Journalist/Educator Ends up Putting Roots Down in one of the Mossy Parts of Oregon
It is hoped that the coming generation will recognize that that is probably one of the greatest and most ennobling challenges that face man on this planet today. To be able to break through to understand the thinking, the feeling, the doing, the talking of another species is a grand, noble achievement that will change man’s view of himself and of his planet.
Seventy-one percent of the surface of our planet is covered with oceans, inhabited by the Cetacea. Let us learn to live in harmony with that seventy-one percent of the planet and its intelligent, sensitive, sensible, and long- surviving species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises.
— John C. Lilly, adapted from the Introduction to Communication Between Man and Dolphin
Note: I was asked to write a couple of articles for the Oregon American Cetacean Society’s, Flukeprints, as a way to help the non-profit group publicize and celebrate the reasons many of us are in the whale protection racket. I ust became a member of ACS, after 4.5 decades first joining ACS in Tucson, Arizona, when I pitched an idea to get jojoba oil (a desert plant) to replace whale oils for fine machinery. Sort of Save the Whales with the Desert campaign.
This is 2019, and like many who were influenced by their diving experiences, and possibly the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau TV documentaries, I got my first rocket fins and US Divers and Scuba-Pro gear at a young age — 14. Luckily, my mother had confidence in me going to Mexico — Sea of Cortez — from our home in Tucson, Arizona, about a four and a half hour trip to San Carlos where boats were awaiting divers to hit what Cousteau once called “the aquarium of the world” — the Sea of Cortez.
There was no question that I would act in a pretty moderating fashion during some reckless situations, and for many years, I ended up getting to know some incredible places underwater where I communed with nature, including whales, dolphins, sharks and myriad of reef and open water fish and invertebrates and turtles.
That was, gulp, 48 years ago. Imagine, almost half a century, and I was on reefs that today are not just shadows of themselves, but slashed and burned remnants, in some cases. Humanity’s voracious appetite for marine flesh, and destructive netting and trolling techniques, as well as over-capacity fishing fleets have put a big hole in what once was like diving on another planet, the undersea world of vibrant everything!
A riot of colors, explosions of so many varied swimming and propulsion techniques. This was pretty heady stuff for a kid who then ended up diving for sometime after that, around parts of the world, as an adult, dive bum.
Yes, I was an anti-whaling dude in Arizona. Yes, I protested Sea World. Yes, I was up on all the destructive fishing and harvesting techniques deployed in capitalism’s dog eat dog methods of killing the planet.
I was quickly steeled, young, to not only fight for environmental justice, but hand in hand, I was there with local people, fishers, and then got a huge interest in social justice, indigenous rights, La Raza, anti-imperialism. I studied the Seri Indians who live in Sonora, and utilized the bountiful sea for their livelihoods and cultural identity.
It all made sense to me back then, 1977, and, hell, here we are, 2019, and each and every fear about how wrong Capitalism is, and every one of the social justice causes I connected with in 1977 have all been nightmares that came true, exploding on the world stage as I hit 62.
The whales are dying now in large numbers, because of starvation, because of pollutants, because of plastics, because of noise pollution. Dolphins dying in the Gulf of Mexico, now, in numbers old time fishermen have never recalled. Whales washing up on the Pacific shores here, all along the coast. Emaciated, and the end result will be more scientists spending countless hours and lab time to try and come up with a cause, a cause we in the movement who have been around this system can tie to the absolute impregnation into the ocean of sounds, battering vessels, oil slicks, pig shit coming from Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. Acidification causing whales’ food stream to wither up.
This is a piss poor way to preface a pretty innocuous piece I wrote for the American Cetacean Society, but alas, we live in magical thinking times, where bad news and more bad news have to be shunted away with feel-good beliefs that things will get better. Reality is fake, and fake is reality in colonized North America. The roots of this absurdity go back to Puritans, seeping into each wave of more illegal aliens who populated this once wondrous land pushing diseased ideas, pathogens and religion onto First Nations.
Now, we have many dozens generations later people who can’t think, can’t act and can’t argue critically out of a wet paper bag.
There is absolutely no historical or empirical evidence things will (or have been getting) get better under the perversions of capitalism, consumerism, war economics, as the battering rams of the elite and rich and corporations shunt our money and labor into their pockets while all infrastructure and ecological systems are failing.
So, can a rock that stays put not collect moss? Is this enough, a small cathartic essay about my new home here on the Central Coast of Oregon? What value does it have in the scheme of things?
All of these spasms up in the early light of morning, today. What can we do with a 24/7 nanosecond by nanosecond world of distractions? What do we do with children and adults who are galvanized to an operating system where lies are truth, war is peace, as this culture — and others willing to be infected by our media, our culture — is coopted by the masters of the universe controlling media, education, law, finance, technology, business, the arts. John Steppling on dream and skin-ego, in his latest essay, Screen Dream:
The ruling class get to make movies. They get jobs in TV, too. And with a CIA advisor in nearly every story conference and writer’s room in Hollywood, the state has effectively and directly taken over a huge chunk of the culture. Hollywood film and TV is controlled by the children of the rich and very rich. Nobody has any taste, any real education, and most are egregiously ignorant of the world around them, and hence all the more susceptible to influence coming directing from U.S. intelligence agencies and the state department.
Recently Leo DeCaprio, Keanu Reaves, and a dozen other *stars* (not sure Keanu is a star anymore) clamored to get the opportunity to meet Bibi Netanyahu. Why? Same reason they would fawn over any (ANY) five star general or military killer. The adulation for uniforms and authority is in the open, now. Killers are proud of what they do and the celebrity A-List is intoxicated with this power.
Whatever the implications of our relationship with various technologies, it is clear, I think, that capital and class are encoded throughout and that the logic of instrumental reason has become the logic of our unconscious. Like it or not. Aesthetic resistance is one way to break the endless loops of compulsion and the deadening of thought and feeling.
Bearing Witness in a World Upside Down and With Whales Washing up Dead On Arrival
It is this sense of tranquility, of life without urgency, power without aggression, that has won my heart to whales … whales offer to human beings a lesson. They demonstrate to us that our ancient and ignorant belief in the inherent supremacy of our species over all others is utterly wrong.
One of the benefits of not setting down too many roots is the luxury of traveling to many parts of the USA and the globe. I guess the Oregon coast is yet another landing post for me in my journey.
I moved to Otis, Oregon, Dec. 2018, after working as a social worker for homeless veterans and their families in Portland/Beaverton. One of the first things I did when I got to Otis was to do a hike along the Cascade Head trail and then hit the beach near Three Rocks to hang out with a pair of bald eagles and harbor seals.
I’ve pretty much hit all the popular beaches on the Central Oregon Coast with my fiancé. Nothing gets old, and I discover new things about me each time out.
On one of those forays, I ventured out one night in late January, ending up at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology for a public gathering to welcome the five new residency recipients, including filmmaker, print maker, photographer, writer, and whale expert Fred Sharpe, PhD.
He has 25 years under his weight belt and scientist’s cap studying the behavior of humpback whales. His specialty is on the bubble-netting proclivity of Alaskan humpbacks. He looks at the connections of this ecotype’s behavior as signals of enduring bonds, complicated task specializations, team hunting and communal tool use.
He has a team that follows the humpbacks south to their wintering haunts in the Hawaiian Islands. They’ve been looking at the historical ecology of north Polynesian cetaceans for years. In addition, his work has garnered awards including the Fairfield Award for Innovative Marine Mammal Research and the Society for Marine Mammology’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Communication.
I talked with Fred at the Sitka over beer and cheese and crackers. In fact, he got the residency at the Sitka as part of his research on native strands of alder along the Oregon Coast. He is interested in native grasses, too, along beachheads. That interest as a nature lover and researcher-he considers himself a naturalist in the classical tradition-has led him to be a co-author and illustrator of Wild Plants of the San Juan Islands, Birding in the San Juan Islands, and Voyaging with the Whales.
The more nitty-gritty work Fred does is centered on his position with the Alaska Whale Foundation as a principal investigator, as well as being a Wilderness First Responder.
He has volunteered as a large whale disentangler with NOAA’s Alaska Stranding Network.
The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology was founded 49 years ago, the same year Earth Day started, ironically. That mission has stayed the same: “Helping others discover more about their core creative selves and their connections to nature.” The new term, relatively speaking, in environmental circles, is intersectionality: looking at the environment and gender and race and poverty and how all reflect and tie into each other, for instance.
For the Sitka Center, a naturalist like Sharpe embodies Sitka’s goal of “expanding the relationships between art, nature and humanity.”
My own recent evolving and expanding philosophy and life experience recognition tied to my writing (poetry, nonfiction, fiction) and nature (marine biology, ecology) and humanity (education and cultural competence) came to me on the Central Oregon Coast during the American Cetacean Society’s Naturalist training program, headed up by Joy Primrose. I was with a cohort of around 20 naturalist-wannabes at the Newport library diving into the complexities of the natural world as it pertains to cetaceans, pinnipeds, seabirds and other ocean ecological niches. We graduated with flying colors, and were awarded our certificates during the Bill Hanshumaker talk I’ve written about in this issue of Flukeprints. And here at DV — “Gray Whales Are Dying: Starving to Death Because of Climate Change”
I’ve been working hard to put some roots down throughout life, and while I am no longer living in El Paso, Spokane, Vietnam, Vancouver, Portland, et al, the roots are connecting me more than many who have stayed in their nook or neck of the woods. Get on the program, Americans — wood wide web: The Atlantic!
Roots can also release carbon directly into the soil, which can then be absorbed by other roots. But if the spruces were doing that, then Klein should have found labelled carbon in every nearby plant—and he didn’t. There wasn’t any trace of the stuff in understory herbs like dog’s mercury and blackberries. It was, however, abundant in fungi, growing on the roots of the spruces and other trees.
These fungi—the mycorrhiza—are found on the roots of almost all land plants, and provide phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for carbon-based sugars. They can also colonize several hosts at once, creating a large fungal internet that ferries nutrients and signaling chemicals between neighboring plants (much like the trees of Pandora in James Carmeron’s Avatar).
“There’s a below-ground community of mycorrhizal fungi invisibly interconnecting an above-ground plant community,” explains Christina Kaiser from the University of Vienna. “But it’s usually regarded as a network for supplying nutrients in exchange for carbon, not for delivering carbon from one plant to the other in such large amounts.”
She’s not kidding about the large amounts. Klein’s team estimated that in a patch of forest the size of a rugby field, the trees trade around 280 kilograms of carbon every year. That’s around 40 percent of the carbon in their fine roots, and about 4 percent of what they produce in total through photosynthesis.
My own web is a net out into the world, into the people’s lives I interchange with. Their stories are my stories, and their lives become part of mine. I have been a co-leader for a huge beach clean-up here in the Newport area. I have written articles for the Newport News Times about that clean-up, about the single-use plastic bag ban ordinance just passed in Newport, about ocean acidification/hypoxia along the Central Oregon Coast, and two centered on two restaurant owners who follow sustainable business practices.
Thanks to the ACS and the month-long naturalist class, I’ve come to appreciate not only the wild ecosystems around here, but the world of the Central Coast hominids who I have met and learned from.
In the end, that intersectionality of ecology-education-equity-economy we preach in sustainability circles fits well with the people I have met who have an undying appreciation and love for whales and other marine animals.
It’s good to put some roots down here on the Pacific. Ironically, I have traveled the world as a writer and diver. But my birth was on the Pacific– San Pedro, California — and here I have now returned to that mighty Pacific which covers 28 percent of the earth (60,060,700 square miles).
Newport, Depoe Bay, Yachats, Lincoln City, Waldport and other towns are my stomping grounds now. My roots are far and wide, part of the wood wide web, or my own sort, wide wonderful walkabout!