Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
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The Kingdom of Tonga looks like paradise, but its lush coconut palms nurse a hidden problem that threatens the health of its people. Another quality of the book that stands out is its balance of focus on the human and the non-human. While much nature-writing these days is criticised for an almost egotistical use of animals purely as a means to examine people, Flyn gives attention to both. Slab City is more of a human study, for example, while Harris Island off Scotland is a fascinating vignette of species self-rewilding (I am keenly interested in rewilding and have read many books on the subject, and I hadn't come across the cattle of Harris before).
Eerie Elements: While there is some settlement now and a museum, most of the structures of Ross Island, once a British administrative center for the Indian Penal Settlement, are abandoned and covered with wild Ficus. A high mortality rate encouraged one of its first abandonments, before use in Word War II. One solution might be more intensive recycling of waste, including outsourcing this work to the private sector. The result is fascinating, eerie and strange ... There is some thrilling writing here' KATHLEEN JAMIE, NEW STATESMAN 'Wonderful' ADAM NICOLSON 'Exhilarating' DAILY TELEGRAPHCal Flyn explores a dozen places around the world that have been abandoned in one fashion or another. Some have been forcibly abandoned, as in the Korean DMZ and the Green Line in Cyprus, where warring factions have turned a military exclusion zone into a de facto nature preserve. Others, like the West Lothian Five Sisters, Chernobyl, and arguably the New Jersey wastelands, were created by industrial processes or accidents that made the land highly unattractive or dangerous to humans. Other places have simply been abandoned because of changing economic or environmental conditions: Estonian farmland, Detroit neighborhoods, the Salton Sea, and the island of Swona. The Verdun exclusion area is contaminated by millions of gas artillery projectiles that were destroyed there by burning them. Montserrat is a unique case, in that two thirds of the island is now an exclusion zone, dating from the destruction of the capital in 1997; the presumed continuing danger from volcanic eruption has maintained most of the restrictions in the exclusion zone. Amani, in Tanzania, is not so much abandoned as it is an object lesson in the dangers of invasive plant species.
In Chernobyl, following the nuclear disaster, only a handful of people returned to their dangerously irradiated homes. On an uninhabited Scottish island, feral cattle live entirely wild. In Detroit, once America’s fourth-largest city, entire streets of houses are falling in on themselves, looters slipping through otherwise silent neighbourhoods. Exploring extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – Islands of Abandonment give us a glimpse of what nature gets up to when we’re not there to see it. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world – and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery. Barbuda is quiet, quiet, quiet. It’s dead,” says Kendra Beazer, 24, the youngest member of the Barbuda council, the island’s ruling body. The 4.572-acre island on the Thames was once inhabited, and most famously home to the notorious Three Swans Pub, a bar and restaurant with a reputation for indecent behavior and questionable guests. The pub's rowdiness would reportedly get so out of hand that people across the river could hear the shenanigans.In Spain there are now around 3000 villages that the populations have abandoned for the cities are slowly crumbling into dust and being reclaimed by nature. The same thing is happening in Detroit. They call it blight; gone are the industries of the region and the employment that it brought. Entire streets have been left as the people have moved elsewhere and Flyn has included some photo from Google Streetview as they are reclaimed by scrub and trees. Flyn] captures the dread, sadness, and wonder of beholding the results of humanity’s destructive impulse, and she arrives at a new appreciation of life, ‘all the stranger and more valuable for its resilence.'” –The New Yorker