Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene


Tomorrow’s Book: Artifacts in the Anthropocene

Book 2 ︎︎︎ Adaptive Guide to the Deep Trees

This Book Belongs To:
Ana H.

October 22, 2251

Olympic Peninsula, WA

Carbon dioxide levels have increased substantially—not just affecting humans, but plants as well. As levels rose, plants began to grow faster and thicker due to increased photosynthesis. While some areas of the United States developed hot and dry conditions, others experienced heavy rainfall that supplemented this green growth.

Communities began to move into these rainy forests, which provide a shelter from hotter temperatures and act as bubbles of breathable oxygen for people. While these forests protect these communities, they also shroud them in darkness—with such dense growth, little sun is able to shine through anymore.

“Don’t let your eyes move off that page for too long.”
             I don’t know why one of Uncle Oliver’s lessons popped into my head during a dream this morning. He was just as I remembered—shaggy, peppered hair poking out from under his favorite blue baseball hat. Big brown eyes that pulled the attention of your own and didn’t let them stray until his point was made. Oliver was a serious man when it came to traversing into the trees, but he was rather clumsy. He often had dirt stains all over his clothes, either from foraging on the floors of the forest or from tripping over his own two feet.
             Oliver wasn’t my real uncle. I never really knew my family—I have vague childhood memories of living further away from the forest where it was unbearably hot and difficult to breathe. The one thing I do remember is that whenever I licked my lips outside under my mask, they tasted salty and I liked to pretend that I was a pretzel.
             Uncle Oliver said that I was from a small town in Missouri. He told me that a group of kids without families and flaring respiratory issues were brought here from across the states where carbon dioxide conditions had worsened. As a teacher at the school, we looked to Oliver to understand this new place.
             “They said we were off our rockers, moving deep into the dark forests where the sun hardly shines,” he would rattle on during class. “Some of them still do. But your lot is proof of how bad the air has gotten. The forests protect us from the dense levels of carbon dioxide. In return, we adapt to this environment around us, rather than forcing it to change for us like we had for centuries. Maybe it seems unbearable to live without much sunlight, but it beats not breathing,” he chuckled a bit somberly.
             That was 23 years ago. Uncle Oliver disappeared about 10 years after that lesson. Folks around here assumed he toppled into a river or stumbled into a bear. But knowing him, I think he got a bit tired of people and went off to find his own space.
             This morning was an early one; it was 6:18am and I was already gathering my bag, preparing to go into the Deep Trees. I’ve been quite busy recently—I came across an area that hasn’t been mapped in at least fifty years and I need to start recording it. I am the best cartographer in our town (which, to be fair, is because I’m the only one here).
             I locked my front door and it was drizzling outside. The old cedar that my home was built around looked greener than ever. I think I’ve decided to name him Rufus. Uncle Oliver always said to name the trees you like—it makes them feel more alive, which makes it easier to be kind to them.
             Our town is built around nature, rather than adjusting it to our own plans. Roy’s grocery store has berry bushes right inside; Elena’s home is built into the side of a large, mossy boulder on the hill. While this makes us far less invasive to the forest, it is more difficult to find good living spaces. Hence, why I needed to map this new area.
             It’s exhilarating to walk towards the paths of the Deep Trees—it’s the excitement of stepping into the vast unknown, unable to see what’s ahead. Sometimes there are little peeks of dappled sunlight that somehow find their way through the crowded leaves and branches. But these are rare and cause quite a commotion from everyone trying to get a touch sun on their skin.
             The town is surrounded by trees that we’ve engineered to be bioluminescent, so our homes are constantly aglow. Roy planted smaller, glowing growth along the path to light up our footing.
             About four and a half miles in, the glowing plants lining the trails became scarce (it does take some time to grow enough!). After so much distance, the darkness becomes heavier on the eyes. I pulled out Uncle Oliver’s old field guide. He taught me everything I needed to know, and I’m pretty sure he learned it all from this book. So it has to be fairly trustworthy, right?
              The pages gave a soft green glow—we found many uses for bioluminescent technology. For the most part, reading has been an indoor activity where there’s no need to strain our eyes in our dim surroundings. But books that need to be readable even in the heaviest of shadows are made to light not only our environment but the words and images within their pages. 
             It took about eight miles to get to the unmapped section. At the very edge of it, I almost walked right into Sylvia.
              “You’ve always got your nose buried in that book, you almost walked right into my ax,” she bluntly laughed. It’s not like I can see much else!
              Sylvia and I weren’t close friends, but I enjoyed running into her when we were both working. She builds new homes and repairs existing ones in town. Sylvia likes to point out interesting details about the areas she finds while gathering materials.
              “I’ve got something that might intrigue you,” she said, waving me over. Sylvia flicked her headlamp on, leading me into a path of hardy, damp ferns carpeting the ground. They were huge—even larger than they were closer to town. My chest felt heavy...was I feeling suddenly anxious?
             A minute later, she stopped and spun around. Sylvia quickly turned the headlamp off, allowing a bright glow to emit on her very left. She had found a collection of Omphalotus Olivascens, known as the Western Jack-o-Lantern. I found the correct pages in the field guide, explaining to her that mushrooms like these were the whole reason the book’s pages were able to glow.
              “I travel so far into the Deep Trees to look for fallen wood to use for building,” Sylvia explained. “I always know when I’ve found some because they often glow. I never knew their name though. Jack-o-Lanterns on dead trees, huh? How spooky.”
              As I began to show Sylvia the image of the mushrooms in the book, I noticed that the pages had turned bright orange.
             I told her to grab her things quickly and rushed us both back towards town.
             As we walked quickly, I kept a close look at the pages. Within five minutes of haste pacing, they had returned to their white hue.
              Sylvia asked what happened as she tied her disheveled dark hair back, confused and slightly annoyed.
              I explained that the pages became orange, which indicated that there was way too much carbon dioxide in the air in that particular area. I guess I wasn’t anxious—my asthma was just flaring up. Sylvia could have really gotten hurt if she was there much longer.
              As we walked, I swiftly noted an edge of safety for future reference on the guide’s map. Disappointed, but not destroyed. We as a community haven’t been in the Deep Trees for that long in the grand scheme of things—we’ll find more places to safely live.
             “All of this isn’t for us,” Uncle Oliver used to say as we walked on the path together. “There are bears and bugs, trees and weeds, stones and soil. This place is for them too.” He reached down to the path and covered his pointer finger in mud. “So it’s okay for some of it to be left untouched.”
              Uncle Oliver smiled warmly as he dotted my nose with the dark earth.
+ Plant leaves thicken when atmospheric carbon rises, causing changes in activities like photosynthesis and sugar storage (University of Washington).

+ Climate change will vary by area. While some locations in the United States will experience extreme heat, places like the Olympic Peninsula will see an increase in heavy rainfall between 2020–2040 (New York Times).
+ In the last 60 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased about 100 times faster than in previous fluctuations (

+ Higher rates of photosynthesis cause plants to contribute less to evaporative cooling and cloud formation through the process of transpiration, resulting in higher temperatures connected to carbon dioxide (NASA).