This Thanksgiving, Let’s Do More Than Just Give Thanks

Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful word, and a noble intention:

Let us sit down together with family and friends at the culmination of the harvest season, enjoy a bounteous meal and give thanks for our good fortune.

But with each passing year I have more trouble composing myself to write about Thanksgiving.

My early Transition Times Thanksgiving posts focused on the Native American dimension to the holiday—reminding myself that the original Massachusetts celebration was actually the beginning of the end for the pilgrims’ generous Native American hosts, whose suffering at the hands of the rapacious Christian-capitalist overlords of this continent still continues, along with their fiery and stubborn resistance.

Last year at this time, we were sending supplies to Standing Rock and I was giving thanks for the brave water defenders who were standing up for all of us as they built their camp on the banks of the river.

This year, having witnessed the brutal repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock, we are preparing for more fights over the zombie Keystone XL pipeline and watching in disbelieving fury as the Trump administration undoes regulatory protections for wilderness and national parks and actively promotes logging, mining, fracking and drilling as well as hunting endangered species at home and abroad (oh, my beloved elephants!).

It’s been quite a year, and it’s not over yet. How should I give thanks, and for what?

It feels self-centered and callous to give thanks for not being in the line of fire—this time. Should I give thanks that I wasn’t born as an elephant or lion? That at least this year my home isn’t in the path of a pipeline or a hurricane, that the water coming out of my tap is still clean?

Of course, in my typical egocentric human way, I am grateful to have a warm, safe home, good food and loving family and friends to share it with.

Of course.

But it’s hard to relax and enjoy that good fortune when so many others are suffering.

We know now that our world is profoundly interconnected: when we hurt and despoil one species in an ecosystem, the reverberations spread out to all. Because humans are the most empathetic of species, it’s hard for those of us who are aware of the deep suffering and sickness of so many on our planet to simply ignore it and continue with business as usual.

On a spiritual level, we suffer too—and I believe that even those who profess to be entirely uncaring of others’ pain—Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Ryan Zinke, I’m looking at you—are harmed by it on a subtle level, growing more zombified day by day.

We who are aware have an essential role to play in awakening others. It’s sort of an anti-zombie effect, our touch having the potential to draw the psychically dead back into the realm of the living.

To live is to suffer. But to live is also to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” in the cause of Life. To live is to offer our lives to the future, to work on behalf of future generations to leave our world better than we found it at our birth.

Those of us lucky enough to be counting our blessings this Thanksgiving must use our good fortune to step up our activism for a better world for all. And I don’t mean merely all humans.

Here’s something you can do to support a very important giver of life this Thanksgiving season. Please contribute to the Indiegogo campaign to underwrite Mary Lyons’ book of ancestral Wisdom Lessons.

Mary Lyons is an Ojibwe elder who, despite a long life filled with all kinds of challenges, continues to travel, teach and inspire others with the wisdom of her ancestors—wisdom we all need today.

Please contribute, in the spirit of giving thanks at Thanksgiving-time. Only two weeks left in the campaign and a long way to go to the goal.

Today I give thanks for the many shining lights who are out in the forefront leading the way to the more beautiful world we know is possible. I have written about many of them in Transition Times over the years, and I continue to honor them as my inspirations, every day.

Here’s a partial list of my guiding lights (among those still alive today). What names would you add?

Charles M. Blow

Stella Bowes

Clare Dubois

Charles Eisenstein

Eve Ensler

Dallas Goldtooth

Amy Goodman

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Naomi Klein

Elizabeth Kolbert

Nicholas Kristof

Winona LaDuke

Mary Lyons

Joanna Macy

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Bill McKibben

Kandi Mossett

Kumi Naidoo

Nancy Roof

Nina Simons

Starhawk

Sandra Steingraber

Terry Tempest Williams

Andreas Weber

Time to “Pray with our Feet” at the Climate Marches for the Planet We Love

This morning I heard that the Sandisfield pipeline is set to go right by a beaver pond that hosts a Great Blue Heron rookery, full of heron mothers sitting on nests right now.

WachusettMeadows080601-11-Rookery

When a pipeline like that goes through, we can see the disruption to big species like trees and herons, beavers and frogs. We can’t even fathom the disruption that happens at the root level. And should there be a rupture, the entire ecosystem would be blown away.

And yet Nature is so resilient. I often remind myself, when I get upset about tree cutting, that every beautiful meadow in my surroundings was once a rocky forest. Change is not always bad, and meadows are as valuable as woods—just ask any owl.

IMG_6007

But building pipelines in 2017…that is just stupid. I can’t say I’m happy to see forests cleared for solar fields either, but at least this is relatively clean energy that doesn’t endanger the earth and water with the potential for dirty oil or gas spills.

Investing in fossil fuel infrastructure at this late date in human history makes no sense. Despite the Heartland Institute’s efforts to sow lies about climate change, it’s real, and it’s already, as Bill McKibben warned us years ago, changing our planet from the one we were born on to.

The planet has seen such shifts before. Iconic species that once called this place home have vanished into extinction. Life on the planet has continued.

What has never happened before, as far as I am aware, is that a super-intelligent species like humans, knowing full well the causes and effects of our actions, willfully triggered climate change so dramatic that it brought about mass extinctions—and not just of companion species, but of we humans ourselves.

candian-oil-sands-615

Alberta CA tar sands

That is what we are doing when we continue to allow fossil fuel extraction, with all the fossil fuel burning necessary to get it to market and more burning. We are committing planetary murder-suicide, ecocide on a vast scale.

If we must go down into the night of extinction, I pray we do not so thoroughly contaminate the planet that regeneration will be impossible.

Are we capable of that? Could our nuclear weapons and reactors, our chemical poisons and our plastics render this planet inhospitable to life?

I don’t want our descendants to find out the answer to this the hard way. It’s a simulation worth casting, just so those in power have their eyes fully opened to the future that could be.

1200px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843When Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Past and Present, he was able to laugh off the sad visions they showed him, albeit uneasily. It was the nightmare scenarios presented by the Ghost of the Future that got him to change his ways, in a hurry.

I know that as a sad Cassandra my visions don’t carry much weight. But when our scientists show us, over and over again, the absolute necessity of shifting to renewable energy quickly—QUICKLY—or resigning ourselves to going down in the general ecocide of the planet, how can the lords of industrial capitalism continue to play dumb? How can they continue to build those pipelines, extract those tar sands, drill in our precious oceans?

How can we, who are aware, continue to let them have their way with us and the Earth we love?

See you at the Climate Marches tomorrow, people.

Peoples-Climate-Movement-300x300.png

For the Earth!

FullSizeRender 2

Standing for Love in the Forest of Sandisfield–A Microcosm of the World

Last week I went to a meeting of the Conservation Commission in the little hill town of Sandisfield, MA, which has many more trees than residents. Indeed, it has no “town” to speak of, just roads threading their way through forests, streams and lakes, making it ideal habitat for beaver, coyotes, deer, bear, and many other birds and animals, including the occasional moose.

But now, Kinder Morgan has come to Sandisfield.

For more than a year, the local Conservation Commission, composed of three residents who serve as civic volunteers, has been meeting with representatives of the giant multinational fossil fuel corporation, which has gas pipelines running for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles in my corner of the world: the states of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, and on up to the big commercial tanker port of St. John, New Brunswick.

989861-13505321195442436-clayton-rulli

Kinder Morgan wants to clear a site in the Otis State Forest in order to lay a pipeline loop that will—as I understand it—be a kind of holding tank for liquefied gas, giving surges of gas coming through the pipeline somewhere to go besides down to the depot.

The Otis State Forest project is not about providing gas to local communities; it’s not even about creating increased ability to move gas from one place to another. It’s just about creating a back-up pipe.

And for this glorious purpose, Kinder Morgan proposes to disrupt land directly abutting a section of old-growth forest at the heart of the Otis State Forest, removing a beaver dam and withdrawing about a million gallons of water from beautiful Spectacle Pond.

16002787_604186494424_1257813920398949004_n

 

The case has been discussed at the EPA, by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and in court for months now. Local heroes Jane Winn of The BEAT News and Rosemary Wessel of the NoFrackedGasInMass campaign, now a BEAT program, have led the legal charge to stop this unnecessary invasion of state forest, and the case is still in court: Kinder Morgan does not yet have the last permits necessary to proceed.

According to Jane Winn, “We still don’t know if any toxic chemicals will be released from the lining of the pipe and there will be no testing of that water.” Jane adds that we do know that Kinder Morgan wants “to tear up and reconstruct a third of the 73 Ceremonial Stone Landscape features in Sandisfield – destroying the spiritual link and desecrating our native history. (Would FERC allow them to dig up part of Arlington National Cemetery and replace it afterward?) This desecration of the CSL features should not be allowed – and the agreement among the tribe, Kinder Morgan, and FERC has not been settled – as much as Kinder Morgan’s representative tried to mislead about that as well.”

Jane, who filmed the entire Conservation Commission meeting, says that the “FINAL 401 water quality permit won’t be issued until March 27 – and could possibly be denied, appealed, or require an additional Alternatives Study.”

Nevertheless, the conversation between the Conservation Commission board and the Kinder Morgan reps last week was chummy, with the main discussion points being what kinds of plans the company has made to contain erosion when—not if, but when—tree felling and bulldozing start.

Sitting across the table from the Conservation Commission folks, in the shabby basement of an old school, the Kinder Morgan rep never looked directly at any of the 60 or so concerned citizens surrounding him. He looked like a nice enough young man—an environmental engineer who had no doubt gotten his degree some 10 years earlier, and gone right to work for industry.

img_1020

Conservation Commission meeting, March 2017

As he talked casually about cutting trees and bulldozing wetlands, I had a vivid image of the quiet forest out there in the blackness beyond the fluorescent lights of the meeting room. The owls swooping about in pursuit of mice; the coyotes ambling in their pack, looking for rabbits; the beavers paddling contentedly between the wooded bank and their den, adding some more mud and logs to create a snug home for the new litter of young ones.

solstice-jennifer-browdy-photo

As though it were a steel blade ripping through my own gut, I felt the pain and terror that will come when Kinder Morgan bulldozes over the opposition and starts cutting the trees, gouging up the roots, ripping out the beaver dam. They are in a hurry to start because there are some guidelines (state? Federal? I am not sure) that enjoin them to cut the trees before nesting season.

ambi_kirchmeier

American bittern

One resident spoke up at the meeting on behalf of two rare endangered species that he said he often sees at the very pond they are talking about destroying: the American bittern and the sedge wren.

What will they do when they fly in from their migration to find their usual habit a muddy, gaping scar in the forest?

They’ll fly on to some other pond, state officials and industry reps would say philosophically.

The problem is, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to go. Why do you think we have coyotes living in cities, bears hanging out in suburbia, moose strolling along highways and train tracks? It’s not because they want to be there. It’s because they have nowhere else to go.

qlc7kcpxcjhf9rkjbkbg

Snow geese

I thought about this recently when I heard about the thousands of snow geese that died painful, torturous deaths because they landed on a toxic pond in Montana left wide open to the sky by industry. This is a common occurrence; it was only the scale of this particular mass murder that brought it into the news headlines.

I am as complicit as the next person in all of this. I will get up from my desk to heat some coffee on my gas stove. I will drive my car into town for groceries that are produced and procured using fossil fuels. I live with this knowledge every day: that I am part of the problem. Look at this picture long enough, and you see the very clear strands of complicity linking me and my lifestyle with the chainsaws buzzing in the forests, the pipelines snaking over the countryside, the water taps on fire and the rivers, lakes and ponds choking with contaminants and algae.

While it is good to acknowledge the lack of innocence, it does no good to beat myself up with guilt.

The question becomes, what CAN I do?

maccphoto

Environmental activist Jane Winn accepts an award from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions

If I have money, I can share it with environmental groups like The BEAT News, 350.org, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, which are working hard through information, organizing and legal battles to hold industry accountable to the public good.

I can work with the ACLU, the honorable news media and democratic political groups to bring down the Trump administration as soon as possible, before industry hacks like Scott Pruitt and Jeff Sessions have a chance to totally wreck the environmental standards in this country.

I can run for office myself, with the goal of putting my values and vision to work at the local, state or even national level.

Jane Winn suggests we all work on the local level to get New England off of fossil fuels.  “The latest study, she says, “points out that we have a legally mandated shrinking need for fracked natural gas. Massachusetts is adding off-shore wind and storage. Towns are starting to aim for 100% renewable. All of us can work toward zero net energy – buy fossil-fuel-free electricity through Mass Energy and add cold-climate heat pumps to stay warm. Use electric stoves. Buy an electric vehicle.”

juliabutterflyhill8

Julia Butterfly Hill at the top of Luna, the California redwood she singlehandedly saved from the lumber industry

All very good, productive advice. Nevertheless, what I most felt like doing, as I filed silently out of the school basement and out into the cool dark Sandisfield night, was putting my own body on the line–chaining myself to an old-growth hemlock, let’s say, before I let it be cut down.

I felt like pulling a Julia Butterfly Hill, becoming a treesitter who could save the forest.

I wish I had that kind of courage.

As it is, I sit with my grief and my rage as the Sandisfield scene is played out in small rural towns in every corner of our country and beyond.

Kinder Morgan, Energy Transfer Partners and the rest of the fossil fuel gang have been running roughshod over people and wildlife and the natural world for long enough.

img_1557Yes, we love our electricity, our cars and our warm homes. But now we know we can get all the power we need from the great Source of all of us, the Sun—with a little help from other elements: Wind and Water. We don’t need to rape the Earth any longer to satisfy our short-term human wants and desires.

The tragedy of Sandisfield is a tiny blip in the almost unimaginably huge devastation humanity has wrought on our planet. Still, it’s in my backyard and I care about that forest and the life it supports. If each of us cared and tended for the land around us, our world would be a different place.

The problem of the corporations is precisely that they are too big, too amorphous and unrooted. The managers, board members, financiers and shareholders live far, far from the places they are destroying. They don’t care.

So my heartfelt question is: how can we reach these human beings, who literally have the power of life or death in their tiny, grasping hands? How can we get to their hearts and make them care?

I think we need to get these guys out of their office towers and into the forest.

And I suspect that the strongest thing I can do, with the talents and gifts I have been given, is to try to communicate to them, and all their henchmen and enablers, why it is so, so important—indeed, critical to all life on Earth—that they reconnect with the natural world, open their hearts, and learn what love in action looks and feels like, and the true value of what it can produce.

Love is the simple solution. If we lived in love, and acted out of love, every single problem we face would melt away.

And what a beautiful world it would be.

img_0761

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are All Noah Now

We are all Noah now.

These words have been sounding in my head like a mantra these past few weeks, and this morning I woke from strong dreams of animals in trouble—a big lone fox, a frantically hopping toad—and felt the need to make my inchoate awareness of danger and responsibility more tangible by writing it down and sharing it with others.

Derrick Jensen asks with desperate, angry sadness how long it will take us to finally wake up and start resisting the accelerating extinction of species happening on our watch.

How can we love our pets so much (I ask with my purring cat on my lap and my snoring dog at my feet) and remain unmoved by the news that hundreds of sweet, innocent reptiles and amphibians, many of them from fragile, endangered species, were cruelly murdered by callous neglect last week, crushed into hot plastic tubs without food or water for days in a crate bound from Madagascar to the U.S. pet store market?

_72676565_mada3

_72680861_mada4

How can we continue to give our children adorable stuffed lions and tigers and bears to hug and cuddle (my own boys were devoted to their respective stuffed animal friends, a gray kitty and a green froggy) while turning a blind eye to the fact that all of the large animals on Earth are staring extinction in the face?

Indonesian palm oil plantation.  First the forest was bulldozed.  Never mind all the fragile species that called it home, including our primate cousins, the highly endangered orangutans.

Indonesian palm oil plantation. First the forest was bulldozed. Never mind all the fragile species that called it home, including our primate cousins, the highly endangered orangutans.

How can we blithely talk about international agreements like REDD and cap-and-trade markets, ignoring the fact that when these lofty agreements are translated into action on the ground in the remote tropical forests that most need protection, they too often result in the worst kinds of greedy destruction—for example, so-called protected forests being bulldozed, sprayed with herbicides and turned into palm oil plantations, but still sold as “protected forest” in the international carbon market.

Americans spend royally on landscaping around our own homes, but fail to appreciate that if we don’t snap out of our trance and start acting forcefully on behalf of the planet as a whole, the storms and droughts that are coming will make short work of all our careful planting and pruning.

Wake up people!  We are all Noah now.  The Ark that will help us weather the storms we have brought upon ourselves is the Mother Ship, sweet Gaia herself.

Headlands, Puerto Rico. Photo by Eric B. Hernandez

Headlands, Puerto Rico.
Photo by Eric B. Hernandez

It’s past time to start focusing on doing all we can to conserve the living beings on this planet—ours to protect, not to destroy.

We are all Noah now.

A Milkweed Railroad for Monarch Butterflies

I will never forget that sun-washed September day back in the 1970s, when a Monarch butterfly landed on my finger and hung on there trustingly, resting its gaudy black-and-white polka-dotted abdomen on my warm skin.

close-up-of-monarch-butterfly-on-fingerA girl of about ten, dreamy and prone to tree-climbing and rock-sitting, I froze and observed the butterfly’s gorgeous gleaming wings, which beat back and forth slowly as it perched; and then, to my great delight, it unfurled its long, slim black tongue and began gently probing my skin, daintily sipping the beads of sweat it found there.

After a few minutes, it gave a carefree beat of its wings and caught an updraft over to a nearby stand of purple asters.  I watched it with delight, wishing it luck and Godspeed on its long migration south to Mexico, which I knew about thanks to my avid reading of Ranger Rick and National Wildlife.

Many years later, my son, also a keen observer of the natural world, brought a Monarch butterfly caterpillar that he’d found on a stand of milkweed home to munch milkweed on our kitchen counter.

UnknownWe watched, fascinated, as the caterpillar hung itself upside down in a J-form from a branch of milkweed.  Overnight, the soft striped body of the caterpillar hardened into a glossy green cocoon, and its the rear feet solidified into a strong stem, firmly cemented to the branch.

The cocoon hung quietly, quivering now and then as the mysterious transformation took place inside.

One morning we began to see the familiar black and orange outlines of the Monarch wings coming into view just beneath the green wall of the cocoon, now turning translucent.

65207-004-57F046F4

“You’d better put it outside,” I told my son.  “We don’t want it to hatch in the house!”

He put the vase with the milkweed and the trembling cocoon out on the porch, and we left for work and school.  By the time we came back, the miracle had occurred—the cocoon had been abandoned, and the beautiful Monarch had sailed away regally, following its destiny.

images

This year not a single Monarch butterfly visited our garden, although I planted two butterfly bushes for them, and a stand of Asclepias, a whole bed full of bee balm, phlox and asters, and even left a few stubborn stalks of milkweed growing up through my roses.

“Did you see any Monarchs?” my son and I kept asking each other, knowing the answer but still hopeful.

No.

This is how extinction happens.  One year, a beloved species just doesn’t show up.  Life goes on.  But a hole opens  in the tightly stitched fabric of the ecosystem.  When there are enough holes like this, the whole fabric begins to unravel.

Jim Robbins wrote last Sunday in The New York Times:

Monarch butterflies on tree trunks

Monarch butterflies turn the forest orange. They return to a specific mountain forest in Michoacan, Mexico, year after year.

“On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.

“This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year.”

Why are the butterflies disappearing?  It’s not just the Monarchs, although these large, showy insects are among the most beloved.  I saw very few butterflies of any stripe in my garden last summer.

As with the precipitous decline in the wild bee population, the culprit is industrial agriculture.

Butterflies rely on wildflowers for their bread and butter during the summer breeding months.  For Monarchs, milkweed is especially crucial.

tam_map_webThe long route from the Mexican forest where they winter to their North American breeding grounds used to be lushly planted with native wildflowers like milkweed.  No single butterfly makes the round-trip from Mexico up to my garden in New England.  Rather, each generation lives long enough to lay its eggs on a convenient stand of milkweed, and those caterpillars hatch, eat their milkweed, cocoon and turn into butterflies to carry the migration on.

It’s a mysterious, miraculous process, the knowledge of the route handed down across scores, perhaps hundreds of generations each season, year after year for untold millennia.

And then human beings invented Round-up.

agriculture-impact-climate-change-monoculture-farm-photoThe tragic decline, not just in the Monarch population but in all our native insects, can be traced directly to the use of chemicals in agriculture.  The herbicide Round-up, sprayed indiscriminately on the ever-spreading farmlands of the American Midwest, kills everything except those seeds genetically engineered to withstand it.

That is, it kills everything a butterfly would need to survive.

Thanks to Round-up and all the other pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in American agriculture—combined with suburban sprawl, golf courses, lawns, malls and parking lots—much of the U.S. has become an ecological desert, from a butterfly’s point of view.

And without the butterflies and other insects, the bird populations crash too.

The bats die off.  The run-off from these poisoned fields kills the frogs and toads.  And before we know it, that one small hole left by the disappearance of the Monarchs has turned into a gaping, hemorrhaging wound from which there is no recovery.

What can we do?

Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent NY--biodynamic & organic

Hawthorne Valley Farm, Ghent NY–biodynamic & organic

One thing we can do as consumers is to support organic agriculture as much as we possibly can.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but think of those extra pennies as a donation to the Save the Bees, Birds and Butterflies effort.

You can also think of buying organic as an investment in your own health.  Pesticides and herbicides build up in our bodies too—we’re at the top of the food chain after all, just like the eagles and hawks who were dying from DDT back when that poison was still being sprayed on the fields.

It’s no accident that we have a cancer epidemic in America today.  What goes around comes around.

We can also be more thoughtful in how we compose our landscapes.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to have green space around our homes can get rid of grass lawns, which are green deserts to butterflies, and plant vegetable and flower beds instead.

05517F2I often find Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars munching away on my dill in the early summer, and I’m happy to share my crop with them.

Even the big tomato hornworm, which can chomp through a whole tomato branch in a single day, is cause for celebration in my backyard, especially now that I know they turn into the spectacular sphinx moth, a daytime moth so big and fast I’ve sometimes mistaken it for a hummingbird.

Imagine a Milkweed Railroad for the Monarchs, running from their winter home in Mexico all the way up to the far reaches of their breeding grounds in Canada.

Stands of milkweed would be planted in every park in every town along the way, so that wherever the butterflies spiraled down from the high updrafts that carry them along the ancient migratory route, there would be milkweed waiting to host their eggs, feed their caterpillars and provide sturdy stalks for their cocoons.

This is not a dream.  This is how it used to be, until the last few decades when human sprawl and wanton chemical use got out of hand.

What humans broke, we can fix.  We just need to set our hearts and minds to the task of repairing the holes in the fabric of our beautiful planet.  And in tending to the planet, we’ll be tending to ourselves.

flat,550x550,075,f

A message from the wounded heart of our magnificent Earth

This week, as in the foreground Washington politics continued as usual, a remarkable animal came like a messenger sent to remind me of the state of things in the background, where what’s really important is going on.

I’m using Mary Daly’s terminology here: she calls everything that mainstream society generally focuses on part of the “foreground,” which distracts us from the deeper and more significant issues and events going on in the “background.”

Instead of worrying about how the “snools” are jerking the country around from their headquarters inside the Beltway, Daly urges us to pay attention to the bigger, deeper picture of what’s happening on a global level to the ecological systems that keep us all alive.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrench my attention away from all the grotesqueries going on in the foreground.  This week, I had help.

***

On Tuesday, as I was walking along a trail by a small river near my house, in the gathering gloom of dusk, I looked back to see my dog Loki standing stock-still near a large object that I couldn’t immediately identify.

Afraid it might be a big and potentially dangerous animal, like a raccoon, I hurried back, and was astonished to perceive that Loki was standing nose to beak with an enormous eagle-like bird.

osprey

Both animals were calm, and Loki came to me at once when I called.

The eagle, which I later identified as an osprey, turned and looked at me keenly, with a gaze I can only call commanding.  Its huge, hooked beak was intimidating; this was not the kind of wild animal I would consider going anywhere near.

And yet here it was, down on the ground, strong and well-fed, clearly in its prime, but immobilized by a badly broken right wing, which was hanging twisted and useless at its side.

A human being in that condition would have been writhing and crying desperately for help.

The osprey merely stood its ground, calmly and regally, waiting.

It was still there the next morning when I went back to check on it.  I had called the state Fish & Wildlife Service, and as I stood there by the eagle, a wildlife biologist called me to ask directions to the bird.  He was going to bring it to a veterinarian to have its wing set, and then bring it to a shelter.

Wild raptors with broken wings almost never fly again, but there are raptor rescue centers that maintain them as ambassadors for their kind, educating the public about the beauty and importance of these magnificent birds.

 ***

I don’t know how that bird came to break its wing. There was a house not far away from where I found it; perhaps it flew into a window at full tilt?

I do know that if it had come down elsewhere, away from the trail, it would have certainly died of starvation or been eaten by a coyote, which I have seen in those woods.

In this case, human beings could be of use to this osprey, and indeed I felt very strongly, when it trained its sharp, steely gaze upon me, that it was demanding my help.

More broadly, I take my encounter with the eagle this week as a reminder to keep my focus on the bigger, deeper picture of the continual wounding of the natural world.

For every damaged osprey there are literally millions of creatures I can’t see personally, who are wounded and dying all over the Earth.

I can’t afford to lose myself in the busy-ness and distraction of foreground concerns—the headlines of mainstream media outlets, the daily housework, the struggle to make enough money to pay bills and keep my family going.

Those concerns will continue and as a functioning member of human society, I have to keep my eye on them.

But my inner eye–my third eye, my most deeply aware sense of vision–must be ceaselessly trained on the slowly unfolding planetary tragedy that is occurring relentlessly in the background.  I must stay alert for opportunities to be of help to those who cannot help themselves.

I thank the beautiful osprey for this reminder, and wish it, most fervently, Godspeed.

IMG_4053 copy

You can run but you can’t hide

As the heat and humidity of summer bore down on my home turf of New England last week, I made a run for it, spending two days traveling northeast at breakneck speed towards the normally cool coast of Nova Scotia.

I arrived just in time for a rare heat spell here on these windy islands sticking out into the north Atlantic.

Today it was up in the 90s Farenheit, the sun golden-bright and merciless.  Too hot to go out to the beach—a day for staying in the shade and drinking lots and lots of water.

musselsThinking of having something light and cool for dinner, my son and I drove down to the store to get some mussels.

The Canadian Maritimes are a prime source of farmed mussels, and I was eagerly picturing a pot full of the glistening blue-black beauties, steamed in a fragrant shallot and wine sauce.

Ignoring the sad, dried-up looking fish at the Atlantic Superstore fish counter, I confidently asked for a 5-pound net bag of mussels, and placed it in my shopping cart.

I started walking around the store briskly, revived by the freezing air conditioning.  But I kept getting whiffs of a strange smell, like something rotten.  After a few minutes, I realized it was coming from my cart.  It was the mussels.

I returned the bag to the fish counter, where the server took it back without argument.

So much for my fantasy of a mussel dinner.

***

warnsignOn the way home, we stopped to pick up a local newspaper, and while waiting in a long hot road construction line, I noticed a small headline tucked on the inside pages: “Shellfish Harvesting Suspended Due to Red Tide.”

My son and I looked at each other in dismay.  We had already noticed, on our first walk on our normally pristine local beach, that the water was a strange rusty-red color.

We had noticed too that there seemed to be fewer seabirds around, and that when we went down to the rocks to look for the normally numerous crabs, we could hardly find any.

We had been planning to go clamming over the weekend, out on the mud flats at low tide.

That plan would have to go the way of the mussel dinner.

When we got home, we went to the Internet to look up Red Tide, learning that it was more properly known as Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), and that it was almost ubiquitous along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, especially during the summer.

We learned that eating shellfish that have been harvested from HAB water can cause “paralytic toxic poisoning” in humans, characterized by gastrointestinal and respiratory distress.  Good thing I left those stinking mussels at the Superstore!

HABs have disastrous effects on other species like fish, waterfowl, dolphins, whales, and seals.

If I can’t eat mussels I may be piqued, but I can find something else just as good to eat on land.

Ocean denizens have no such options. I began to picture cormorants and seagulls with bad tummy aches.  No wonder we’d seen very few of the big blue herons that used to be so numerous in the salt marshes.

 ***

Red Tide - Mary Mackin 2My admittedly superficial Internet search did not bother to mention the cause of harmful algae blooms, speaking of them as an inconvenient fact of life, like a rip tide or a thunderstorm.

While HABs are sometimes natural, there is nothing normal about the dramatic spike in coastal red tides we’ve been seeing for the past 25 years or so.  They are part of the same phenomenon that causes the dead zones around the mouths of rivers that run through densely populated agricultural regions.  This summer, scientists are forecasting the largest dead zone ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico—some 8,500 square miles.

It’s human and animal sewage and fertilizer run-off that upsets the natural chemical balance of the coastal waters, feeding the destructive algae at the expense of everything else.

What we humans break, we can also fix.  We could fix this problem if we wanted to.  But I found mention only of closing shellfish beds to harvesting, not of trying to turn the entire problem around by reducing the amount of shit we allow to run off into the sea.

***

I thought that up here in Nova Scotia I might be able to escape from the relentless, depressing awareness of the cascading, ever-quickening destabilization of the natural world.

That’s just another little fantasy I’ll have to give up.  There’s nowhere to run, much less to hide.

No more fish in the sea?

Last summer when I was in Nova Scotia, I wrote about how startled I was to struggle, in the local supermarket, to find anything but frozen fish with origin stamps of China and Southeast Asia.  The fresh fish offerings were meager, taking up just a small portion of the case allotted to them, and besides the lobsters, only the ocean trout and small haddock filets were wild caught.

product-lg-seafoodLast week, in a Puerto Rican supermarket, I had an unhappy feeling of déjà vu as I searched in vain for any locally caught seafood at all.  There was no fresh fish counter there, just a case of packaged frozen filets and shellfish, every one of them with their label pointing to China or India.

When I asked the locals about whether it was possible to get fresh fish on the island, they shook their heads.  “Maybe if you meet the fishing boats at the dock, they might sell you something,” one man told me.  “But it all goes to the restaurants and resorts.”

Other than crabs, there were few sea creatures to be seen on the beach, either.  One morning we watched a local man with snorkel gear and a fishing spear go back and forth in front of the beach collecting lobsters—undoubtedly illegally.

The only coral we saw was bleached and dead.

The amount of plastic garbage on the beach and in the coastal waters was depressing.

And although there was some bird life, it was thin, even in the beautiful coastal land designated as a “national wildlife refuge”: a single frigate bird, a couple of pelicans, a handful of herons and sandpipers.

DSCN3856

What frightens me is how quickly we normalize whatever situation we live in.

It’s normal now to live on an island surrounded by magnificent turquoise waters and not be able to find fresh local seafood to eat.

DSCN3895

It’s normal to buy water in plastic bottles and throw them casually away, without any clue of what happens to them once they’re deposited on the curb for the garbage men to pick up, and it’s normal to find those bottles washing up at the beach.

I_Fresh_Market_FishIt’s normal to return to the U.S. and find, in the local gourmet food store, a big gleaming fresh fish counter, with huge slabs of “sustainably farmed” salmon, leaner wild-caught Alaskan salmon ($25 a pound!), swordfish steaks, flounder filets, sea bass from Chile, fresh shellfish of every description.

Here in the heart of Empire, it’s normal to remain ignorant of the fact that this kind of abundance is rare, and carefully manufactured.

And when those who can afford that $25 a pound fish go abroad, they travel in bubbles of luxury that keep them cushioned in the comfortable delusion that all is well.

After all, in the restaurants at the resorts, there’s fresh salmon on the menu.  Never mind that it arrived on this Caribbean island packed in ice, on a flight from a fish farm in New Brunswick, New Zealand, or Scotland.

It’s normal, now, to feel sad but resigned to the fact that fish and seafood is becoming a rarity.

As omnivorous human beings, we have other choices. No seafood available?  Eat chicken then, or vegetables.

But what about the shorebirds and the ocean food chains that have evolved in tight symbiosis over millions of years?

Try telling a pelican or a seal to go eat some chicken.

DSCN3836

On the southern California coast this spring, there has been a wave of emaciated, starving sea lion pups washing up on the beaches.

baby-sea-lion-2edit

Starving sea lion pup being transferred to a rescue center for rehabilitation.

They’re starving because the fish their parents and grandparents caught so easily have been trawled up by factory fish vessels, frozen in plastic pouches and sent around the world on ice.

This is the new normal.

I am not resigned, and I will never get used to it.

%d bloggers like this: