Aha!

We’ve all had “Aha!” moments, right? The bolt out of the blue. Saints of all faiths have been quick to credit God for their celestial insights.

My “Aha!” moment was not divinely inspired, though an argument could be made, as you’ll see, for demonic inspiration instead.

I was watching CNN late one night last year when the network aired a report about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. I was also texting on my phone, so my attention wasn’t fully trained on the TV screen until a reporter said, “…could result in more than ten feet of sea level rise.” Then I recalled hearing the words “increasingly unstable” in the moments before the reporter talked about rising seas.

I watch as a NASA animation of Antarctica’s most threatened glaciers filled the screen. All that ice was chugging toward the Amundsen Sea. The video showed the underside of one glacier getting eaten away by the warming waters around that frigid continent.

I quickly put my phone to a different use and went to The New Yorker for a piece by Elizabeth Kolbert, who covers the environment for that magazine. She’s also the highly deserving recipient of the recent Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for her book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, which is a startling examination of humankind’s impact on the natural world.

Kolbert knows her stuff, in short. Her piece contained two quotes from Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Today we present observational evidence that a large section of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet has gone into irreversible retreat…It has passed the point of no return.”

In the days to come I learned the threatened glaciers probably wouldn’t end up in the sea for at least another century, likely even longer. And that’s when I had my “Aha!” moment. It also involved the natural world — and characters with deeply unnatural ideas.

As for whether I was demonically inspired, you’ll have to decide. But I think I might have been.

You’ll find the link to Kolbert’s piece in The New Yorker here.