So We Built a Swamp

I spent the last week at Walt Disney World, hence my lack of posts. And while I may be twenty and no longer really interested in the teacups of the flying carpet carnival-type stuff, and while the genius of rides like “The Haunted Mansion” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” is now much easier for me to appreciate, and while I enjoy the unadulterated nerdiness of both “Star Tours” and “Mission: Space,” I find the experiences I enjoyed most were rides like “Spaceship Earth” and “Living with the Land.” I don’t enjoy them the way I enjoy roller coasters or 3D simulators, or the way I enjoy the manner in which the folks at Disney brought the whole world to Epcot in a meaningful way, but in a way that transcends these things–in a way that makes me hope.

The world is getting bleaker every day: we can no longer trust our own government, the price of gas is still high, the economy shows no signs of improving from where I’m standing…and the Western Black Rhino was just declared extinct. But Disney World still sets the twelve-year-old within me to dream of a brighter tomorrow.

I make no secret of my adoration for Walt Disney, the man was decades ahead of his time, a conservationist in the days before conservationism was a thing, a dreamer in the best Golden Age sense of science fiction, as any visitor to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom can attest. He believed–in an era of Atomic terror–not only in a future, but in a brighter future. His was a future where humankind had conquered the evils that beset it. One of his dying dreams was of Epcot–the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was to be a shining city, not on a hill, but in a swamp. And while his concept for Epcot proved untenable in the years following his death, the park was built as a glorified, neverending World’s Fair, and it hasn’t closed its gates since.

While in Epcot (my favorite of the four parks), I had the great privilege of taking a backstage tour with my family. I learned a great many things on the tour, and got to cut the entire line for “Soarin'” which is just fantastic, as the wait for that attraction is never less than an hour, but the most impressive, somehow, was Disney’s–the company’s and the man’s both–commitment to only develop two thirds of the land they own in central Florida and to replace any biomes they uprooted with something equally valuable. The Magic Kingdom, for instance, is located where it is precisely because it was on the land Walt deemed the least worthwhile, as he planned to save his best land for the city of Epcot. The Magic Kingdom is sitting on what once had been a swamp, the water from that area relocated to the giant lake just outside the front gates.

“And so we built a swamp,” my tour guide, a wonderful gentleman named Robert, said, “…turns out you can build a swamp, no one knew–no one had tried it before.”

I was reminded in that moment of a quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune, in which the dying Liet-Kynes hallucinates his long-dead father, who says “‘We must do a thing on Arrakis never before attempted for an entire planet… We must use man as a constructive ecological force–inserting adapted terraform life: a plant here, an animal there, a man in that place–to transform the water cycle, to build a new kind of landscape'” (Herbert). I can’t fault Kynes’ father for being wrong, he’s a fictional hallucination dreamed up by his parched and dying son. But what’s important here is that Dune was written in ’63, serialized in Analog and published on its own in ’65. Walt Disney died in ’66, and Epcot opened in ’82. Within decades Kynes’ words–and through Kynes, Herbert’s fear that mankind would go on being destructive for thousands and thousands of years (it’s worth noting that Earth is long destroyed and lost in Dune) is looking less likely.

Disney built a swamp. Maybe we should build one too, or build a rainforest, or a savannah.

Make the desert bloom.

 

Dare to dream,

Christopher Ruocchio

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