But fer the last year, whatever we do, however hard we try, it jest ain't enough. Not without rain. We bin watchin the land die, bit by bit. (1.9)
It's bad enough that our central family is stuck in a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic wasteland, but that post-apocalyptic wasteland also happens to be experiencing a serious drought. That's like getting a sunburn on a bruise—it just adds insult to injury.
The sun beats down. It's merciless. Cruel. It makes me think cruel thoughts. (2.82)
It might sound silly, but there's tons of evidence that human behavioral patterns are shaped by the weather, with hot temperatures leading to a notable uptick in disharmony.
I ain't never seen such a place. Never even imagined there could be somewhere like it on this earth. Tears spring to my eyes. (3.25)
Silverlake apparently used to be pretty nice back in the day, but even then it couldn't hold a candle to the lush vegetation and babbling brooks of Crosscreek. If anything, this only makes Saba angrier that her father kept the family in such isolation.
Nero [...] cain't ever believe how slow I am, how long it takes me to git places. I think he feels sorry fer me with my two legs. (4.45)
Nero the Extraordinary Crow toes the line between humanity and the natural world. We frequently get the sense that he can understand speech, even communicate. That's next level. But is it really happening? Or is it all in Saba's head?
Settlements swallowed by wanderin sand dunes, great waves of sand that 'ud cover places in minutes. Then [...] the sands 'ud move on, an the place 'ud still be there. (4.15)
We see quite a few old Wrecker cities during our travels, many of which only appear for months at a time before being swept back under the surface by the shifting sands. This gives us a sense of the history of this strange place we find ourselves in, and it also shows us the intensity of the harsh natural world.
I look out across the wide open desert. Sandsea. It stretches ahead as far as I can see. No trees, no hills, nuthin but flat dry land fer days. (4.7)
This image of the desert as the open sea gets completed with the entrance of the Desert Swan, the Pinch family's trademark sand-boat. It's proprietary technology, of course. All in all, this imagery gives us a sense of the isolation that Saba feels when exploring the wasteland.
I ain't never seen a creature like that before, she says. He's so smart, he's–
More like a person than a bird? I says. (6.755-756)
The further we get into the book, the more it becomes clear that Nero is the real deal. Or possibly a trapped Animorph. Either way, Saba's connection with him comes to represent her deeply empathetic relationship with nature as a whole.
Sometimes Pa used to tell us about the big Wrecker cities that sprawled over leagues an leagues. [...] The remains of a vast city, spread out across this plateau in the mountains. (8.147)
Saba has passed through a few small Wrecker cities at this point, but nothing compares to the monstrosity she now finds herself in. She didn't believe places like this ever existed. Although we don't get the details of the Wreckers' fall from grace, these brief glimpses of the old world reveal a massive conflict between humans and nature.
Story goes that a long time ago, back in Wrecker times, they put some kinda poison into the lake, says Ike. It killed off everythin. Essept the wurms. They grew. (8.930)
Here's another hint as to what went down with those Wreckers. This passage implies that pollution played a big part in the apocalypse, which certainly would explain the whole "Wrecker" nickname. Y'know—they wrecked the planet.
I cain't stand it if I cain't see the sky. No matter how bad Silverlake was, at least you could count on big skies. (8.720)
If there's one thing Saba hates, it's the feeling of constraint. Part of that might be a result of her six-month stint as a cage fighter (talk about confinement), but part of it just goes back to her fundamental explorative nature.