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Noah (and his ark) Updated, Improved for Our Time

Instead of the Noah you know, the one who built the ark, sheltered all those animals, sailed for 40 days and 40 nights and got to see God’s rainbow, instead of him, I want you to meet a new one. An updated version.

This Noah shows up in a tough little essay written by Amy Leach, of Bozeman, Montana, who knows her science, knows there’s a flood coming—a flood of humans, seven billion and counting, already swamping the Earth, crowding the land, emptying the sea, and her more modern Noah—informed, practical, not inclined to miracles—has a different plan. He announces,

water color painting with text reading ''unfortunately, animals. we are not going to be able to bring all of you with us this time.''
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

The old Noah, you may remember, squeezed eight humans (wife, kids, their spouses) and at least two of every critter, big and small, onto his crowded ship. But the new Noah, being more practical, feels he can winnow a little. “Everybody” is a lot of animals, more than you know. Back in the day, Amy Leach writes,

pink watercolor background with two drawings of frogs peeking up over the text, which talks about what it would be like to bring two of every creature onto noah's ark
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

And, honestly, (I’m thinking to myself), if the world lost a scorpion or two, would anyone notice? Or want them back? And blotchy toads, biting little flies—some animals are hard to keep going on a tight, crowded ship. On the last voyage, dormitory assignments were beyond difficult.

And all those supplies? Amy Leach writes how the first Noah would have had …

a yellow watercolor background covered with text about collecting food for animals
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

This doesn’t mean we don’t care, new Noah says to the animals. We definitely, absolutely want to bring a bunch of you with us. But, we’ve got to be practical.

Even if our ark has grown to the size of a planet, carrying everybody through is not going to be logistically possible, which is why, he says,

blue watercolor background with black text on it about being in charge of a future noahs ark where not all animals are included
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

And anyway, that first Noah? He lived in a different age, a time they call the Holocene, before humans began to dominate and crowd out the other species. Back then, there weren’t as many people. And there were more kinds of animals, closer by, hiding in the woods, clucking in the yard, so the world was more various then, more intimate, more riotous, and thinking about it (a little wistfully, if only for a moment), the new Noah quietly recalls that on that first ark …

yellow watercolor background with text on top related to how noahs ark would be different today than it was in the Old Testament
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

And now, animals, it’s time for many of you to step away. You’ve had your unruly eons. They were wild, unplanned, noisy, great fun. Natural selection ran the world. Crazy things happened. Those were good times, Amy’s essay concludes …

blue watercoor with black text on top that reads''But the future belongs to us.''
Illustration by Robert Krulwich

Amy Leach is a writer living in Bozeman. Her collection of very short pieces—about jellyfish, beaver, salmon, plants that go topsy turvy and stand on their heads—are collected in a wonderful little book called “Things That Are.” In this column I do to Amy what the new Noah is doing to our planet: I edited her down, sliced, diced, slimmed (lovingly, I hope), trying to give you a taste for her fierce, crazy prose. But like the planet, she’s wilder in the original, so I hope you go there and sample the unedited version.

25 thoughts on “Noah (and his ark) Updated, Improved for Our Time

  1. One of your more forgettable articles, Robert . . . .
    And by the way, Amy can be left out of the ark without regrets.

  2. On the other hand, Jay, there are those of us who enjoy what RK writes and appreciates his fine taste in the things he shares with us. hat was it my mother used to say? Oh yes, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t…”

  3. What is a malevolent snake? Can you name one? Picking and choosing which animals can survive with us may be necessary but doing so by cuteness and mythological standing would be ill-advised.

    The sweet and lovable rattlesnake, for example, keeps down those rodents who harbour Lyme disease for ticks to spread.

    Look into the beautiful eyes of a toad and you will not want to leave it behind.

  4. Ye gods, lighten up you guys, the whole thing was meant in fun. Although… if one IS inclined to think, there is a lot that might come to mind. Aren’t we deciding every day by lack of action which species we’re letting go extinct, leave the arc of the Earth, so to speak. And in the future should we want to try and preserve our civilization on another place off world, the moon or Mars or wherever, what species would we consider important to bring with us? How on Earth would we make those decisions?

  5. I love “things that are.” It is a book I return to again and again. If you haven’t read it yet stop what you are doing and buy a copy and read it this weekend.

  6. How about leaving out some of the humans? Promote birth control, make it a trend to have few to no children (instead of reality shows about octomoms?
    We tend to forget that nature has a way of taking care of things and it may not be pretty for us, so since we supposedly gave control this time why don’t we start adopting these small changes ourselves?

  7. Amy Leach is a beautiful writer, and I think her sad, wistful message is perfectly packaged in this essay.

  8. It wasn’t about a literal flood in the first place. The animals were already people. And the flood wasn’t the kind of flood you’re thinking.

  9. I agree with you Anneli.

    We tend to cause problems and come up with reactive solutions. Despite being able to foresee the consequences of our actions. we seem to not truly accept them until they’re at our doorstep. We may invent a diversionary solution this time, but our civilization cannot be sustained unless we adopt a proactive approach.

    And the best time to have done this would’ve been yesterday. The 2nd best time is now.

  10. Is there any need for our fun to lazily perpetuate stereotypical views of animals that have nothing to do with their real attributes? In, even in fun, highlighting the fact that we are expanding our need for land and resources and will be reducing the land and resources available to the other species on Earth should we be focussing on how many and what species are needed to maintain a stable and, for us, comfortable ecosystem and the criteria we might use to decide that or should we be framing the whole problem in an ancient story of clean and unclean animals? Noah took seven pairs of clean but only two pairs of the unclean.

    “The future belongs to us” is a little too close to that song in Cabaret for my taste. “The future is in our care” sounds better to my old hippy heart.

  11. Perhaps, Old Geezer, according to your mother’s advice, both Amy AND Robert should have kept their mouths (pens, keyboards, etc.) shut. They had nothing nice to say and I agree with Jay: Amy can be left out.

  12. So hey God, any chance of a miracle or two? ’cause if you’re leaving it up to us, well, we can replace that myriad or so of beetle species with chickens right? I mean they’re far more edible.

  13. Well from I think about all this that who really own the future? Is the future going to be a fair time period for everyone? Maybe that’s why there’s a difference with people, because we can’t control everything! Only try to configure it.

  14. If Noah and his Ark really did exist, it would have been a local action in the middle east. The whole planet would not have been completely flooded, how? So therefore Noah saved some local flora and fauna, good for him. The rest of the word didn’t notice.

  15. I’d be very careful to publish such blasphemy against the living God and His Word.
    This is exactly what II.Peter 3,5 is about. Especially the being “willingly ignorant of” part, which in different interpretation would be: Being dumb on purpose.
    Folks, judgement day is surely close! Instead of offending God in such ways, repent and prepare to meet Him!
    BELIEVE IN GOD JEHOVA, CREATOR AND SUSTAINER OF ALL THINGS

  16. I’ve always been curious about the story of Noah, myself. About ten years ago, I fabricated a flood scenario of my own from some research I did. And it turns out, there are many legends around the world of a great flood, not necessarily at the exact same time. In fact, most early people have a flood legend. So, if anyone cares, here is my take:

    It is the early Holocene epoch when much of Earth’s extreme northern latitudes was still covered in ice, miles thick. This would have been about the 10th millennium BCE. Noah is a livestock trader who lives along the shore of the Black Sea. To expand his market, he builds a large wooden barge so that he can sail to other coastal settlements and cities, carrying his domesticated animals to sell or trade.

    Without warning, the earth gets struck by a mid-sized rocky asteroid, smack dab on the ice sheet near what is now northern Russia (one of the flood legends mentions stars or “suns” falling from the sky). The ice absorbs most of the energy so there’s no crater to record the impact. Hundreds of cubic miles of ice suddenly gets ejected into orbit and falls back to earth over the next several weeks and months, saturating the atmosphere and causing unprecedented rainfall. The energy released from impact also melts several thousand cubic miles of ice. The glacial meltwater finds its way south, down valleys, streams and rivers. Within days it reaches (among other bodies of water) the Black Sea where Noah lives, raising sea level there by hundreds of feet. Settlements along the sea coast are wiped out and tens of thousands of people perish. As the water comes pouring in, flooding his settlement, Noah gathers his family and as many animals as he can and sets sail in his barge.

    It takes weeks, but much of the water, mud and silt eventually flows into the Mediterranean, raising sea levels there. Noah’s barge comes to rest somewhere along the Black Sea coast where he finds massive destruction. Of course, as far as Noah knows, the entire earth has been destroyed by a great deluge and flood.

    For an interesting aside see Plato’s Critias: http://ow.ly/RvUxA

  17. Was this supposed to be an irony? If not, i am very bothered that it gets such a high praise here. How exactly are we supposed to live without a full ecosystem to support us? What future is there to talk about if we keep growing, but not take any measures to stop the consumption and destruction?

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