, Houses in Africa, The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories, a bestselling book of three fables published by Longman UK in 1995, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction and non-fiction. Her next novel, the first volume of a fantasy series, Changer of Days: The Oracle, is due out in September 2001 with Harper Collins. Recently, Hromic won the much coveted BBC online short story competition. Her story, The Painting, was broadcast in the UK in the last week of January 2001.

[To read The Painting, go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/four_you/4you_home.shtml and click on the dot dot dot link; that will take you to a pop-up window where you can have a look at who won, why, and even download the entire story in pdf format. There's an excerpt of the audio, too.]

         Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Alma A. Hromic 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


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Population Zappers An amazing compendium of useful statistics about population and the environment (Highly Recommended)


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Published February 5, 2001
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