The Little Red Rail Finds
a New Home

Bay Tales: A Future Fairy Tale
about Sea Level Rise

by Ariel Rubissow Okamoto


Live feed freeze frame from floating rail houses of East Bay shore. USFW built these homes to protect this endangered species from predators and storm surges.
Arrowhead Marsh off the East Bay shore. USGS projections suggest sea level rise will start drowning this rail habitat within the next thirty years.
Future eco-highway of red rail’s dreams? Not so different from the designs proposed for an elevated Grand Bayway on Highway 37 by the Common Ground team in the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge.
“The sky is falling,” squawked the little red rail. She’d been sitting in her nice thatched house on the East Bay shore, floating on a king tide, thinking about how lucky she was to have housing provided by the federal government, not to mention getting on reality TV, when the roof fell in. A northern harrier in a BatHawk costume peered in at her with beady eyes. “Can I see some ID?” he screeched.

Petrified, the little red rail lifted a leg to reveal a band bearing the letters LRROTP (Last Red Rail on the Planet). “Didn’t you see the ‘Do not disturb,’ sign on the roof,” she squawked gamely, displaying the courage that had enabled her to survive global warming, a five foot sea rise, massive reconstruction of the shoreline around her marsh as humans rebuilt highways, bridge approaches and airports, very bad air, the loss of her mate to mercury poisoning — he wandered off crazy as a coot and never came back — the crack in her last egg (DDT thins the shells, everyone knows that), and a foreclosure notice (the federal deficit), only to come to this. “Was he playing good hawk or bad hawk?” she wondered, looking up at the beady eyes.

“Come on, let’s take a little ride,” he screeched, raising the feathers on her big behind. She’d tried to the South Beach diet for months, but she was still as “chicken-like” as ever. But the BatHawk was surprisingly gentle. Suddenly she was dangling beneath broad wings, flying over the Bay Bridge.

Looking down, she saw there were more ferries under it than cars on it. When the extreme storm surges came, every few years now, the ferries were much more reliable, the humans said. “We’re relocating you,” screeched the BatHawk into the wind, and this time she noticed the official “Fish & Game” patch on his costume. The patch showed a Chinese carp leaping over a red fox next to an outline of California, complete with the hole in the middle for the new inland sea. Turned out the BatHawk was also in real estate, and he was taking her shopping for a new home.

Their first stop was the top of the Bay Bridge tower, now a condo complex for peregrine falcons. “I kinda need to be nearer the water,” she squawked. Next they swooped down onto Treasure Island. It was pretty there, in the forest of white windmills, and she could imagine being lulled to sleep by the “whop whop” of a thousand blades slicing thin air. But the water was too deep, and there wasn’t a fringe marsh in sight. In fact, after superstorm Zelda, which had not only wiped out the Embarcadero but also whirled half the trash in the Pacific garbage patch into the sky and then dropped it on Danville, they’d carted half the island away to build a sea wall around the headquarters of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The wall was so high, even the pigeons in San Francisco’s Ferry Building had begun to cooplain about their viewshed. “Not here,” clucked the little red rail and they flew on.

Next, they headed to the Peninsula shore. Down below, the little red rail could see fingers of green marsh and blue water clawing their way toward the hills across abandoned streets and cul de sacs. Here and there the foundations of former townhouses poked through the marsh, but most of the rubble from the last big publicly funded “managed retreat” had been sold to Google headquarters nearby. They liked to brag that their sea wall was even taller than downtown San Francisco’s, and had adapted to the change in their work environment by teaming with Apple on a new product called the I-Wall. Using this new technology, you could project any view or landscape your heart desired onto HD silica particles placed strategically in the sea wall sediments. “Too edgy,” clucked the little red hen, and they flew on.

Glimmering in the distance stood San Jose’s striking new wastewater treatment plant, designed by Frank Gehry. A sky castle of purple pipes, steel dish ponds, solar pumps, rooftop marshes, and salmon farms now serviced the heart of Silicon Valley. “It sticks out a bit, but I wouldn’t call it an eyesore,” thought the little red rail. “I need a break,” screeched the BatHawk, dropping her in a most un-chickenlike heap on a tank topped with pickleweed. “There’s somebody you should meet.”

The LMM was legendary on the sensitive species dating site E-Impact. According to all tweets, he was the statistically most sensitive rodent left on the planet, and he hadn’t been seen in public since 2015. “Not THE LMM?” clucked the little red rail, righting herself with difficulty in the damp gloom of the tallest, nubbiest, saltiest GMO pickleweed she’d ever seen, only to find herself staring right into the twinkling eyes of THE last marsh mouse. “Hey Red,” he squeaked, “Got Habitat?”

The two talked for hours, and in the end, though the rail thought the mouse a bit doddery, eating the orange weed had been going to his head, she felt hopeful. When the BatHawk returned from a supersized rat lunch, she clucked “Go North, young man… I have a dream.”

It was a long flight, and the little red rail had nodded off and was dreaming about stir-fried invertebrates when the BatHawk screeched in her ear – “Where to, lady?” Below them, as far as her little eyes could see, lay meadows of cordgrass, waving in the waves, edged with red pickleweed and sparkling flats of bay mud. Just looking at them made her hungry. A shining titanium highway zig-zagged across the wet marshes, soaring up and down over muddy channels full with a high tide, and choked with the afternoon zero-emission commute of Teslas, Priuses, golf carts, and scooters. Without a carbon credit sticker, you couldn’t go on this “Bridge to Forever,” as they called it.

The little red rail remembered the Extreme Makeover special, when they’d parked a container ship in front of Sears Point and rebuilt Highway 37 in one week. They’d sent all the local rails and mice and song sparrows to Marine World for a vacation, and when they’d returned the entire North Bay had been rededicated to salt marsh wildlife in perpetuity. “Is that a tear?” screeched the BatHawk as gently as a hawk could screech, glancing down at her as she surveyed the salty, wet paradise before her. “Drop me at the nearest refugia,” she clucked.

And that’s how the little red rail met the little black rail, and had some little hybrid rails, and lived happily ever after in the North Bay, that is until Big Bad Polar Bear floated up on an ice chip. But that’s another story.