Facing Down the Apocalypse VI: Rough-skinned Newts

17

April 2020

There sure is a lot of sex at the end of the world as I thought I knew it. After a socially distant run on the chip trail, I finish with a sweaty stroll through the neighborhood park, pausing on a footbridge across the small creek. The air has become a breathing thing, ribs of willow and cottonwood exhaling, unfurling the riverine smell of April trout season. Afternoon sun angles out of an emerald eye sky, filling a clear pool where the creek pauses below the bridge.

In sun-split water at the edge of the bridge at the edge of the day at the edge of everything, a gaggle of rough-skinned newts is absorbed with making more rough-skinned newts. Milk chocolate backs blend with basalt cobbles strewn on the bottom, but each is edged with a trace of apocalyptic orange seeping from belly and tail. Orange tells a tale of toxicity. There is enough nerve poison in the skin of one adult newt to kill ten humans. No joke. They are poisonous, but not dangerous. Just don’t eat one. One of them has a pink nightcrawler the size of my pinky dangling half-swallowed from its mouth. This is an ambitious undertaking.

A wad of six newts writhe in the submerged roots of a willow. All but one of them are males vying for a single female. Others are paired off, male clasping the female from above, a swimming undulation of sex that could continue for two days. Imagine it. Or don’t. If she decides that he will fill the bill, she will use her reproductive opening to grab a tiny plug of sperm he leaves on the creek bottom, then glue her fertile eggs to watery stems. Afterward, she will return to the terrestrial neighborhood. Males stay in the creek, hoping to mate again.

Hope. Now there’s an interesting end-of-the-world word. I wonder if newts know the difference between hope and instinct. I sure don’t. I’m not enlightened in newt consciousness, but it seems that they simply show up in the creek looking for sex, two days of sex if that’s what it takes to extend the future of newts. There’s an intelligence in that. But human ancestors crawled out of the water a long time ago. And even though we still carry a bit of newt brain with us, the end of our world requires that we blink into spring sunshine and bring forth a bigger-brained version of love, a love that reaches wider, a love worthy of all that gray matter we carry around in our skulls, a smarter kind of love that rises above that squirming jostling shouldering pushing aside of others to procreate an economic system that has become toxic and dangerous.

We are smarter than newts, right? I hope so.

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