I have been busy setting up the Institute of Conservation & Culture website so haven’t had time to write about the sea . . . though I’ve been walking on its shores every afternoon, with Gwynna dog, observing the migrating sea birds . . . I’ve got lots of text on the IC&C website that I think you’d be interested in. I invite you to go take a look and join with us in doing good works . . . Go to http://icclife.webpress.com
To Every One . . . and especially for my friends (known and not-yet-known) who are also scientists, environmentalists, nature artists, writers, and explorers . . . this, a letter in progress, hoping for response:
. . . . So let me suggest that when we are investigating some aspect of the world we are part of, we need be artists as well as scientists. We need to see and hear and organize in primary engagement with the sensory and structural possibilities of what we encounter, and where we “stand”, entirely open to the moment itself as part of Creation — at the same time as we are recording with a kind of linearity which language and analysis requires.
What we each have the opportunity to experience and share with others is what it means to see with the eyes of an artist, hear with the ears of a musician, speak with the voice of a writer, while knowing with the discernment of an informed & experienced intellect. That’s what it’s all about, the challenge, and the call. Only in this way, may the artisanry of the creatures and creation itself be truly revealed.
For example, the work of cosmic creation is no where more evident — in its seemingly infinite variety of form, sound, movement, color, texture, and life — than in the drama of sea creatures within their waterworld environment. When we are here, it is as if we descend into the inner sanctum of a temple of mysteries. Astronauts have told us that the thing most profoundly moving from the vantage point of Space is to look back upon the Earth, the little blue orb floating in the deep darkness of the multiverse, and realize that here is home. And that this home is floating upon the blueness of the waters. And that within those waters there are creations so multitudinous and inventive that no human mind can begin to grasp the complexity and artfulness of their Life. But of course, this water itself floats upon earth, mineral, fire, pure process. Even our own bodies are worlds within worlds . . .
So, whatever your pursuit, background, or limitations, I urge you to find ways to speak of life’s mystery, majesty, sheer wonder and delight. Do so as an artist, boldly. Nevermind what your 9th grade art teacher said about your talent. You are unique, and we need your unique perspective. So much of contemporary art is barren, starkly self-reflective in a void, or perhaps mirroring the conspicuous (particular the horrors), and often it is about disassembling (the thing is less, and/or other-than, than the sum of its parts). Surgeon or steelworker, the world (and the materials of creation) are yours.
Twenty-first century artistic creation has the potential to become an invitation for all life-explorers to contribute to, and savor, the ecological feast wherein spirit and life are reunited & live together in ways that reveal possibility, mystery, doorways we enter through dreams. Here all people may touch on discovering a New World, or maybe a True World, we become witness to. So we share . . . for those who have not yet lived enough to enter on their own.
We who have explored and seen, experienced and known, have been given an opportunity and challenge to be harbingers of a twenty-first century enlightenment: To bring elucidating light to shine upon some of the darkly empty places in the human psyche. Perhaps our light shines on the micro world of interdependent organisms, or perhaps on the macro world of large creatures we often perceive as living as electronic machines.
As we bear witness to the light of life that guides our work, we will come more and more to live in its light ourselves. And what is of seemingly endless complexity will become a seamless simplicity. That is the gift. Earned by our hard work, our persistence, our joy, our loneliness, our delight, our passion, our sacrifice. You and I become partners as explorer-artists by going through that doorway together, with the world opening out before us onto a reality that flows seamlessly through all space and time.
Because we have chosen, we are chosen. Because we have asked, it has been given us. Because we are open to blessing in this way, while we are alive on this good earth, we are blessed. Let us share the wealth . . . . .
Posted in Uncategorized
NOTE: For those of you who have not yet read the last (prose) post, “Blue Whales Singing,” if you scroll down past the following poem, you will find it. Also, if you click on the box above, READERS’ SHARE, you can read and add your own (short) sealife stories or supporting text. Please join in the circle!
Sub/Marine (We All Balance Life)
we are they are
otters shore birds
in the zone
beneath the water
hidden world beneath
the plunge complete
the myriad plants
in weight-hung balance
evened by the
blood and water
blood as water
all are held
and held as one
rise up down
like we human ones
live life within
harsh worlds of
back and forth and
home and forth with
consciousness to modulate
the mystery on and on
is how all life
can live such lives
and learn to seek
and how all come
to move to speak
no matter where
and to be
I’m guessing that not all of you have pretended to have a tongue like a Blue Whale singing. Since I have, after obtaining a few basic facts, I thought I’d share my experience with you. It is replicable. And might give pause for thought. Or something.
1. The blue whale is the largest mammal, possibly the largest animal, to ever inhabit the earth. It’s taxonomic name is Balaenoptera musculus if you want it look it up.
2. The tongue of a Blue Whale is the size of an elephant. It weighs three tons.
3. You could drive your car into the mouth of a Blue Whale.
4. The krill-strainer on a Blue Whale is larger than a tennis court net.
5. Krill are tiny shrimp which Blue Whales eat by the tonnage. During the summer feeding season, Blue Whales can eat up to 40 million tons of krill a day. Now the cavities used for eating are also important for communicating.
7. The blue whale communicates and vocalizes for whatever it feels like, including the basics of finding a mate, keeping its babies safe, hangng-out with others of its kind, marking out migration routes, and just singing because its comforting and feels good and makes a long journey more fun. Same stuff as people, more or less. The whale does these things by making patterns of deep and rumbling sounds which can be felt as much as heard, at least by other whales.
8. Most calls are so low frequency that they can’t be picked up by the human ear. These low-frequency sounds travel long distances through water, allowing blue whales to communicate with each other, and who knows what else, over hundreds, even thousands, of miles of ocean. It has even been reported that whales have communicated with land masses in between them.
I have spent the better part of the morning stretched out horizontally simulating a whale’s vocalizing. I have done this by moaning and otherwise vocalizing at different pitches, for different lengths of time, with my tongue in various positions.
After this lengthy experiment, I have concluded that the entire body (of a human, and probably, according to reports, a whale, and . . . well, you take it from there) — ahem — that the entire body becomes a resonance chamber once you open up and get the sounds going good.
I have also discovered that the skin which covers the body becomes permeable so that “you” occupy a much greater volume of space, a coherent body of resonance displacing less coherent resonances. Really, try it. I found that I could actually feel this in such a way that I could have sketched a map of this new kind of skin/body boundary-interface.
Given this awareness, I am open to the possibility that sounds made in this way are likely to both “travel” over very long distances, and also, in that quantum physics mysteryland sort of way, instantaneously BE someplace else resonating with whatever it shares affinity.
In other words, I begin to intuit that whale songs connect whales which are, in measurable distances, considered much farther apart than “regular sound” could travel (this is before I looked into the research – see below)
So then I wondered:
If you and I were far apart but you were stretched out horizontally simulating a whale at the same time as I, would I “sense”/hear/whatever” you, & you me? would it be simultaneous or would there be a lag time? Better yet, what kind of resonances would be set up if we were occupying contiguous space and then started moaning/vocalizing like whales? how much space would we fill? where would it/we go? (Perhaps we’d be awarded a Distinguished Prize for this work?)
And what if every reader of this blog took a few minutes out of the day to try out such an experiment? A new kind of meditative and/or scientific fieldwork experience might emerge. Who knows? This is how progress is made — by trying the untried. So I urge you: Try it and, well . . . . let me know. I’ll compile your results and publish them here. Anonymously if you request such for personal or professional reasons.
Look forward to hearing from you all!! And now, for some relevant . . .
Prior to the exponential increase in human shipping traffic in the oceans over the last century, researchers say that the whale vocalizations may have travelled right from one side of an ocean to the other. The recent explosion of ambient human sound pollution is placing increased stress of whales, interrupting their mating process (finding each other across vast expanses of sea), and wiping out their acoustically defined migration routes. And to help put all this in to perspective, we turn to Dr Clark:
“For nearly nine years Cornell University researcher Christopher Clark — together with former U.S. Navy acoustics experts Chuck Gagnon and Paula Loveday — has been listening to whale songs and calls in the North Atlantic using the navy’s antisubmarine listening system. Instead of being used to track Soviet subs as they move through the Atlantic, the underwater microphones of the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) can track singing blue, fin, humpback and minke whales.
From the acoustical maps he and his colleagues have obtained, Clark has come to realize that he has been thinking about whales at the wrong time scale. “There is a time delay in the water, and the response times for their communication are not the same as ours. Suddenly you realize that their behavior is defined not by my scale, or any other whale researcher’s scale, but by a whale’s sense of scale — ocean-basin sized,” he says.
Clark, the I.P. Johnson Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., discusses his research into the rich acoustical environment of whales: “We know very little about whale communications. That is why we are looking for patterns of association and coordination. The problem is that the whales are spaced so far apart,” says Clark. “However, we now have evidence that they are communicating with each other over thousands of miles of ocean. Singing is part of their social system and community.”
“Using SOSUS, Clark can move a cursor around a screen and listen in on different areas of the North Atlantic. If he hears a whale singing, he can fix its location and position it in space and time and observe animals that are many tens of miles apart — cohorts of humpback singers moving coherently — and watch the collective migration of species in large portions of the ocean basin.
“So if I am a whale off Newfoundland, I can hear a whale off Bermuda,” says Clark.
“Whales will aim directly at a seamount that is 300 miles away, then once they reach it, change course and head to a new feature. It is as if they are slaloming from one geographic feature to the next. They must have acoustic memories analogous to our visual memories,” he says.
“Clark notes the irony that just as researchers are gaining new ways of understanding the linkages between whales and oceanographic features, what he is hearing is the rising tide of noise from an increasingly urbanizing marine environment, the collective noises from shipping traffic, oil and gas exploration and production, and recreational traffic. And every decade the amount of noise is doubling.
“Many whales have very traditional feeding grounds and their migratory routes occur along shallow coastlines which are now some of the noisiest, most heavily impacted habitats,” Clark explains. But often it is along these routes that the male songs are sent long distance to prospective females, who might not receive the message through the “ocean smog.”
Says Clark, “If females can no longer hear the singing males through the smog, they lose breeding opportunities and choices. The ocean area over which a whale can communicate and listen today has shriveled down to a small fraction of what it was less than a century ago.”
As reported in Science Daily (Mar. 2, 2005)
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Millions of gallons of spilled oil aren’t the only danger to whales living in the Gulf of Mexico. The use of powerful sound waves by the oil industry to perform seismic surveys of the ocean floor has endangered the well-being of whales and dolphins, say four environmental groups that have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to stop it from approving any further acoustic exploration by the industry.
Posted in animals, communication & education, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: acoustical maps, airguns, antisubmarine listening system, Bioacoustics Research Program Cornell, Blue whale, Center for Biological Diversity, Christopher Clark, communication, ecology, ecosystems, environment, exploration noise, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf oil spill, human vocalization, human vocalizing, Joy Elvey Bannerman, krill, life, low-frequency sound, migrations, no boundaries, noise pollution, ocean, oceanographic features, oil and gas exploration, recreational noises, sea creatures, seismic surveys of ocean, SOSUS, U.S. Navy, undersea petroleum, underwater noise, water, whale, Whale song, whale vocalizing
NOTE TO READER: In the next few posts, I’m going to be continuing the theme begun last week of “being out on the water” and close-up with the creatures of the sea. I’ll be extracting interviews recorded in my journals, from sailors and seafarers who have shared their truth with me. I savor their words because they give me experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have. So, especially if you’ve never been on/in/near the sea, read on, soak in, know.
To create the framework for these revelations, I begin this post with a Psalm from the Bible about “the great and wide sea” and all its creatures, including the leviathan (the whale). I do so because this Psalm, written millennia ago in the form of sacred poetry, succinctly gathers together the substance of what each present-day seafarer shared with me as we talked . . . . In what follows, we are reminded that the great ocean-world, covering most of this planet, is neither made for our pleasure nor our plundering. It has a sacred grandeur and complexity of life that existed long before we were, and an elemental power beyond our imagining.
“The Great and Wide Sea”
“O God, how manifold are your works!
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number,
creatures both small and great.
There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan,
which you have made for the sport of it. . .
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth. . .”
(Ps. 104: 25-31)
The Great Wide Sea
Journal Notes From An Interview with Captain Willliam Hoker
- when I’m out on the waters, I feel like I’m a part of the whole space of the great wide God . . . if you think of God as everything; I’m in the physical world that has been left to us by God, it’s all happening, and it can’t possibly be nicer or more beautiful than this
- yet I know that when I’m on the ocean in my kayak or ship, I’m only visiting . . . the waters are beautiful and I love being part of it, but I know I’m not really one of the beings who belong here — it’s sorta like going to the ghetto & calling people my homey — the creatures that live in the water just look at me and say, “there goes that big-assed white fish thingy with paddles” . . . the other day, for example, I bumped into a sealion, big as the kayak; didn’t see him; he was pissed off; gave me a big snort & followed me about 50 feet, challenging me; he was the king
- alot of people are out there on the water just separated from it, sitting on top of it observing, watching, like it’s all a big t.v. show; they miss it, the real show; but when you’re out there with awareness, you have the opportunity to hook into the watermen aspect — the currents, the tides, the winds — use that, be part of that rather than working against it; for example, being aware of how the swells move, getting into the knowledge of that and being smart about it, where they’re going to be coming from & what they’re going be like . . . the awesome reality of that power
- when you’re kayaking or sailing, surfing or swimming, you hook in more when you’re doing well, operating in cooperation with what’s here in nature rather than against it; it feels real good, real close, because you’re just part of whatever the big picture is; for example, I like getting cold or wet from a storm, a choppy wind . . . . I love paddling in my kayak south of Australia, the water is really huge & has a lot of force because it’s freezing & heavy coming straight from Antarctica — colder water has more mass, bigger and thicker, more condensed energy
- some people just have a job on the water & it’s just work, they don’t look up or down; they’re not sentimental; I was like that when I started going out after I joined the Navy; I didn’t join for the sea experience as much as I did because, well, I’ve always liked tradition and the Navy is all about Tradition; I didn’t feel any big connection to the ocean, that I acquired by being there; now it means something to me, that the whole thing is alive, dynamic; and I see that with other sailors because on the ships, some of the sailors are introspective enough to go out on the weather decks at night, be quiet and still, feel at one with it
- in the ocean, the experiences are not epiphanal, they’re pretty subtle, there’s a lot of drama going on, but because it’s so constant it’s not flashy; so you come to appreciate & want to be a part of gradually; even the most brilliant colors of fish are salt water but you don’t see them except in an aquarium or if you go diving, get close up; even looking closely at water, you see that different waters have different personalities & characteristics; they look different in different places too — dark or light green or gray or mutable or iridescent
- the ocean environment doesn’t look so big on television– so you can’t appreciate how big and wondrous it is till you’re out there for days and days — at first you have to understand it intellectually to know how grand the whole scheme is, because you’re not going to get it emotionally necessarily — it feeds you little bits at a time — you have to have a long relationship with it, not what you get on a weekend sports fishing; the most dramatic things you experience have to do with danger in some way — say, your boat getting twisted around like a disrag — that’s when you appreciate how powerful the whole thing is
- Sooner or later, you have to let go and accept the fact that you’re not going to master the ocean; you can only cooperate with it; so if you’re going out, you’ve got to do your best and then give in and trust that everything’s going to turn out okay; but really, there’s nothing you can stick out there that it can’t get rid of
- I don’t worry; I have faith and just try to be aware, do the best I can; I look at my life and see that things turn out better than I even thought they would; so I just cut out the worry stuff in the middle because I know, in the end, life is much bigger than me, and that it’s going to be all right
- Scientists trace where sea life is … and isn’t (msnbc.msn.com)
Posted in animals, ecological, poetry, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: Antarctica, Australia, Bible, Bill Hoker, creatures, creatures of the sea, currents, Earth, environment, faith, fish, God, interview, journals, Joy Elvey Bannerman, kayak, kayaking, leviathan, Navy, ocean, physical world, power, Psalm, sacred, sailing, sailors, salt water, sea, sea lion, seafarers, ships, Spirit, storm, surfing, swells, swimming, tides, water, watermen, William Hoker, wind, worry
EXCERPTS FROM MY SEALIFE JOURNALS
“Your writing is beautiful,” you write. “Beautiful.” You like that word. “But you still need to get out there on the water. “
. . . . You’re right. I’ve called to schedule a lesson in what scares me the most, deep-sea swimming — required before they’ll let me out in deep waters with the sea kayak. I’m afraid of deep waters. I have a huge, unbounded respect for the power of waves, water, currents, storms. Besides, just me and . . . who knows? Even if out of the water, still just barely, on top of a little wobbly piece of fiberglass. Wielding a long aluminum pole with paddles on each end like the one I used when Rick stuck me in an inflatable kayak on a mountain river with rapids and then took off, no lesson no nothing, so there I went, zipping along, flopping along, spinning around, cutting through water, catching on boulders, pushing off, too fast to think but so angry at him for leaving me behind that my adrenalin guided the pole and I came to the haul-out place much later, full of bravado, declaring: “I didn’t need you. Why, if I wasn’t so hungry, I’d just go do that some more.”
This time, out in deep sea waters, it will all be much bigger and I will be less consequential. For there will be giant ships going past, and large sea creatures acting territorial, and the chop of waves provoked by motorboats. I can’t figure out why I want to do this. Just to prove that I can? Just to get out of this room where I sit and breathe the wetness? I’ve actually been out twice this month. Once with a maniac scientist on one of those sideless Boston Whalers in the wet winds of early morning marine layer, full throttle across the chops, and i grimly braced, determined that he would not have the satisfaction of catapulting me into polluted waters. And then once with a maniac ex Recon Marine. He took me out in his inflated rubber Zodiac, kept it easy, we went along in the nearshore waters, peaceful as could be with the sea birds bobbling and colorful invertebrate creatures floating just out of reach. He told me about one of his buddies who’d been drowned in a helo accident out near San Diego about the same time the dead whale beached after giving birth with the Russian harpoon buried deep inside her, carried along with the fetus all the way from the Arctic circle, months without food. He and I were both kind of quiet, attentive to the life around us, carrying-on.
When I go out in a sea kayak, it’s me proving to myself. Maybe to prove that I can do what the guys I worked with in the Navy would do so effortlessly. Maybe I want to know that I can absorb the seawater into myself and so become one with it, taste it, have it make even the cells of my body courageous. After all, if the human body is composed of (more or less) 70% salt waters, and the body of earth is composed of 70% salt waters, then each body has within it all the oceans of the world. Why need to seek it in otherness?
I remember a conversation once recounted to me — between a Navy “Chief” and a new ensign (the junior officers whom the chiefs train to be commanders, especially at-sea):
“What are you doing Senior Chief?”
“I am taking pictures of the seabirds over the ship’s wake.”
“Why are you doing that, Senior Chief?”
“Because they are there.”
“Senior Chief, you are crazy.”
“Wait till I start taking pictures of water.”
“Yeah. The water.”
“But there’s nothing there. It’s just water.”
“Everything is there. You just gotta find what you can’t see.”
“Senior Chief, you are really crazy.”
When I was doing environmental work with the Navy, I toured a submarine and gave a short lesson on sealife in bay waters, as viewed through a periscope. The sailors told me that a pair of dolphin had travelled under water with their boat for five days straight, surfacing only to breathe.
“Why did they stay with your sub,” I asked.
“We don’t know. We couldn’t see them. Only their outlines on our sonar. But it meant alot to us, knowing they were there.”
I’ve wondered about those dolphin escorts. Maybe with their xray-vision sonar they could see into the ship, see through the skin and sinews of the young men watching movies in the mess, or maybe it was the video games they were fascinated with, or perhaps the physiognomy of the metallic beast. Maybe they were memorizing the ship’s vocabulary of sounds in order to take them back for decoding. Maybe the sub was slow and moaning so that the dolphin thought it ill, and like dolphin will do with humans who are stranded or hurt at sea, they were trying to herd it back to safety.
But if the dolphin were there because they thought they were accompanying an aberrant species of whale, then why do dolphin travel with whales in the first place? Maybe for the fish they stir up. Maybe just to keep each other company, for fun. Maybe they only travel with female whales who are calving or bringing back their nursing infants to the krill-feeding grounds of cold northern waters, after six months fasting. Maybe the dolphin know the solitary mother whales need their encouragement because it is very hard to be all alone and no food for months on end. Who can say? The main thing is, the guys on the sub felt better knowing that on the other side of their iron skin, the belly of their techno-cetacean form, there were creatures who might care about them, who were eating and breathing and sleeping with them. For some of the sailors, one confided, when they bedded down on cold metallic racks shared with phallic Tomahawk missiles and glistening steel torpedoes, in their broken dreams the dolphins would appear as mermaids, calling to them, carrying them home.
ADVICE ON HOW TO PADDLE A SEA KAYAK
Your paddle should enter the water and sweep back close to and parallel with the boat, exiting at your hip. Most of the motion and power of the paddle should come from you twisting your back rather than pulling with your arms. Sit straight and lean forward about 10 degrees. Extend your leading arm as far as possible by twisting your back. Your other hand should be about shoulder height. Reach the paddle into the water and pull back with both arm and back twist. Push forward with the other hand. Repeat until drained.
Wear a hat and you won’t notice the water dripping off the paddles onto your head ‘n all.
Well, it’s been a couple of hard weeks since I last wrote on my blog, “Sealife Stories: Gulf Waters Without Boundaries.”
Death and suffering of loved ones. Too sudden, too young, too many. Changes, bountiful and unplanned. Life lived moment to moment, day to day.
Reminds us that it’s even more important to get down and share with each other what we have to say, what we’ve lived, what we remember. We each have pieces to the puzzle of life. Meant to be shared. So this is the second part of some vignettes of childhood on the Gulf of Mexico . . . recording the abundance of life, on land and sea, and how we were all part of the one whole. Now, in the days and years to come on the Gulf coast, life and wholeness will have to be reconstructed care-fully, slowly, probably painfully. But life persists, and being courageously engaged keeps us connected and youthful. Restoration. Reconstruction. Blueprint details . . . . .
Hmmm . . . Where was I? Oh yes . . . . .
So I spent much of my childhood on Florida’s gulf coast in a little sleepy town called Ft. Myers. My grandfather, Dr. Baker Whisnant, was the county doctor which meant he delivered all the babies; stitched up all the knife fights on Saturday nights; made home visits to sick children and disabled elders; pronounced the hour of deaths; and was occasionally summoned down to the Everglades if there was a Seminole tribe member with a medical emergency.
Now the Seminoles were a hybrid tribe composed of remnants of the indigenous Calusas, the displaced Creeks, some runaway slaves, and a smattering of Cherokee, Lumbee, and other renegades from the forced marches westward. They had survived by learning to band together in the southern Florida backlands far beyond roads, at the edge of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters in the shallows which were a nursery for young sealife, and hidden within the meanderings of creeks and lagoons upland from the Thousand Islands. Within this sea’s edge environment, they lived in palmthatched shelters on stilts, moved villages often, and travelled in swift, silent canoes among the black backwaters flowing down from Lake Okechobee over the rivers of grass. My grandfather, when fetched by a tribesman, would travel in a burnt-out canoe log that could handle both the Gulf of Mexico currents and the slow shallow ooze of the swamplands.
Up until I was about nine years old, I often stayed with my grandparent’s in their spacious, gracious house which a sea captain had once built near where the Caloosahatchee River flows into the Gulf’s briny waters. The house was like a large ship at sea, and whenever it poured rain from Gulf waters (which was almost daily) my brother and I would go out on the high, screened-in front porch and imagine that we were sailing a great ship in a stormy ocean. You know, like around Cape Horn.
Lightening would crash and fizz all around us, thunder would roll over us, dark would descend around us, the rain coming down in torrents like giant roiling waves. We’d pace back and forth, captain of the deck, or we’d hop in the porch swing that rocked back and forth as a ship might take the swells and dips of high seas, all depending on what adventure, danger, or crossing we were enacting. . . . . How did we know what to imagine? I wonder now that I am all grown-up. None of my parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles had anything to do with the sea. We were too young to have read books of sea adventures.
Could it have been the spirit of the old sea captain, steering us past the treacherous shoals, out into the deep blue waters? Was it he guiding our imaginations and calling to us far away places? In those times of rainstorms on that porch, the vivid reality of being sea captains was real, complex, true. We were not IMAGINING that we were at sea. We WERE at sea in the midst of great storms. We steered through great perils and tempests with exuberant courage. It was glorious, powerful. real. And all about us, in the darkness and the wet, swam the thousand sea creatures, small and large, known and unknown, never threatening, always companions, riding the waves as high as the roof, dipping into troughs of the deep, carried along by the cleansing thrash of briny wet. Free.
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, poetry, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: Baker Whisnant, Caloosahatchee River, childhood, children, Florida, Ft Myers, Gulf of Mexico, houses, imagination, Joy Elvey Bannerman, memoir, ocean, porches, sea, sea creatures, Seminole, ship captain, storms
FT MYERS, GULF OF MEXICO, FLORIDA . . . .
Reality was a wonderfully unbounded truth in many ways, those childhood days by the Gulf of Mexico. What I well remember is being barefooted and barelegged, covered in mosquito bites, and sitting for endless hours at the end of Mrs. Davis’ boat dock right across the street from us, and I’d be there watching crabs in the water, pelicans in the sky, white cumulus clouds overhead, skies coral and raucous with great flocks of ibis at sunset going to roost on Sanibel and Captiva Islands. I also remember hot sun reflected off the morning river, the rustle of coconut palms along the shoreline, and down in the dark waters, the silvery flash of fish, handfuls of them, darting past the slow floating of larger and more solitary fish fishing, mouths agape, suspended in the currents which were, as my Mother put it, slow as molasses.
In this world of my south Florida childhood, there was mostly no television, no air conditioning, no where to go. All the magic, all the entertainment, all the bounty came from the great world of nature and its myriad exotically tropical creatures who lived outside the order of our household — except for the weekly adventures at the airconditioned movie house up the street from the postoffice with the great Grecian marbled columns and royal palm trees. When I read about some childhood in Calcutta or Colombo, it seems familiar to me. The grownups were always busy with grownup things in their well-constructed grownup world where nature meant a garden or a hunt. My brother and I were often told that “Children are to be seen and not heard,” which meant that as long as we were reasonably clean and quiet and out of the way, we were left alone.
So I spent my days outdoors among the mosquitos, becoming intimate with pelicans, and blue jays, and bees in the jasmine hedges, pink and green grasshoppers hanging from the coleus leaves, baby rabbits in the gardens, and swimy forms within the gulf waters. The thing about those waters was that I never really knew for sure what was, in fact, actually there. Every form visible beneath the surface was distorted, seen as a mirage of shadow and movement swishing before my eyes. Nor did I know where exactly in that water something I thought I saw might actually be. The sunlight which provided illumination also provoked illusion. I knew because I would put my little sun-bronzed hands in, just under the surface, and suddenly they would be floating in a faraway space, suspended, like the fish, no longer belonging to my arms, to me. This was not an idle gesture, but one I created as part of a scientific experiment to calculate the depths of objects — essential to such occupations as a sucessful crab haul.
Catching crabs was one of my ardent and accomplished kinds of play. I do not know how I persuaded my tidy grandmother to give me big smelly hunks of bacon fat, but I do remember having them, and tying them to the end of a piece of twine. Once the bacon was secured (without a hook) I would dangle the string in the water and hold very still. If I was lucky, there would be a hungry crab who would latch onto the fatback immediately. If not, then I’d have to waft it back and forth a few times in the water in order to attract my prey. This was a little tricky because if I was not careful, the bacon fat would fall apart, the crab would get it and go home, and my brown paper bag would remain empty.
The main trick was to judge the depth of the fatback relative to the depth of the crabs hiding among the rocks; hence my hand experiments (limited, of course, to the length of my arms and my willingness to hang over the seawall without falling in on my head). If my fishing instincts were good, a crab would sneak out from the rocks, grab hold of the fatback and I would deftly arc the string from water to shore, crab sailing through the blue air, still attached. Actually, it wasn’t all that uneven a hunt; instead a game between two more or less equals – me and the crab. We were both as likely (or unlikely) to actually get at
ttached to each other (the crab having pincers and all). And the chances were not high that the crab would stay launched on the fatback long enough to get it in my bag. Whether I got one crab or several, it wasn’t long before I turned them out on the bank to watch them scuttle or amble back toward the rocks, and occasionally have a scuffle with each other before breeching the seawall and plopping into the water again. Crabs safe, game over, I’d go back to watching pelicans dive for fish.
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, plant life, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: Caloosahatchee River, Captiva Island, child, childhood, coconut, crabbing, crabs, fish, Florida, Ft Myers, grandmother, grasshopper, Gulf of Mexico, ibis, imagination, Joy Elvey Bannerman, memoir, pelican, Sanibel Island, sea creatures, sea wall
My silence — the gap since I last wrote here — is the silence that has been in my mind and heart, homage to the animals I have lived near, learned from, listened to. As I’ve watched the pelicans of the Gulf of Mexico these past many weeks — nesting, hatching, and trying to feed their young in the mangrove wetlands — I’ve wondered what’s going to happen when the baby pelicans have to go out to sea and start fishing for themselves . . . .
I have from time to time seriously considered a career in which I would spend my whole work life travelling around the world to observe pelicans, both brown and white, and to do what I could to ensure their continued well-being. I think them among the most marvelous and improbable of creations — seemingly both prehistoric and artfully “edgy”. Though I haven’t managed the whole career thing, I’ve had the privilege of spending SOME of my work life out with the pelicans– days and days and days I cherish.
In my animal-behavior fieldwork, what I came to understand is that it is not easy being a baby pelican, or a baby seal, or, well, you name it. The young of most species are often quite self-aware of their vulnerable, fragile condition as unpracticed in the arts of staying-alive. They are thus often anxious and pitifully, vocally hesitant to leave the protective perimeter of their doting parents’ care. In all my observations, one of the constants was that baby animals do not like their parents pushing them out of nests, leaving them behind at the sea’s edge, or sailing away for the day. . . but they do the best they can anyway, mainly because they have no choice. This is an especially terrifying time for animals, like birds and mammals, who are born on land but then must go into the water to find food. “What?! Get wet? Dive? You’ve got to be kidding . . . ” So it is for pelicans when it’s time for them to learn to fly and dive for fish, headlong, plunging from great heights straight down into water and then what??? In this new phase of their lives, they are accompanied by “flight instructor” adults who take them through a series of increasingly complicated flights and maneuvers. But in the end, it’s the same for them as it is for each of us: “You gotta do it for yourself.” So here are some notes I made about one young pelican, on one such important day . . . .
NOTE ABOUT THE BABY PELICAN LANDING
This afternoon toward evening I was at the Point and there was one tern, wheeling and diving in the sunset sky, all sleek and sophisticated as if dressed for the opera. And then, in contrast there were two young pelicans awkwardly sort of wobbling through the windy sky, mostly speckle-bellies suspended between sets of oversized wings. One of the pelicans decided to land on the water. It was the most awkward landing I have ever seen, sort of like a Piper Cub trying to come down on some country runway in a strong wind. Young pelican’s huge webbed feet were stuck out like landing wheels, but not evenly, so that the pelican kept adjusting them, but in between the milli-seconds of balance they were actually sort of flailing about, soles first, then splayed to the sides, then pigeon-toed, trying to catch a wave, and the wings kind of wobbling back and forth, flap and still and flap and hold steady, and then a lean to the left, almost falling over, almost going under, lurch to the right to compensate, jerk to the center just in time, feet forgotten but somehow plowing the waves and, then, ohmygod . . . . Yes! Contact!
I was reminded of the first Moon landing craft (and the one that disappeared into Mars). Or Sully’s landing the passenger jet right there on the Potomac.
As soon as it realized it had survived the perilous dive, the pelican quickly sat down on top of its great feet on top of the choppy water, rustled its great wing feathers, poked with its elongated bony beak at the water a bit here and there, sampling wetness more than seizing food, but mostly it was just trying to seem nonchalant, as if it had been there half the day, dozing, no big deal. Probably worn out, poor thing. But hey, a definite triumph.
I too felt awed, almost to tears, in witnessing that in this Bay still a pelican could come into the world, a brand new never-before fat bellied one, and grow big enough to take to the water. I prayed at that moment that the world might be safe for all speckledy pelicans and other young things . . . including people-children. That life might be kind to them so that they might always be strong enough and brave enough and free enough to spread wings, take to the sky, come in for wobbly landings, and have it all be okay.
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: baby pelicans, fishing, Gulf of Mexico, Joy Elvey Bannerman, learning to fly, memoir, ocean, pelican, pelican flight, pelican vocalization, sea, sealife, water, wings, young birds, young children
1. LIFE . . . . “we are as water”
(w a i t i n g
life doesn’t shift for us alone)
s l o w p r o c e s s of
water over rock
toward the ocean of being
we are as rain
a fall of water
attached to one another
in the common downrush
through stone to sea
grasping as we go
some hold whether of grief
or happiness fear pleasure distraction destruction
creation each other some story we hold our own . . .
This is my life or yours
and to be alive on this good earth
is a gift inestimable
brief and holy
Let us bless All
bless especially Release
that char and husk
of story now no longer use-full
of what was secret savage
Even now i am beautiful
Even now so are you
we are raindrops fused by resonance
refracting light in hues of radiance
2. The Sea Comes Down from the Sky
The sea comes down from the sky
gently drenching the paving bricks
of sixth street new orleans off prytania &
the old city of the dead it washes over
the white marbled mausoleums over
the packets of bleached bones
generation upon generation have witnessed
the afternoons of thunderstorms lifted
from the briny waters of the gulf
of mexico I wonder what dolphin
played upon these waters what coral reefs
sent seeds aloft upon its flowing I wonder
if the wetness of a woman her own
wetness is indebted to this sea
from the sky coming down coming
down around her hidden there like silence
in the afternoon room her skin opening
soaking petals in a quench of rain
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, plant life, poetry, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: blessing, briny waters, coral reef, dolphin, Gulf of Mexico, Joy Elvey Bannerman, life, mausoleum, New Orleans, ocean of being, poem, poetry, Prytania, rain, sea, story, thunderstorms, water, wetness, woman
There are elemental and significant connections between the life of the seas, in this case, the Gulf of Mexico, and what will happen (or not) in your life, no matter where you may live or travel. In my previous post, I talked about how there are no boundaries between sea and sky and land, about how the sky lifts up the waters that become rains carried in clouds to fall on cities and farmers fields alike, perhaps sinking into the earth to nurture seeds which will become food you will eat and so be sustained.
In this post, I return to rain as an emblem of “no boundaries”. But this time I want to speak about the rain in terms that will be more intimate for you. Why rain? Why now when there seem to be more pressing issues related to the Gulf’s gushing oil with its lace of synthetic chemical cocktails. Here’s why:
June is the beginning of Hurricane Season in the Gulf of Mexico and contiguous waters (all the way back to Africa). It is a spawning time that lasts for months. 2010 is predicted to be a bountiful season for hurricanes. And what hurricanes are about is the movement of large amounts of water from one location to many, many others. This movement results in water being widely dispersed as the hurricane vortex either (1) pushes large amounts of sea water onto land at the tidal interface (read “wetlands” and “beaches” – – which we’ve heard plenty about; or (2) gathers up and then disperses large amounts of sea water onto large amounts of land hither and yon, sometimes all the way from Florida to New England.
So whether you live in city or countryside or suburb, whether near or far from the Gulf . . . you and your family and friends may have the very same oil-chemical-drenched waters dumped by torrential hurricane-rains on your (perhaps faraway) heads/lawns/streets/playgrounds/children/dogs/gardens/water reservoirs/duckponds, etc. This may not be a problem for you at the moment, but when it becomes a problem, you will know it. You will know it because things will change dramatically and subtly, across the board. You see, water isn’t just wet stuff. It is a medium for carrying dissolved salts and minerals from rocks, amino acids from organic matter, and a complex concoction of natural-occurring chemicals which are essential for life on Planet Earth. We and all living things are the stuff of this concoction. In fact, the human body is composed of the same percentage of water as is the body of Planet Earth — about 71%. Now here’s the thing: Our bodies take in water by drinking, yes, but also by absorption through the pores of the skin and the cells of the lungs (in breathing). If the water is naturally-balanced and without toxins, then every cell of the skin and internal body will be bathed and nourished by it. This is essential to health and life-functioning.
HOWEVER, if the water is a dissolved soup of highly-toxic and synthetic chemicals and hydrocarbons, then the skin, hair, nails, mucous membranes, lungs, the whole body will take these in as well. The body can withstand and process some poisons, but there is a critical point of tolerance, and beyond this, health cannot be sustained. So if hurricanes lift up the toxic waters and they fall as rain when you’re bicycling or playing in puddles with your child, then it will bathe you and your child; it will bathe the ground upon which you stand (or ride); it will soak deep into your pores and the pores of earth; it will be stored in those places for future use. That is, in normal circumstances, the kindness and lifegivingness of natural cycles . . . . to soak-in, replenish reserves, nourish, soothe. Not so, if the water has been poisoned.
Fortunately, just as the body can handle some measure of toxic load, so too can water and air dissipate a portion of these compounds. The remaining concentration will all depend on where you are and how much has been dispersed before it gets to you. Take your chances, or be in denial . . . the outcome will be the same — an insidious threat to health and well-being. For this reason, every day, every hour even, matters immensely: For each ounce of oil and chemical dispersant which is stopped at the source, or sucked up by, say, a low-tech wet-vac in a skiff on the coast of rural Louisiana, or stripped off by high-tech gear on large vessels, each is an ounce of death-dealing stuff that you won’t have coming down on you. In other words: No Boundaries. What is good for the whales and the pelicans and the jellyfish and people of the Gulf Coast is good for all life everywhere. This is true all the time, in every circumstance. It’s that simple. Really. Think of it: There is no place where your skin ends and the rest of the world begins.
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, plant life, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: BP oil spill, chemicals, dispersants, farmer, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf oil spill, hurricane season, hurricanes, Joy Elvey Bannerman, land, life, no boundaries, ocean, Planet Earth, rain, sea, sea creatures, storms, tidal, toxic, water, water composition body, wetlands
I was born on Florida’s western Gulf of Mexico coast, even named after an island there. Spent endless childhood days down on the sand, in the water, or on a little outjutting pier where pelicans perched during the day and great flocks of flamingo sailed into the marshlands and mangrove hammocks at sunset. Salt water and tide cycles are in my blood. Every time I walk into a swamp I am immersed in the pure joy and awe of being-home. I have lived among sea and sky creatures all my life. Intimate. Family. Many stories to tell.
Today I begin this blog because I cannot otherwise hold in my mind and heart that the tangibly sacred world I was born in to has become a cauldron of death, a sound chamber for the tortuous, silenced screams of so many creatures, and people, who so much want to live. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been usurped by a runaway corporate-mind of seemingly unlimited arrogance, ignorance, and impunity — represented on the international stage by BP, but certainly not limited to them – the complicity, woven even our own, is large. In these days, what we are forced to confront is that our very democracy, dependent on the freedom of informed citizens’ empowerment, engagement, and action, has become stifled and therefore imperiled. Meanwhile, what has been, for countless time, a nursery for an infinite variety of interdependent lifeforms, one of the world’s most precious resources interpenetrating all its oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, has been turned into a smothering, synergistic brew of oils, deadly chemicals, and byproducts of toxic fires. . . But you know all this. You are not sleeping. You are already trying to find your way to help save what others would destroy. Collectively, and individually. Going beyond denial, and grief, and rage. Keep at it!
In the days to come, I will be writing here as my way of contributing, mostly sharing in a quieter voice what I’ve learned as an explorer in The Gulf and other sea waters — in marshes and bayous and mangrove swamps, in tide pools, on beaches, among islands, at the merging-space of sea and sky. . . even on the streets of nearby New Orleans where my family has lived off and on, for a century now. I will be telling little stories about what has been real for me . . . about earth and sky and rainwater and saltwater and riverwater and myriad living plants and animals who have been around a lot longer than we humans . . . pelicans, shore birds, sea birds, dolphin, whales, fish, shrimp, crustacea and intevetebrates of magic sorts, sea stars, sea horses, little fish, big fish . . . who knows what all? I will be writing to keep my bit of it all alive for the day that will come when we will gather together again as empowered partners in the service and restoration of Life. Because if that is to happen, then we must understand that we are all in this together. We must preserve and share our common memory. We must understand, absolutely in our bones and hearts, that there are no boundaries. Scientifically and spiritually and any other way you want to look at it, if you look deeply enough you’ll find the truth: There are No Boundaries. . . . So hush, and listen now . . . .
“. . . Even if you have never been near salt water, to live amid the cornfields of Iowa or Kentucky or Nebraska is still to live in the presence of the oceans. You live by the grace of the sea coming to you, coming to your corn, carried by the winds in clouds from far away. By the sea you are fed so that you may feed. You are part of it. When it rains, you may be in the field, on your tractor, maybe driving along in your pickup truck with the window open. You are getting wet, rain soaking through your work clothes, into the leather of your boots. Stop and remember. This same wetness has touched fish and diving birds and dolphin and sea grasses and giant tuna and corals. It is the water of canyons where whale calves have been born into the world, lifted to air and suckled much like human babies, where giant triangulated manta rays like space craft have floated ever so slowly along ocean bottoms, and where great pelicans have plunged for fish since before counted time
There you are in the fields with the sea in pools beneath your feet. Somewhere there is a sailor on the ocean with the earth below his feet. What makes this so, and what connects you and the sailor, is the sky. Wherever you may be, you look up and know — it is the bridge. For the sailor, there is sun which is taking up the water into the sky. For you the farmer, there is the wind which is bringing the water down from the sky. This is the way it is, has always been on this water planet of Earth. No boundaries.
Nobody tells you this, but it is true: There is absolutely no place where the earth ends and the sea begins. There are no two things. To you it may seem that here there is this solid earth and there is that insubstantial liquidity called water. But the boundary is an illusion, and even the seashore of illusion is always changing. What happens here, will touch everything that is there. And what is there, far away, will someday be here, close up. Look up into the sky and breathe in the breath of all the waters of all the oceans on this little planet. By your breathing, you enter into the rhythm of tides and mists, into the world of delicate sea birds plunging into water, into the minds of prehistoric turtles lumbering back from a night beach, letting go of their feets’ need to touch bottom. . . . “
Posted in animals, ecological, Gulf of Mexico, plant life, sea creatures, sea life stories - memoir, nature, science | Tags: BP oil spill, breathing, farmer, feeding, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf oil spill, human body water, islands, Joy Elvey Bannerman, land, life, mangrove, manta rays, marshland, memoir, no boundaries, ocean, ocean of being, pelican, pier, Planet Earth, rain, restoration, salt water, sea, sea birds, sea creatures, sea grasses, sea life nursery, seashore, shrimp, swamp, tidal, toxic chemicals, turtles, water, wetland, whale