San Diego, CA
2020, Junior, Creative Writing
The shoreline climbs higher with each passing day.
At sunset, a girl scales down stretches of steep, jagged rocks on a narrow and rut-filled pathway. The damp tracks of the ocean stretch further now; it takes only a few steps across feather-light sand until the waves begin to pool around her ankles, frigid and laced with white sea-foam.
Light is fleeting, but she can still see the silhouettes. Eight tall sticks, pressed firm enough into the deeper, coarse layer of sand that even the strongest waves can’t manage to dislodge them. A new one is planted at the shoreline annually, pressed in that same linear pattern so it can be seen how the ocean rises sharply each year.
A few scraggly shrubs are intertwined with the sticks, and from them hang three spiny chrysalises, their tips hanging precariously over the water’s ballooning surface. Mahina can remember when people flocked to this shoreline. She can remember sun-warmed sand underfoot, painted apricot with the dying rays above. And the ocean’s turquoise glow, the sound of its gnashing teeth made something nostalgic with the ringing of laughter in the distance.
And, of course, the kaleidoscopes of Blue Moon butterflies that would swoop in from the nearby hills. She loved the males’ dark gauzy wings, with pale moons surrounded by a lake of purple iridescence, and the way nature painted no two females the same. It is their spiny cocoons that hang near the shoreline sticks now.
Usually Mahina doesn’t come here for reminiscence, but the reminder is painful and present at this spot. Nearly all of the houses that used to enjoy a beachfront view have been
abandoned, and the children are driven to play on the dry soil rather than the jagged outcrops and high tide of the sea. Here, where the Blue Moon butterflies used to crowd and mate and lift their wings up in pride, just shy of the advancing tide.
The beach has been reduced to a pitiful strip of sand, where the beachgrass grows in flush tufts and the jagged rocks are scattered across the remainder. Mahina used to find the butterfly cocoons in the most curious places: nestled beneath the leaves of the Nodeweed, or built all across the summer-scorched brush of the beach’s inlets.
It’s rare to see those tiny, spiky chrysalises now. The butterflies are restricted by steadily growing waves, and the rare cocoons are swallowed either by the tide or a sharp-eyed colony of ants. Mahina wishes she could be here to chase them away.
But it doesn’t matter. Because Mahina’s family will leave soon.
Relocation was planned months ago in the wake of the dangerously rising tide. “This island is small,” Mahina’s mother would warn her. “We will be swallowed far before the blink of an eye.”
Days later as Mahina and her mother are standing at the edge of the dock, breath bated as the wind bites harsher than usual, the tide has already begun to lap at the closest beachfront houses. The once century-strong browns of their wooden homes are sanded and soaked, and each islander knows well that it’s no longer safe to stay.
There is no one as reluctant for the new changes as Mahina. Because while she can’t help but send long glances back towards the beach and the home she’s lived in all her life, the rest of the islanders are optimistic. Eager.
“They’re much larger than the prototypes,” someone says delightedly. Those with a good view of the floating mass comment on the rich soil and the lush quality of the vegetation. Manmade islands.
Mahina doesn’t like the solution. Their native island will soon be submerged, she knows, but as she looks closer at the mass of floating plants and pathways and houses, she can’t seem to pull her lips even into an insincere smile.
“Mahina,” her mother urges, because the islanders have begun to move in a broad line of footsteps and dragging bags and eager chatter, and it takes a moment before Mahina’s feet begin to move. Longer before they meet perfectly curated grass.
A bubble of silence. Mahina is rooted to the ground. A sharp burning behind her eyelids makes her fists clench.
At that moment she turns and sprints across the grass and, though many hands try to hold her back, flings herself into the sea. Before Mahina can stop herself, she’s kicking with quick and powerful strokes.
The floating island is far away when she rises with a gasp. Before long, she is standing, soaking wet and shivering, on the surface of the beach she has found herself at each day for many years.
Even as she gasps for oxygen, Mahina moves purposely against damp sand for that flash of dappled green. Before long, her wet hands are cradling a branch.
Suspended from its length are four cocoons, one of them cracked and sucked dry by tiny predators, but the other three whole and shimmering with sea-mist and hope. Mahina doesn’t dare touch them, but the branch surrenders to her gentle tug.
And then the girl, sopping wet and coughing, is moving across the dock once again. Knowing there should be shame in her shoulders at such impulsivity but only feeling the fierceness of pride and protection. Because even as an island is submerged under streams of white and froth, a new light and a new life can surge on new soil. Mahina thinks it’s a beautiful cycle as she silently winds her hands tighter around the branch.
When I first began writing, my primary objective was to leave a message of hope. Global sea level change is an imposing threat, and its negative repercussions tend to dominate the media, which makes it all the more important to raise awareness, invoke inspiration, and encourage others to take action. I wrote about a girl whose island is facing the untamable threat of submersion. It’s a very human feeling of powerlessness, which I’m sure is familiar to many of us as climate and sea level changes worsen every day. I wanted to capture this feeling at its most severe; when insurmountable change is inevitable and very near, and nothing can be done except watch in dread and regret. In the second half of my story, however, she sees a pinprick of possibility in the Blue Moon butterfly cocoons scattered all across the shrinking beach. The chrysalis is a symbol of life and the hope she left behind at her old island, leaving the message that we should move forward and take action with optimism and opportunity. Through my exploration of the Ocean Awareness Contest, I’ve learned important lessons about empathy, life, and hope. For those of us who haven’t yet been directly affected by climate and sea level changes, it’s jarring to see reports and stories about those who have. Destructive erosion, flooding, and habitat loss are all effects of sea level rise that could personally affect all of us someday.