Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity during a time when China owns the USA and the USA owns Canada. The diary spans a twenty-year period in the mid-twenty-first century of 33-year-old Lynna, a single mother who works in Toronto for CanadaCorp, an international utility that controls everything about water, and who witnesses disturbing events that she doesn’t realize will soon lead to humanity’s demise. A Diary in the Age of Water follows the climate-induced journey of Earth and humanity through four generations of women, each with a unique relationship to water. The novel explores identify and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.
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About the Author
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist and novelist. Her novels include: Collision with Paradise; The Cypol; Angel of Chaos; Darwin’s Paradox; The Splintered Universe Trilogy; and The Last Summoner. In addition to eight novels, she has authored award-winning short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which were reprinted and translated into several languages throughout the world. Recognition for her work includes the Midwest Book Review Reader’s Choice Award, finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the SLF Fountain Award, and The Delta Optimist Reviewers Choice Award. Nina's latest non-fiction book, Water Is…—a scientific study and personal journey as limnologist, mother, teacher, and environmentalist—was picked by Margaret Atwood in the NY Times. as her #1 choice in the 2016 “The Year in Reading.” She lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
We are the water-keepers. The keepers of legends. We are the keepers of the memory of prophecy. These "memories" are recorded outside of time and space. The prophecy of Gaia speaks of the great dying of our friends, the breathers. They breathe us in to receive our gift, and then breathe us out with their gift inside us. Their extinction is also a gift, just as all taking is giving and all giving is taking. We are the water-keepers.
The first truth of water-keeping is that water cannot be kept.
Kyo runs through the dying forest of the north. The last boreal forest in the world.
The rain earlier this morning left the forest dripping with living moisture and saturated the air with the scent of giant conifers. Their fragrance is intoxicating, a fresh pungency that lingers like the smell of fresh water. The giant buttressed trees rise like pillars out of soggy ground. They push past the mixed hardwood canopy and pierce the mist, announcing the future. Lichen drips off branches and clothes the fibrous trunks in crenulated patterns. Moss covers everything. A filigree of green, silver, and russet plays in the breeze, dancing like a wild shadow. Tugged by the wind, Kyo's hair flows behind her like a dark turbulent river as she leaps over rough ground, her skirt flying.
Her four dark blue arms stretch out for balance as she navigates the obstacle course of fallen trees, tall ferns, and horsetails.
Already high in the sky, the sun is a large blushing orb that bathes everything in hues of pink. Nam calls it Gaia's heart- light, a poem to heaven. Nam told her that the light was very different during the Age of Water, when the sun was sharper and shone brashly in a brilliant cerulean blue sky. Kyo imagines this sky the startling blue colour of Nam's winking eyes. Nam, like Kyo's other mentors, only has two arms and flesh the colour of the sandnot the electric blue of Kyo's own skin. Despite their differences, she thinks of Nam like a mother and secretly wishes she looked like her older mentor.
Kyo stops for a moment to catch her breath and listen to the forest. Cardinals, robins, and thrushes warble and fl loudly, as if complaining about destiny. Yet, they are the interlopers. According to Myo, they took up permanent residence in the north when the climate warmed during the Age of Water. The birds that had previously lived in the north had had nowhere else to go, and had perished. Kyo remembers Ho telling her that the piping plover used to lay its eggs directly on the sand of the northern beaches. The beaches are no more, casualties of sea level rise, erosion, and storm surges; the plovers that nested on them are also no more. But other birds are coming....
The bird symphony flows through Kyo, pulsing with the Earth's heartbeat. She catches the absolute pitch of a starling, tuned to 432 Hz as she aligns herself with nature's intimate frequency. Renge taught her that light, sound, and matter are expressed at different frequencies, and some are only heard by the heart. All movement follows its own path, expressing its relationship with the world. Even things that aren't moving have a potential for rhythm, internal clocks that beat their messages. Kyo runs on, gathering coherent waves of vibration, intent, and motion into one continuous and harmonious rhythm. She understands that rhythm embraces a fractal continuum that ranges from microscopic to cosmic proportions. Cell division aligns with the planet's circadian rhythms; bees synchronize their flight with the phase of the moon; planets and stars ex- ert gravity and frequency on each other, resonating with the harmonic music of the spheres. Her world flows in constant oscillation from high to low, particle to wave, dark to light, separating and uniting, creating and destroying, and back again. All through water.
It is then that she feels her sisters the most, the other Kyosother blue beings like herscattered over the world in small enclaves like hers. Each whispers a harmonic tone in a soft symphony of wisdomfrequencies from all over the world, carried in the coherent domain of water vapour to resonate through her interstitial water.
They are waiting for her.
She shares their eagerness for the Exodus, but she also har- bours a secret yearning for the past as though some hidden part of her has lodged there, like a tendril of a vine reaching across time, seeking resolutionredemption, even. What is holding her back in this drowning forest? It isn't the trees.... There is always sadness in the end of things, but endings are also beginnings, Kyo in Siberia whispers across the northern atmospheric river.
We do not feel this Canadian sadness, Kyos from Scandinavia chime in. Perhaps that part of us still clings to the mundane comfort of familiarity, given that the maple still stands strong in northern Canada.
But Kyo knows that is not true; the sugar maplehas been migrating north, scrambling to keep up with the beech, and realizing the native legend. Several are stunted, withholding the sap Kyo loves so much. Many are yellowing at the tips of their leaves and showing bare insect-infested crowns. Soon the maple will drown in the swamps of the north.
Kyo understands that she is holding her sisters back with this selfish sentiment and preoccupation with a past and a people she has only dreamed of. How is it that she alone stands apart from the rest? It is not her lack of adventure or faith. She embraces her future. Nam calls her Sprite; an endearment, she knows, but one based on Kyo's curiosity and yearning for adventure. If her mentor knew of Kyo's perverse and guilty obsession, she might call her something else. And certainly not with a wink.
Kyo stops at a small flowing creek, crouching to study the tracks in the muddy banks. She recognizes the giant paw marks and wide-swathed tail track of a three-metre-long beaver, a relative of the ancient giant beaver. If Renge was here she would peep with fear; but Kyo is not afraid of the huge rodenteven with its giant incisors. She focuses on the eddies that form around the rocks. Renge told her that water's vitality relies on its rhythmic movement along surfaces and its shifting phases in a dance of synchronicity, chaotic yet self-organizing. It does this by embracing paradox.
Kyo involuntarily swallows down the truth and sits on a moss-covered boulder. She knows that her reluctance to leave has to do with the villainous Water Twins, who destroyed humanity because of their hatred for their own kind. She feels an unreasonable longingas though a cord were tugging her back to them. The Water Twins were the first ones, the only ones from the Water Age, who had the power to instruct water, and they did so long before the new children of the forest learned how. The Twins unleashed a wrathful Gaia with their alien technology, frequency generators, and shamanic potions. Kyo has dreamed about most of it. Myo and Ho confirmed her vivid dreams with their historical documents. Why is she being plagued by accurate dreams of a time she has never experienced?
Kyo is convinced that the Water Twins somehow spawned the children of the forestthose like her. If not for the Twins, she might be normal, like the others. It is an outrageous supposition, yet she cannot shake it. The Twins destroyed the world, after all. Like Shiva and Kali. The Twins didn't look like the children of the forest, who came much later, after humanity had been all but extinguished. It is impossible that the Twins would be connected to her.
Yet that is exactly how Kyo feels. She desperately wants to believe that the Water Twins somehow did the right thing in causing the storms and eliminating humanity from the planet; she keeps dreaming that she is there with the humans, suffering as they suffered, until only a handful of females remained. Myo, who is far too forgiving, once suggested that the Twins did it to heal both the planet and all life, like a doctor removes a festering limb to heal the body. But how can you heal with hatred and destruction? And why is it so important to Kyo?
Kyo stands up with a shrug. No matter. Today is the day she has been both dreading and anticipating for so long. Today, she will finally learn some ecological history and make her personal atonement to Gaia, who must prepare for a new age. And then sheKyowill transcend her current existence to make the Exodus.
Nam instructed her this morning to go to the Age of Water Library in the small beech-maple grove for her last lesson. Nam has been like a mother to Kyo: tall and elegant, with wise maternal eyes the colour of deep water, and carrying the scent and air of Nature. It is time to let go, said her mentor. Time to devote yourself to and fuse your life with the Mystic Law of Water. Time to learn about humanity's legacy, all that humans have learned and done to prepare for their journey with water. A journey that will ultimately take them all home. At the library, Kyo is meant to choose a work, or else be given one by Ho, the librarian. Kyo will then commit it to memory before burning it and offering it in the water-keeping ceremony, which will prepare them all for their final journey.
Kyo hopes she will be worthy of her choice.
The door of the sacred library beckons through the dying sugar maple stand. It is a solid maple doorway embedded in a hillside covered in shrubs, ferns, and moss; it is hardly visible except to one who knows where to look. Kyo can always spot it from the faint blue glow that persists in the area. Every time she visits the library, Kyo sees blue balls or ribbons of blue light rippling or floating above her. When Renge tried to explain this light to Kyo, she described a phenomenon known as St. Elmo's Firebursts of eerie light that occur when an electric charge between clouds and the ground develop a static condition that breaks air molecules into electrically-charged particles. Gases turn into "plasma" and give off energy in the form of a glowing light. But Kyo sees the lights no matter what the weather, even on a perfectly clear day. She wonders if the trees are involved somehow. The library is mostly surrounded by an enclave of maple, beech, and fir trees. She knows that the trees give off oily aerosols. Perhaps the aerosols are changing as the trees are changing.
Kyo approaches the solid maple door.
She knows which book she wishes to study. It is clearly ambitious of her. Ho will be cross with her for presuming such an undertaking. The textbook is over a thousand pages; it will take her at least six months to learn it. Confident that she will convince the old librarian, Kyo glances back at the forest of her birth and pulls in a deep breath, committing it to memory. Then she reefs open the heavy door and enters the place she will spend the rest of her life on Earth.
April 12, 2045
fetch: The distance that wind or waves travel unin- terrupted across open water.
Robert Wetzel, Limnology
I remember every nuance of my mother.
Her deep laugh. Her willowy gait. Her scent, fresh and brac- ing, as though she'd captured the outdoors. The way she filled a room with her wise and gentle essence. How she spoke, in a lilting cadence, words delivered like sparkling clear water. The way she winked at me with conspiratorial joy and called me meine Wassergeist, my water sprite. Her name was Una.
Her smile came from that childhood place where the world is simple and pure. It made her eyes crease into a million golden rays. Her hair was a nest of dark curls that she sometimes pulled back, especially when she worked in the shed behind the house.
When she came inside, she brought in the smell of rain and leaves that she wore like an old coat you never want to throw away. Una sensed how the natural world worked. She'd had little formal education, yet she seemed to know more than most of my university professors. She had a keen and passionate mind, which she applied to a strong environmental ethic.
I know she loved me fiercely. But that fiercenesswhich extended to her passion for the planetalso had negative consequences. Like the time when she was arrested at a demonstration in Nathan Phillips Square. I was sitting in my first-grade class, listening to Ms. Belanger tell us about trees, while the rcmp arrested demonstrators protesting the ludicrous American proposal to construct the Rocky Mountain Trench Reservoir in British Columbia. When school was over, Una wasn't waiting at the front gate to take me home. I watched as my classmates left with their parents or caregivers until I was the only one left. Then I started to cry. Our neighbour finally came to take me home. Mrs. Kravitz said I should stay with them until my mother came home from jail.
I know that she didn't mean for it to happen, but I still felt abandoned.
After apologizing to me, Una explained that building the Rocky Mountain reservoirs and associated pipelines threatened to inundate and destroy several small towns and Indigenous communities in the Yukon and British Columbia. Canadians had to support their government in the fight against the U.S. predator who was wooing us with promises of shared wealth. It was like the U.S. was saying, give me all your candy and maybe later I'll share some with you. Only the candy was all ours to begin with. "Imagine our home and our neighbour's home suddenly under water," she said to me. "We would all have to move away so people three thousand kilometres away can fill their swimming pools. If the Americans have their way, all of Canada will become their reservoir."
Una sang all the time. German folk songs that her mother used to sing to her. Songs like Muss i denn, Die gedanken sind frei, Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit, Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär, and Goethe's tune Sah ein Knab ein Röslein stehn. Each day was like a glittering drop in a flowing narrative of gems. She had a way of imparting deep wisdom while either entertaining or comforting me.
One day stands out. She was wearing a bohemian, layered dress that smelled of the forest. Her dark hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. Several rogue strands hung over her right eye. It was the day Ralph tricked me at second recess into giving him my favourite Pokémon carda sparkly Charizard. I burst into the back shed where Una was fixing our neighbour's chair and I jst stood there, trembling with emotion. She immediately saw that I was upset and coaxed out my story.
Una then squatted to my height and looked directly at me with her intense green eyes. "Don't make the mistake of think- ing the bully is your friend. He was never your friend. He will never be your friend." Then she placed her hands gently on my shoulders and added with dreadful calm, "You can play with the bully. But don't make him your friend. Demand his respect. Or you will become the bully..."
Then she pulled me close to her in a deep embrace and whispered, "come, Wassergeist....You liked sparkly Mew just as much. Now she will be even more special." She winked.
I burst into grateful tears as she held me. Then she left the broken chair she was fixing and took us into the kitchen, where she made us some hot chocolate and told me silly stories about the chickens in the yard.
Una died today. I've lost my mentor. My friend. My link to compassion, wisdom, and unity. She would have been sixty-five. She should have lived another thirty years at least. Why do I feel like she's abandoned me? I had so wanted my little Hildegard to get to know her grandmother better.
I fear what I will become...