Category Archives: Hanson Island Winter 2

The Murres, the Blob, and Saving the World

I love Common Murres. Those plucky little diving birds sporting smart black and white tuxedos. The delightful little Alcids that help fill the same ecological niche penguins do in the southern hemisphere. You can have your puffins, the darlings of the Alaskan traveler. I’ll take the understated Murre. When you paddle near them you hear adorable little grunts and growls. A mob of muttering Murres is a delightful conversation to eavesdrop on. Like a group of well dressed attendants at a posh dinner party. Until they scream. An outrageous warbling, an exasperated yell completely out of character with their dignified attire and dialect. Last August hundreds of Murres filled Bartlett Cove. At times it seemed impossible to paddle through without disturbing them. I gave their presence little thought as I paddled past. Enjoying their quiet talks and unexpected yelps.

But this winter was not an easy one for them. As Brittney and I traveled south, a mass of warm water moved north into the Gulf of Alaska. Scientists watched it with skepticism and interest, unsure of what to call it or how to diagnose its presence. “The Blob,” everyone called it until an intrepid blogger coined the term “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge (RRR).” While it still didn’t sound scientific, at least the word “blob” wasn’t in there anymore.

The Murres didn’t care what it was called. Murres are divers. Able to swim hundreds of feet below the surface to feed on herring, capelin, and juvenile pollock. The warm waters of the RRR sent their food sources deep beneath the waves, seeking the colder water. But as the fish dove, they left the Murres behind, devoid of their winter food source. Murres spend most of the winter offshore, so when they appeared by the thousands in Icy Strait and Glacier Bay, everyone noticed.

Murres lack storage space. They don’t put on layers of fat to help sustain them for the lean times. They need to eat, and just a few days of fasting can rob them of their strength. Last winter, there was no food to be had. And Murres showed up in the most bizarre places. They were sighted in Fairbanks, hundreds of miles from the nearest coast, blown north and inland in their weakened condition. Thousands of them landed on frozen Lake Illiamna in western Alaska.

Throughout southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, and the Aleutian chain, dead Murres washed ashore by the thousands. Malnourished and lost, betrayed by a belt of warm water that had no business being there. With thousands of miles of unmonitored coastline, it’s impossible to know how many of these darling birds perished this winter. Estimates are in the hundreds of thousands.

“Are you worried?”

I take my time before answering. Measuring what sort of response I may get. I try really hard not to assume people’s political or environmental views based on where they’re from. I hesitate and admonish myself. Who cares where they’re from? They’re here, in Glacier Bay. They’re kayaking, they clearly care enough to hear what I really think.
The question was not about Murres, but climate change and if I was concerned. But my tuxedo clad friends swim in my mind as I answer.

“Yes,” I respond. And I’m off. Talking about J.B. McKibbon’s sliding scale. How one generation perceives nature as “normal,” slides the scale some, and the next generation perceives this new environment as the new normal. It’s a slippery slope that we’re on.

What if in a hundred years Miami has more canals than Venice and we just consider that normal? What about a world without whales or Murres or wolves or national parks? We scoff but brown bears in California used to be normal. Wolves in Arizona was a given. So many cod off Cape Cod we thought the harvest would never end. This is nothing new. Homo sapiens have been shaping the world around them since forever. Does that justify what we’re doing today?

“It’s not just climate change.” I say, “that gets most of the attention, but it’s so much more. It’s ocean acidity, mercury in the fish. The deck is stacked.”

Hell, we can’t stop killing each other. How can we be expected to care about the rest of the world when we treat our fellow man the way we do? If we’re going to fight, let’s fight for the protection of what the earth still has, not who knows where we go when we die.

The two of them look at me with concern. Nothing like a light conversation about the end of the natural world on a gorgeous day in Glacier Bay. I think about the Murres again. How hard it was to watch, learn, and read about their struggles all winter. How I could have just closed my computer, looked away, pretended like it wasn’t happening. As if that would change anything.

If we can’t talk about it, how will we ever begin to repair the damage?

“I think the natural world will survive,” I continue. “Maybe not the way we see it now, but it’ll recover one way or the other. But that could be hundreds of years from now. It’s not the end of the world, but it could be the end of what makes this a world we love.” I don’t want to live in a world without whales, Murres, wolves, or national parks.

“What do we do?” Their faces are anxious, and I wish I had the magic words. The snappy one liner of the salesmen and TV commercial. The thirty minute sitcom, everything tied together and back to normal before the evening news.

What do I say?

I remember Kim Heacox’s answer to a lady last summer. A mama grizzly, a mighty matriarch, asking what they were supposed to do. Daring him to answer, to tell her she was living wrong.

“Change everything.” He answered simply.
“So do we stop flying? Driving?”
“Maybe.”

I parrot his line, with a small modification. “Change everything you can.” I answer. “Make sacrifices. They should hurt, they should be hard. Or they wouldn’t be sacrifices. Walk to work, eat meat once every other day instead of with every meal. Vote in politicians that put the environment at the top of their to do list.”

70% of Americans say they support more conservation policies. Yet we’ve elected a congress that hasn’t passed such a bill in years. That’s on us. We want to save the world as long as it’s convenient. As long as it comes with a tax break. As long as it doesn’t tread on us.

“Thank you for asking about this.” I tell them. “It’s hard to hear, and difficult to discuss and think about. But it’s the only way that we can change and put the pieces back together.”

A bird comes to the surface. I’d know that silhouette anywhere. Know that dark bill, that white underbelly. I break into a smile. It’s so good to see them. A reminder that many of them made it. They’re not called Common Murres for nothing. There’s boatloads of them. May there always be. In its bill is a little wriggling fish. Probably herring. It’s impossible to tell from here. The Murre gulps it down in two swallows, floats at the surface half a second more, and dives back beneath the waves. Looking for more. Happy hunting little friend.

Cover Photo Credit: wsl.ch

 

Cranky Border Guards and Getting Busted on the Ferry

If objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion stay in motion, than it’s no wonder I feel exhausted. Our travel itinerary for the last twelve days has pulled us thousands of miles on every medium of transportation this side of sled dog on ice pack. Small boat from Hanson Island to Alert Bay, ferry to Port McNeil, drive to Nanaimo, ferry to Vancouver, drive to Seattle (and past the crankiest border guard), drive to Bellingham, ferry to Juneau, ferry to Gustavus, fly to Juneau, and lastly, fly to Anchorage.

After a winter of sitting quietly on a rock in the middle of nowhere with nothing more pressing than to run into town once every two weeks, our manic travel itinerary left us both in a haze. A haze that provided plenty of magical, confusing, and absurd moments. It all starts, I suppose at the B.C/U.S border. We’d spent the day driving south down Vancouver Island after pulling ourselves away from Hanson Island and watching the little cluster of cedar buildings disappear for the next for six months. But the weather turned sunny as we moved down island and spirits were as high as they could be at the prospect of reaching Seattle that evening and spending some time with Brittney’s aunt and uncle.

Joy was further magnified when we reached the border crossing to see four open stations and only a handful of cars in line. With Brittney behind the wheel we glided up to the kiosk, passports in hand.

“Hello!” called Brittney handing over the passports, speaking loud enough to be heard over the quiet whistle our precious pathfinder makes at low RPM.
The U.S border guard didn’t smile, didn’t nod, or in any other way acknowledge or return the most basic and acceptable of human greetings. Instead he snatched the passports from her hand and stared at them as if he’d just picked up something dead and repugnant. After X-raying them for several long moments, his head jerked violently to the side, a great bird of prey ready to grab us and the pets in his talons. His eyes stare into the tinted back window.
“Um, I can open that for you if you want…” Brittney offers.
“Ok.” It speaks!
She rolled the window down, exposing an embarrassing cluster of bags, boxes, and of course, a rabbit, her eyes wide and nose bouncing as the window slides down.
He stares into the labyrinth of our worldly possessions.
“Is that a rabbit?” He sounds disgusted, maybe a little amazed. Surely he’s asking ironically. What he must have been like in high school.
“Yes?” Brittney answers.
Why do we always seem to draw the nastiest of border guards?
“Why are you here?” He snarls.
Seriously? A little ember of rebellion catches some try tinder in my chest. What a hack. Just ask us where we’re from, what our business is, and let’s be on with it. You can be professional without being an asshat. I badly want to say, “why are any of us here man? What’s it all about, man?” But refrain.

Brittney tells him, and before the words are out of her mouth, he’s tossed the passports back into the car and turned away. Wherever he is right now, I’m willing to bet he isn’t smiling.

But we were free, that’s all that mattered. Free to pick up a six pack of glorious IPA after a winter of Kokanee. As we moved further south the road got wider, the trees fewer, the shopping malls greater, and the things I needed to possess to be happy more expensive. If the billboards were to be believed.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Said comedian Daniel Tosh, “but it buys a Waverunner… try to frown on a Waverunner.” Fair point.

We enjoyed a few wonderful days in Seattle, and all too soon, were making the drive north again to the border town of Bellingham to catch the ferry. For the pets, it was the greatest hurdle. Three days cooped up in the car with each other for company. Twice a day we were allowed to go down to the car deck, feed them, and promise that we were almost there. Kind of.

The journey aboard the ferry Matanuska was not a lonely one. A bouncy, adorable two year old with no concept of personal space joined us on the covered back deck of the ferry known as the solarium. A gaggle of wilderness guides based in Haines, including some familiar faces were also aboard, and we prepared for a merry ride north. As we neared Ketchikan, the southernmost town in southeast Alaska however, a ferry employee gave us some grave news. 250 high school band members would be boarding in Ketchikan, swelling the ferry to the bursting point and undoubtedly putting us over the U.S Coast Guard regulated number of tubas. We did what guides do when they’re not on the ocean, the rivers, or the woods. We bought some beer.

Sure. I mean, technically no alcohol was supposed to be consumed in the solarium, but it’s Alaska, surely it’s more of a wink wink, nudge nudge sort of rule. Nope. Half an hour into what looked to be an enjoyable ride from Ketchikan to Petersburg, a lady in a uniform so starched it could stand up on its own materialized in front of us. I had taken the necessary precautions and poured my beer into a nalgene bottle, giving the impression that I was drinking the muddiest, nastiest water in the 49th state. But I remain amazed at how quickly bottles and cans disappeared as she appeared. It was like watching cockroaches scurrying from the sudden flick of a light.

“We had a chaperone complain that there was some open containers of alcohol up here.”
Dead silence.
“Is that true.”
Slowly we shook our heads, muttering “no” while failing to meet her steely gaze. Put us in the woods, in a kayak on four foot seas, and we wouldn’t bat an eye. But here, we were emasculated, or efemulated in Brittney’s case. When in doubt, deny.
“Really?” Stunning that she didn’t believe us. “Cause I don’t think that anyone would just complain for no reason.”
“Maybe they mistook a soda…” one of the other guides mutter.
The lady marches into the middle of the circle. Brittney’s bends her torso over her legs, her Arc’teryx jacket folded over a Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA. The lady tilts her head, “what’s that than?” She points to a big glass bottle beneath one of the lawn chairs someone had been sleeping on.
“That’s… creamer.” Someone says just above a whisper.
“Uh-huh.” She marches over, a soldier of marine enforcement and picks it up. Technically we weren’t lying. Bailey’s is indeed, a creamer. “Consumption of alcohol is not permitted on Alaska state ferries.” She says, much kinder than we probably deserve after lying to her face. “I have to take this, but you can have back when you leave the vessel. I just need to have a name.

Still we’re silent, no one willing to claim any responsibility. We’re all in college again, a militaristic RA confiscating our good time. At last, one of our friends raises his hand. “You can put Mike on it,” he says meekly.

Living “Rustically”

Spring on Hanson Island is bittersweet for us. As we celebrate the sun crawling higher and higher above the mountains of Vancouver Island, we trot outside, palms and heads held skyward. We lay out on the south facing deck all afternoon, soaking up the sun and getting the greatest outdoor bathtub in the world up and running. After a long, windy winter that was defined by the height of the waves and the thunder of the wind, these sunlit days are nothing short of Nirvana.

But in the back of our minds, we know the countdown has begun. That these days are fleeting, and the days of cleaning, organizing, and packing are fast approaching. We have less than a week remaining before, like the geese flying above, we flock north.

Didn’t we just get here? Weren’t we just winging our way south, watching the the islands and inlets crawl by? Winter always seems to slip through our fingers like sand. Blink and its April. This is our life. Every six months we pack everything and shove a resigned kitty and rabbit in the car, our penance for loving two places that are far from easy to reach.

But before we return to a land with bigger glaciers and smaller trees, we reflect on another winter that has taught us much. It’s hard to think of Hanson Island as rustic. Sure, there’s no warm running water or indoor plumbing. But we have a full size fridge, wireless internet, and the ocean at arms reach. In many ways, living in a New York apartment would feel more oppressive, more difficult. The constant artificial lights, the blaring car horns, the masses of humanity. More restraining than the borders of this little island. Where I walk into the forest and hear a Thrush and Woodpecker, or sit on the deck and hear the breath of an Orca a mile away. Things like warm water and flush toilets feel unnecessary. Give me creatures over convenience, stars over street lamps.

Which is all well and good, until the generator won’t turn over on a cloudy morning, the lab batteries failing and the lights flickering. Or the boat engine suddenly refuses to start as the water’s churn in Blackney Pass. Or you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, the window panes rattling the waves pounding, and your fear of the boat getting swept away in full swing. Than an apartment with running water, reliable lights, and a corner store sound pretty good.

So I remind myself of what these inconveniences do. They pull me back to my roots. Remind me that the things we take for granted we shouldn’t. That it’s important to know where our electricity, our fuel, our freshwater come from. And even more, it gives you a personal stake when the only one that can fix it, is you.

A month ago, the generator, died. Not an old generator mind you, but a brand new one. My generator knowledge began and ended with: “turn the key, push the choke in, go back inside.” I went inside, found the dusty owners manual, and marched back to the generator shed without the faintest idea of what I was doing. I opened the maintenance door and stared at its innards. I traced the fuel line, opened the spark plug compartment, and shook my head. If I lived in a city, I’d call the power company and wait impatiently for someone to fix the problem. I had no one to complain to, no one to lean on but me.

Thirty minutes later, my fingers coated with fuel, oil, and grime, I slammed the maintenance door shut. With a knot of apprehension, I filled the generator with gas, pulled the choke, and turned the key. Fifteen seconds later, the blasted thing came to life. I walked back to the cabin with a sense of accomplishment. I love having our source of fresh water, our power, our food squarely in my control. As hard as it can be, it gives me an emotional investment in their sources. Inconvenient or not, I’m grateful.

I want that sort of control, that responsibility when I have my own place. I want solar panels, ground water, a garden, and a wood stove. I have Hanson Island to thank for that. For giving me an intimate connection to the services that it’s so easy to take for granted. After 27-years of turning taps and opening the fridge with little knowledge of where their sources originated, I don’t think I can ever live that way again. Maybe I’ll just have to be rustic forever.

For His Old Branches II

The rain falls as a fine drizzle, turning the surface of each rock and log smooth and slick. My body feels unbalanced, the chainsaw in one hand, oil and two stroke fuel in the other. Beyond the crunch of my boots against the loose rock the world is silent. Blackney Pass stands calm and tranquil. The vista slows my heart and mind. This view. How easy to glance past it after all these months. The islands and channels are worn into my mind like the creases and callouses on my hands. Swanson, Harbledown, Baronet, Cracroft, Blackfish. What names. They stir the imagination, fall smoothly from lips and tongue like water over stones. For years I stared at maps, brushing my fingers over their namesakes, their crude imitations of green and blue put to paper. Now? I see them every day. May the novelty never fade.

I bend over the chainsaw and pull the cord. Through my ear muffs I can hear and feel the vibrating base of the saw as it comes to life. Oil, fuel, and metal. In my hands, with the simple pull of a trigger, I become master of the woods. Capable of felling trees that have patiently grown for a millennia, evicting squirrel, thrush, and deer as the roar of progress and the thunder of manifest destiny march through the woods. But for this I have no desire. I could no sooner fell a growing Cedar than take a man’s life.

I head down the beach. I’m searching for a sacrifice. For a gift willing to disappear from the physical world through the chimney of our cabin leaving only a small pile of ash as a talisman. The log is weathered and worn, maybe a little water logged. But its location is good, and cutting this one opens up space to negotiate the nicer, friendlier logs behind it. I pull the safety, click the button, and the war cry of humanity echoes off the standing trees. I cut with my head down, the trigger pressed halfway. The sharpened chain cuts clean and smooth. No knots. No warping. What a tree it must have been. Before it was reduced to this. Reduced to laying naked on the rocks, it’s branches stripped, its roots severed. I love reading the stories of the old hand loggers. The one’s that went up Tribune channel just north of here. Each tree was selected with care. It had to be. For each one had to be felled just right and rolled into the ocean. Clearcutting wasn’t just unnatural, it was impossible. Hard work. Anything but glamorous. That I could do. No one hand logs anymore. Carve a road into the hills and forests. Strip the forest. Every. Last. Tree. This log I’m cutting is nothing more than a refugee.

Brittney joins the ritual. She wraps her arms around the rounds as they roll free and patiently walks them up the beach, dropping them with a thud that shakes the forest floor. The rain continues to fall, mixing with the sweat on my brow and back. Cutting wood always makes me perspire. I have no idea why. I’m just standing here after all.

I work with my back to the water, the incline slightly uphill. After a time I stop and rise, stretch my back, and turn. A tug and its massive tow fills the strait. It chugs south with diligence. The rumble of the massive diesel engines echo in my chest. My eyes fall on the tow and a snarl spreads across my face. A log tow. Hundreds, maybe thousands of logs lay piled a hundred feet high. A hundred logs high and a hundred wide. Plucked from the raincoast, heading south to await their fate. As what? I’d be lying if I said I knew. Homes? Mulch? Toilet paper? It makes little difference in the moment as a wave of disgust washes over me.

The chainsaw vibrates and slides over the rocks, bumping against my foot, reminding me of my hypocrisy, that I’m standing in three inches of sawdust. That I live in a wooden cabin. That the kayak my father is lovingly crafting for me is made of it. What if the wood for my kayak was once on a barge like this? What if it had been pulled south, past this lab. So that I could one day paddle the inlets it had once looked over.

What’s enough? What is ethical? What is right? The oil companies had a field day a few years back when Shell’s big oil platform pulled into Seattle. Hundreds of big hearted, environmentally conscious people took to the water in kayaks, many of them plastic. Floating thanks to an industry that allowed them to be there. Does that make them hypocrites? Does it muffle or mute the cause they stand for? Do I have a right to feel angry when a log tow goes by? Is it enough to say that I’m doing what I can and accept that it’s impossible to not impact the environment negatively in some way?

There’s no answer from the ocean. Hard to hear with these ear muffs on and the saw rumbling. Avocados from Mexico, bananas from California. Oil, carbon, trees, methane, melting ice caps, Republicans. Dear God. And I’m worried about a couple of trees?

“Do what you can with what you have.”

Who said that? Roosevelt I think. Teddy or Franklin? I can’t remember.

A pillar of Christianity is that we are imperfect and that Jesus does not require us to be. We need forgiveness because we’ll keep screwing up. I look down at the log and feel a shiver run down my neck as the sweat and raindrops cool on my shirt. I think about the book I’m writing, that I want to see published. More than one if I can pull the wool over the eyes of an editor. Books that will be published… on paper since stone tablets went out of style years ago.

Just because I’m an imperfect environmentalist doesn’t mean I shouldn’t, or can’t talk about it. For if we wait until we’re not harming it at all, we’ll be delivering the message on horseback in between long treks through the forest, hunting with sharpened sticks and rocks. Next summer I’ll sit in my wooden kayak, and I’ll do so without guilt. From its seat I can be an agent of change. I can touch the lives of thousands of people as I lead them into the wonder of Glacier Bay. Reminding them gently, patiently, that if we lose this we lose ourselves.

I pick up the chainsaw. I’d be lying if I said I felt good about it as the sawdust started to fly again. One by one we carry the rounds up the hill and to the chopping block to where our woodshed (made of wood) stands. Beyond it is the forest. A forest rebounding from logging. At its heart stands Grandma Cedar, the ancient tree that has survived so much, has seen it all. A forest that, if we keep talking about it, will never hear the sound of a chainsaw in its depths again.

Unexpected Good News is the Best News

I wanted to write about something happy. Something hopeful and uplifting. But for the last couple months, it’s been hard not to feel cynical. What with all the political news, the hate and xenophobia that has infested and captivated all of us whether we’re for it or against it. Even here, on Hanson Island. I quit social media cold turkey for a few days. Every time I logged on I got mad, frustrated, defeated.

But not today. Not tomorrow, probably not for the rest of the week. I needed good news, needed a victory, something to reinstall my faith in humanity. It was SeaWorld of all places, that delivered it. Yesterday the aquarium giant announced an end to the breeding of captive Orcas and “circus style” performances. The finish line is still in the distant future, but at least it’s now visible.

There is of course, a PR spin on this, pivoting around the tenants of “world class care” and “more natural encounters.” We can peruse and scrutinize this is we want, but it’s been clear since the moment that Tilikum grabbed Dawn Brancheau’s ponytail, that SeaWorld couldn’t continue in its current state. Ever since it’s been a gradual slide. From the proposed ending of the circus shows in San Diego, to the “Blue World” proposal. Yesterday, SeaWorld in a way, admitted defeat. Though they’ll never come out and say it, announcing an end to captive breeding and by association, an end to Orca’s in captivity is admitting what animal activists have been saying for years. There is no ethical or conceivable way to keep a massive and intelligent animal in captivity.

Tilikum’s pending death may have had something to do with the announcement. The loss of one of their few breeding males would make the genetic logistics of their breeding program even more difficult and SeaWorld may have been planning for such an announcement. This is all speculation of course. Maybe they looked at their plummeting stocks, attendance records, and a new generation raised on Free Willy and realized there was no future.

But today, I’m not concerned with why SeaWorld is doing what they’re doing, or what their motives were. Today is one of celebration with potential domino effects sweeping across the globe. The end of breeding includes SeaWorld subsidiary Lolo Parque, home to four other Orcas and puts added pressure on the Miami Seaquarium, a small aquarium that is home to  Lolita, a southern Resident who has been in captivity nearly as long as Corky of the northern Residents. Without big brother to hide behind, the spotlight falls more brightly on Miami to, if nothing else, end their performance shows.

With SeaWorld’s focus on low adrenaline and educational shows, the door remains cracked for Corky to come home. After more than 45-years in captivity the prospect of Corky rejoining the A5s and swimming a hundred miles a day seems daunting. But just west of OrcaLab is a long, deep cove called Dong Chong Bay. It was here that Springer, an orphaned and lost Orca was successfully reintroduced to the wild. It would be both poetic and fitting for Corky to live out her days in the bay, chasing wild fish, hearing and associating with her family under the excellent care and attention that SeaWorld has touted for years.

As we celebrate, it’s important to remember the war is not over. Dolphins, Sea Lions, otters, penguins, and polar bears remain large parts of the SeaWorld empire. And while Orcas have deserved the lion’s share of the activism and spotlight, the time has come to tell them that more can be done. The dolphin trade remains one of the more despicable and darker aspects of human kind, with the dolphins life in captivity no better than the Orcas.

I never thought this day would come. I assumed SeaWorld would go down with the ship, beating the drum of education and quality care until they disappeared from existence. But, out of nowhere, they did the right thing. And for that they need to be applauded, commended, and encouraged to do more.

Dear Tilikum

Dear Tilikum,

First, I apologize for not writing this sooner. I’m sure you could have done with some more reading material with all your down time. I mean, how many times can you read the Harry Potter series before your eyes start to cross? What have you heard about this Harry Potter world in Orlando? Seems a bit silly if you ask me. Anyway…

May I call you Tilly? Tilikum just seems too aggressive. An unfair name for an unfair life I suppose. I don’t know what they’re telling you when they drop herring down your throat, inject you with antibiotics, and do whatever horrors they must to keep an amazing animal like you alive in such horrid conditions, but it’s not your fault.

None of it. You understand?

Anyone torn from their family, abused by strangers, and penned up in the dark night with the walls inches from their flippers would do the same. Let no one tell you different. In our desperate hours we do desperate things. You, like the rest of the wild world, is best left alone. To be revered, admired, and loved from a distance. Something we want to reach out and touch but can’t, or at least shouldn’t. He who loves a flower does not pick it to watch it whither and die in a jar. You water it, tend it, keep the weeds away. You should have been no different. Left to flourish in your aquatic garden. Left to swim next to your mother for your entire life, your birthright.

From the moment you were born you had everything you needed. But humans are an unsatisfied race. We’re not a happy race. We’re angry, we’re violent, we do unspeakable things to each other just because we have different ideologies, different skin colors. And sometimes, a lot of the time, that cup overflows, the toxic water splashing onto the innocent, precious species of this earth. Species like yours. Orca’s learned long ago to live and let live. Residents, Transients, Icelandic, Offshore. No wars, no clashes, not until we pushed you all together, in a tiny pen, and told you to get along.

I know you’re not feeling well Tilly. I don’t know how dire it really is. It’s hard to trust anything that SeaWorld releases. But it seems like you’ll be leaving us soon. I hope you’re not in pain, that you can breathe easy. I wish I could say that I hope you get well. But I don’t. The release of death is probably the most humane thing that can happen. Let that spirit go. Leave that imprisoned body. At long last, be free.

Do Orca’s have an afterlife? Here in B.C they’ve documented what may have been an Orca burial. Observers saw a mother disappear near a cleft in the rocks with her dead calf and return to her pod without it. Is it a burial ritual? Or are we anthropomorphizing you? Our arrogant human egos selling you short yet again? Wherever you’re off to next, I know it’ll be better, I hope you love it. Few Orca’s deserve it more.

When you take your last breath, when you finally fade away, please remember this. You are not alone. You are loved, and there are millions of people across the globe standing up and screaming at the injustice that has been your life. Your life, your death, will not be in vain. And the day is coming when the tanks will be empty. When the Orca will no longer be a commodity but a wonder. A sentient being instead of an asset. We’re going to keep fighting Tilly, in your memory, in your honor. I pray you know that there are humans that are good and decent to all creatures great and small.

Rest in peace Tilly. You are missed, you are loved, you are not forgotten.

Photo Courtesy of: http://kepplar.deviantart.com/journal/HELP-FREE-TILIKUM-425641192

The Garden: A Plea for our Parks, Monuments, and Refuges

I wonder if Abbey ever felt this way, or Muir, or Roosevelt. A sort of melancholy joy that all of this is fleeting. Perhaps I worry too much. It’s hard not to. In a time when we need wildness more than ever, it’s never been more threatened. One need look no further than the skulking figures of the right, elbowing and jostling each other for the opportunity to be commander and chief. Debates have become nothing more than four amateur comedians, dropping punchlines and waiting for the laughs that aren’t coming. But between the childish jokes of genitalia and chest thumping, they have declared war. Not on ISIS, hispanics, the middle class, or China. But on us. On the final fragments of American history.

The Party or Lincoln has become the Party of More. Blame it on Reagonomics, the Koch brothers, Ted Cruz’s jowls, it doesn’t really matter. Regulate a women’s body, regulate marriage, but God forbid that the steam rollers of industry should be slowed. Away with the EPA, usher in the era of fracking. What goes into the bank account matters more than what goes into our bodies. Away with the public lands, those worthless wastes of space, those dollar bills hanging from the branches, just waiting to be plucked.

“If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them.” Ronald Reagan said.

“If you’ve seen one hundred dollar bill, you’ve seen them all.” I say. “The only thing more foolish than trying to drink your money is trying to breath it.”
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Herein lies the danger. Herein lies the tragedy. Ted Cruz has already tried to put an end to the miracle that is public lands—our national parks, our monuments, and wildlife preserves. America’s greatest gift to itself. It twists my stomach into knots. Take my healthcare but not the bay, not Denali, not the Arctic Refuge, these shrines to the world that made us. I’ve met several people who, on their deathbed, ran north. To Alaska. To see the land wild and free. Not to see oil wells or mining sites. But that seems to mean little. Give him a big enough eraser and he’ll wipe them all out. Those wastes of space. All those trees and bays and wolves and bears. Refuges and refugees, two concepts that fall on deaf ears. Give me your poor, your tired, your weak… nevermind, some oil subsides will do fine. Conservative and conservation, similar in spelling alone.

This is our own fault. Nature, wilderness, is mythic to some, a fairy tale to many. Something that may or may not exist somewhere beyond the city limits where the concrete may or may not end. An ideological Bigfoot. It’s somewhere our phone’s don’t work and wi-fi fades away. Many never see them. And we’ve lost all connection to how bad we need them.

Air? It comes from the air of course. Food? From the grocery store. Water? It comes from the tap. Trace the journey of these substances and you arrive at the same place. Soil growing food, trees producing the air and filtering our water. Forgetting that relationship is toxic. Ask the children of Flint, Michigan. Ask the families of Butte, Montana about the “pennies from hell.”

“Growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness,” wrote Edward Abbey.

Let us define mankind not by what we can extract and obtain, but by what we can leave alone. Let us not define ourselves by our consumption, but by our self control. Do we have the courage, the willpower to push ourselves away from the petroleum feast, to announce that we’re full? There are bigger things, more worldly things, and yes, more Godly things than maximizing profit on every square foot of land.
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What if we stopped looking at the world like a factory and instead like a garden? A plot that must be nurtured, cared for, fed, and watered. Treated with the understanding that what we take out must be replaced. Minerals and matter must be returned to ensure that the carrots, potatoes, and lettuce of life return bigger, fresher, and tastier next year. Foolish is the farmer who doesn’t renew his soil with fertilizer, who stuffs his rows of lettuce tightly together, believing that the highest quantity planted will equal the maximum yield. Shame to the farmer who doesn’t let a field go fallow. Let the land rest, let it breath, let it be land for a year. And like us after a deep breath, it will work harder, the benefits in a year outweighing the one that was lost.

But the world doesn’t work like this. We can’t stand the thought of letting a portion go fallow. Of not maximizing our yield right now. Forget the future. The future is now isn’t it? The TV told me so. Those that see the world as a garden are shouted down. We’re labeled as extremists, alarmist, other harmful -ists, standing in the way of progress. Good old progress the shield of the conservative politician. But you’ll never hear a politician, pounding the lectern, demanding that he be allowed to frack the tar sands of Utah labeled extremist. He’s just living in the real world. A world where the economy can grow forever. Infinite growth, finite world. His birthright. If we’re not moving forward we must be going backward.
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Will our offspring a century from now look back on us with admiration or disgust? Will we be revered like the minuteman or demonized like the slaveholder? The one’s that took a renewable world and saw it only for what it could do in that very moment. At least we made some money. But is that how we want to be remembered, is that what we want inscribed upon our gravestone?

 Here lies the modern world. The bottom line looked good.

Surely even the most selfish cannot desire to be remembered like this. Let’s be remembered for our love, for our sacrifice, for our restraint. Let a tree be a tree. A refuge a refuge. A fishery a fishery.

“Any fool can destroy trees,” wrote John Muir. “For they cannot run away.”

To which I add, any fool can do something for profit. It takes a man of true character, true conviction, to see a resource, to see personal wealth, and leave it where it is, acknowledging that there are some fields that should always be fallow. We’ll survive without it. The farmers to follow will thank us.

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