Greenhush Novel Part 2: Prologue

The wind was blowing relentlessly over the coarse heather, reeds and occasional scraggy grasses on the moor tops. Yet after an almost complete absence of two thousand years, the young branches of both deciduous and fir trees were starting to offer some resistance to the wind. Sapling trees were seizing the opportunity of the milder climate to once again spread across the empty slopes of the North York Moors, despite the efforts of mankind.
The bells in the Norman church proudly announced the quarter hour on the side of a somewhat sheltered valley. The double-bell chimes managed to reverberate around the stone-constructed village houses, cobbled footways, and asphalt roads with neatly mowed verges devoid of mud and banks of weeds to attenuate the sound. Without modern insulation and double glazing, two or three hundred of the residents could have heard the chime, just as they had for centuries past. Yet in the years of the third millennium, only one person happened to notice the marking of time: a teenager waiting at the chunky oak bus stop. Despite the Kings of Leon wailing directly into her ears, a quiet lull in the music allowed the first external clang to pass through her headphones.
She frowned at the intrusion to her music and checked the village clock against her phone. She sighed at the confirmation, hoping that her bus had not gone early and was just late, wondering whether to panic or wait. She looked around, but she was alone. She stared wistfully at her phone screen, willing a way for her to track the flow of rural transport.
As the student stood undecided whether or not to wait longer, the mid-morning light noticeably faded to a murky haze. Where there had been clear air and clouds last time she had looked up, the air above the rows of cottages on either side were now filled with dark foreboding. A touch of puzzlement and worry crossed her face as she tried to explain this sudden, unexpected darkening. Her diagnosis was soon confirmed, as a few high-energy splats of rain hit her hand and face, flung by gusts of wind that were channelled around the natural and man-made valley features. She stepped back into the cover of the shelter, deciding to give the bus a few more minutes after all.
From the vantage of a gritstone boulder perched on the hillside above the village, time and whether the bus was early or late had a different perspective. The squall of dark cloud that was just passing over the village had been visible for some time above the horizon as it cleared the distant Pennine Dales and had rapidly traversed the upper Vale Of York on its quest to deliver its load of rain as far as it could. From the timeframe of the boulder however, the thousand years or so of comings and goings in the cluster of village dwellings halfway down the hillside was just a fraction of mankind’s history.
The gritstone boulder was created by a rare storm in the arid desert at the heart of the supercontinent of Pangea, trapped far from the nearest ocean by the North American continental plate to the west, the Europe plate to the east and Africa to the south. The storm washed desiccated rock and salts down the future River Rhine, passed dinosaurs fleeing the flood, and out into a delta in a shallow tropical sea that would become the future North Yorkshire, adjacent to where the Atlantic Ocean was just starting to form as America headed west. The thick layer of almost cementitious course sand and grit settled and was compressed, sandwiched between other layers of mud shale and sands.
The strata of the low-lying delta were later squeezed upward to form the moors, becoming rippling foothills to the Alps, as Africa decided against dispersal and crunched back into Europe.
The boulder, therefore, found very different conditions when it was plucked from its birthing place by a massive glacier. A river of ice was streaming down from the Scottish and Norwegian mountains to the north, but encountered the rock block of the North York Moors, which refused to be bulldozed aside. The obstinate hills forced the flow of ice to divide and go round the moors; down the Vale on one side and down the North Sea on the other. Yet the thickness of the ice almost matched the height of the moors, so stepping from one to the other may have been relatively easy for a mammoth on a mission. But at a pace much slower than any mammoth, the vengeful ice ripped at the flanks of the moors, creating vertical walls of rock.
From the top of such a rock face, the boulder was snatched into the turbulent world of ice and was ground against adjacent rocks. Yet it wasn’t dragged far. Light reached the boulder and on the ice surface it was pushed sideways, out of the flow into a water-filled valley. As the ice continued to lose its grip, the boulder, now in the backwater, was dumped and partially buried with other ground-up fragments, marooned high on a ridge between a valley and the Vale.
The barren land evolved, following temperature and climate changes from ice to heat and back to ice again. In the warm interglacial period, trees that covered the hillside where the boulder had come to rest struggled with the heat and had to give way to scrubland as fires swept through the forests. The hills became home to hyenas, looking down on the grassy vales of Yorkshire, watching hippopotamus, rhino, bison and elephants. Yet the sheets of ice gradually returned as the earth wobbled on its axis and voyage round the sun, making tiny but significant adjustments to the warmth received in the northern hemisphere. However, this time the boulder stood safe just clear of the new glacier and the ensuing perched lakes of water trapped against the north bulwark of the moors. These lakes of meltwater gradually, then in spectacular torrents, carved through the hills as the landscape returned to yet another interglacial period.
Yet things were different this time. The occasional group of Neanderthal humans were now replaced by tribes of Mesolithic hunters, carrying yet more of their tools. One group started assembling each year on the patch of rocky high ground, elevated above the fearsome, forested and boggy plain below. They gathered hazel nuts on the hillside, but also started to use their timber and stone tools with sharp-edged flint to clear competing rowan trees and to spread the hazel shoots. They met up with others who were hunting and fishing in the valley beck, flowing between ponds still trapped by dams of glacial debris. One year, the tribe examined the top of the boulder and dug it free from the surrounding debris with antler picks and dragged it over, proudly setting it as a mark on the observation point.
These Mesolithic Stone Age nomadic tribes, and later Neolithic Stone Age people, along with their Bronze Age successors who invaded as mounted hoards from the east, set up and settled in villages on the moors. It was easy for them to clear tree roots and plant seeds in the thin soils of the moor tops above the cloying clays left by the ice. They dug the turf and turned it over to form ordered lines of ridges with deeper soils between drainage furrows. They set up industries to provide flints, salt and axe heads for their well-ordered communities. They buried their dead in cists then tumuli. But the thin soils were doomed. The cooling weather and lack of glacial clays and silts meant the crops and rain soon drained the soils of nourishment, until it was washed or blown away, exposing underlying stones. The process could not be reversed by piling the exposed stones into clearance cairns, so the settlements gradually moved from the hills down the valley and into the vale beyond.
However, the slow cooling as the climate headed gradually back towards the next ice age came to a sudden halt. These humans had learnt to transfer matter from one time zone to another, which started to change the planet. They dug up pockets of exposed coal to feed their fires and kilns. Bigger coal, oil and gas fields were developed, which exploited carbon captured and stored in hot climates, hundreds of million years ago, and released it into the atmosphere of their temperate era as greenhouse gases, with obvious consequences. The usual minute changes in temperatures rapidly became exponential heating. The humans knew that they were lazily harvesting forbidden fruit that would transform and overheat their world, but that did not stop them. The almost free supply of energy was just too good to resist, regardless of the consequences to others.
So the meta-stable conditions meant that the African grasslands could be rapidly returning to North Yorkshire. Winter droughts when verdant protection was absent had already allowed the dried soils to simply blow away, and unheard-of winter forest and moorland fires had already started. The wet peatlands were already doomed by the forecast temperatures, with the released methane expected to join the already excessive greenhouse gases. This was no minor adjustment of radiation from north to south, and this time the temperatures would soar throughout the world, making much of the surface uninhabitable. With no will to even slow down the rate of increase and no conceivable method to reverse what they were doing, these humans were creating truly interesting times. Only the rocks would be able to see the future.