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Islands of Abandonment

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

In a vivid tour of Earth's most desolate landscapes, investigative journalist, Cal Flyn visits the eeriest and most desolate places on the planet that due to war, pollution, disaster, disease, or economic decay, have been abandoned by humans. Her work shows the worst of what happens when the earth upon which we live is seen as a commodity to be plundered, rather than as a sacred trust to be respected and protected.


In Flyn's provocative book, Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape, we see humanity at its worst and yet, we also see the capacity of Nature to heal and restore. Hear the author: https://youtube.com/watch?v=dzxX7wdSvds&si=EnSIkaIECMiOmarE


We travel to the irradiated grounds of Chernobyl to see a variety of wildlife not seen in many decades. The author also takes us to a 'no mans land' stretching hundreds of miles along the Iron Curtain separating the former Soviet Union from the West. This no mans land, became a natural corridor for wildlife to move freely. This corridor is now taking shape as the European Green Belt Association, allowing for the protection of forests, wetlands, animals as well as restorative hikes for humans. See: https://www.europeangreenbelt.org


Perhaps no stretch of land saw greater suffering than the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Verdun in France was the epicenter of ultra-violence where an estimated 300,000 men (French, British, German) were killed and 450,000 were gassed or wounded. All this took place over only 8 square miles. It is estimated that millions of shells exploded, creating a denuded, toxic land.


In 2020, Cal Flyn walked the now reforested land of the Verdun. What she found was extraordinary. She noted plants involved in a process called 'phytoremediation'. This refers to particular species of plants which have the capacity to absorb the toxins in the earth. Such plants have a seeming superpower to harness what is most toxic and to utilize that toxicity, so that the toxins diminish from the soil even as the plant flourishes. See: A Citizen's Guide to Phytoremediation


Such specific plant types, of which there are hundreds, are being planted along contaminated rivers in Bangladesh and abandoned mines and smelters in Australia. Slowly these hard used and abused sites are returning to levels of green vibrancy, attracting birds and insects and animals.


The author is quick to point out, that such punished lands seldom return to a fully healthy ecosystem. Yet, it is unmistakable that a measure of healing does take place.


Blackstone River, workhorse of the American Industrial Revolution. Now the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park


I see this along the Blackstone River where I grew up. This 48 mile river runs from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, R.I. and was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. For 200 plus years the river was used as an open sewer for hundreds of mills lining its banks. Today, thanks to the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts of the 1980's the Blackstone has experienced renewal. 39 species of fish have returned and bald eagles, near extinction due to pollution, once again call the Blackstone, 'home'.


Yet, at the bottom of the river, capped by years of sediment, are forever chemicals, toxins from generations of mills, waiting to be unleashed by the next flood. Scientists say that eating even one fish from the Blackstone may carry enough heavy metals to result in cancer.

Restored wetlands atTidmarsh, Plymouth, MA



Islands of Abandonment, is a story of loss and hope. An acknowledgement that so much has been lost to human greed and violence.


It is also a story of hope. Hope that comes when we humans stop messing our nest, get out of the way and allow Mother Nature to do her work.


Nature has an amazing capacity to heal and restore, even places we have wounded the most. Hope is found in remembering that the earth is sacred and that respect for Nature's well being is our sacred trust.


With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop


Resources for healing the earth: 350.org; Audubon.org; thetrustees.org;






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