If artists are the antennae of the race, and writers and thinkers are also artists, then a vibration some are receiving and beginning to transmit to the culture more broadly now is new in the history of our species: the world is dying.
— Christy Rodgers, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide”
I’m digging what some of us artists are doing to act as narrative catchments, looking deep into the well of humanity’s general self-delusion and hubris. This is on the heels of heading from the Central Oregon Coast to Portland, to attend an Oceans conference at Portland State University in downtown Stumptown Sunday afternoon.
Patience here, dear reader, since I am also part of a grand global transformation, though time and again I have written over the decades that I get it and got it at a very young age —
- capitalism as a system of penury, pollution, trickle down insanity
- the rapacious quality of narcissism of the Western world (me-myself-and-I consumerism)
- the despoiling of soil, land, air, river, ocean water by collective madness of money making
- misogyny which has hitched the world’s girls and women to the shackles of male stupidity and sexual violence and forced birthing
- war lords, even those hiding in Sweden or Switzerland, becoming the Mafioso of the world, full stop
- the capturing of a free thinking press and evisceration of holistic education by privatizers and corporate overlords to create the Orwellian maxim of, lies are truth, war is peace
So, with my fiance and her daughter — OSU chemistry/physics undergraduate — we headed to a mild conference (tabling non-profits do not make a conference) to also listen to celebrity diver-scientist, Sylvia Earle, aged 83. We’ll talk about her Mission Blue. We’ll talk about this hopey-dopey thing she promulgates. We’ll talk about her down-dumbing to audiences. Later. And I paid for tickets, which is something I have rarely done in my 62 years on the planet.
Yes, the guilt of using up fossil fuels, clogging the road system and sending water vapor and CO2 into the atmosphere to hear someone I have already heard elsewhere in another iteration of my time as community college teacher and sustainability leader.
How difficult was it for me to NOT open my mouth and start railing against this celebrity culture before the talk — and expose a 21-year-old hopeful undergraduate science student to negativity — and then spew out my prophecy of . . . this is just going to be another white person-attended milquetoast thing with dyed in the wool democrats and Obama lovers again not even attempting to stammer that capitalism is the evil, war is the tool for this evil, magical thinking is the conduit of this evil, and chaos in all forms of discourse/thought/ community its product?
I’ll in a future piece nuance and dice and parse what Sylvia Earle’s talk was — a refitted talk that she’s done for decades — and how that crowd in Portland did in some sense send pulsating streams of bile into my throat as I felt like the one and only one who was disturbed by the lock-step cult of celebrity thing going on in that big PSA pavilion, one big basketball arena that was burping up so much air conditioned streams that dozens of folk scurried around looking for sweaters and coats to keep from blue-lipping themselves into a stupor.
I’ve been here before, running talks with the likes of Winona LaDuke, James Howard Kunstler, David Helvarg, Bill McKibben and others. I was the thorn in the side, the lightning rod, the agitator, the one person who took the discourse away from slanted academic or literary bunk and platitudes, toward a more militant rhetoric, one where revolutionary thinking had to set the stage. Some guests were uncomfortable, and audiences, too but many speakers and others I interviewed or MC-ed for responded deeper than they had ever in public, many have told me. I even took them to the studio and interviewed them on my old radio show. Here are a few captured on my blog, PaulHaeder dot com.
Too-too many times, the rank and file wherever I practiced as teacher, journalist, social worker and activist have demonstrated their partial or complete colonization (where I ticked off the issues in the list above) which has assisted in depositing magical thinking and elitism and exceptionalism into the very fiber of the average American. Including many of the people who I rub elbows with!
The stage was set, Sunday, and we were there, a few hundred captives, held to the standards of this organization that sponsored the event — SAGE, Senior Advocates for Generational Equity. There was a choir, and there was a forced “all audience members please stand up and sing” moment, Hallelujah’s, and there were no young people on stage, no haggling of ideas, no argumentation about how criminal capitalism is, and our war economy (Earle is a capitalist and military supporter), no debate about how we do in fact help save the ocean, no hard-edged and outside-the-box discourse and presentation.
As she spoke May 19, the headlines were hurtling in, headlines that would have made some good grist for deep conversation:
Mercury levels in the northern Pacific Ocean have risen about 30 percent over the past 20 years and are expected to rise by 50 percent more by 2050 as industrial mercury emissions increase, according to a 2009 study led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and Harvard University.
Mercury-containing plants and tiny animals are eaten by smaller fish that are then gobbled up by larger fish, whose tissue accumulates mercury. That’s why larger, longer-living predators such as sharks and swordfish tend to have more of the toxin than smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout.
In comments submitted to federal health officials earlier this year, a group of scientists and policy analysts pointed out that a 6-ounce serving of salmon contains about 4 micrograms of mercury vs. 60 micrograms for the same portion of canned albacore tuna—and 170 micrograms for swordfish.
When you eat seafood containing methylmercury, more than 95 percent is absorbed, passing into your bloodstream. It can move throughout your body, where it can penetrate cells in any tissue or organ.
But again, this is the cult of celebrity, even scientists, and so the evening was suffused with homilies and genuflecting and really a sixth grade level Power Point talk, not scientific, not political, not deep, not philosophical, not earth rumbling/shattering. Imagine those headlines above debated in the talk. The contradictions. The implications. Mercury, right, perfect for baby and grandpa!
So, the trip back through Oregon’s hinterland — farms, orchards, big hay operations — with all those “Jesus is the Way” billboard signs, all those “Trump and God Reign” fluttering flags, all that once-thick-forestland-turned-into-Johnson-grass property, all those RVs and heavy-duty pickups and SUVs rushing for a week at the beach, and all the cannabis shops and junk food shacks reminding me that most people did not make THIS bargain two or three generations ago.
The cancer is capitalism-addictive-consumerism; the tuberculosis is the credit cards, banks, IMF, World Bank, and mortgage companies holding people on their knees with a debt gun to our heads; the neurological damage is the assault on democracy through the prostitution of politicians-journalists-educators in that old time religion, careerism; the illiteracy is through the ever-deadening death-entertainment of a floundering press and piss poor publishing realm.
Much on that — the concept of a Sylvia Earle even headlining a “world oceans day” anemic event — and the obvious lack of hard-hitting discourse and thought on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. .
Below is a piece I wrote, specifically for Oregon Humanities magazine, a call out for manuscripts to work with the theme, adapt.
For the Summer 2019 issue, share an experience about conforming in response to some sort of pressure. Tell us what it takes to alter and revamp a system that needs to change. Explore a historical or current event that shows the process and outcome of adaptation.
No, this isn’t an angst riddled preface to the piece that was NOT accepted for publication, which also would have had a small check involved. I was told by the poet laureate of Oregon (K.S.) to not expect a big huge hug when sending in my submission, implying that the staff — editorial people at this non-profit, Oregon Humanities — have their own little dance to the beat of a different literary drummer thing going on.
I get that, these non-profits staffed by some pretty middle of the road peeps, or culture wars warriors, or people who have a set and proscribed middle land of what they believe is music to their ears or what would be acceptable stuff for their funders’ and readers’ sensibilities.
Therefore, the rejection letter I got yesterday, via email, with a couple of typos in the body written by the editor of this magazine, was expected, but like anytime I attempt a corn-artichoke-green chile-vegan cheese souffle — and it’s definitely putting in all that energy, using all those well-handled ingredients, shepherding all the care and the oven acumen — when the souffle comes out floppy or semi-deflated, my hardened heart still skips a few beats and I want to kick the cast iron ceramic pot into the woods hissing and steaming.
Same with a rejection letter! Err, make that plural. Dozens of them. In the hundreds. Even after 45 years of rejections, I feel the bile bubble up! Then I remember how much I hated that masters of fine arts group of people I have intellectually intercoursed with over the years!
There is good writing out there, just not much of it coming from MFA programs. What may have provided an engine for a genuine attention to craft, fifty years ago, Rockefeller Foundation notwithstanding, has withered and left an enfeebled cult of pseudo expertise. For the genetic disposition of creative writing programs is linked to the paradoxical stigmatizing and entitlements of University attendance. The goal of the CIA and State Dept is one thing, and we’re talking less than best and brightest here, and the ideological imprint is actually probably minor, but the unintended vaccinations of rationality, the ingesting of sociological and a generic lexical sensibility is significant. Art that has lost anger and moral obsession, has left a low stakes hobby culture of career minded ruthlessness coupled to creative flaccidity. The work is constrained in the same ways, psychologically, that allows mute absorption of all aspects of the Spectacle. The concrete and specific becomes generic by a rational process of observation that brackets the irrational and working within the institution is a tacit acceptance of the hierarchies of the system that desires to kill off dissent and opposition, and that means killing off the impulse to question. The white supremacist establishment shares the structural dynamics of the University. MFA program as Pentagon. Now there are exceptions, I guess. But creative writing largely, following the lead of the Iowa Writers Workshop is in the business of staying in business. — John Steppling
The compulsive repetitive nature of mass marketing has gone a long ways in the training of perception. But it is the mystifying of repetition, the pretense is of difference. And this seems crucial. The liberal white class, the people who run institutional theater, and University programs in writing, believe largely in a marketed reality within which stories of individualism can be played out. Clear cut the forest, the better to inspect ‘psychology’ as it is operative in each ‘character’. This links also to my last post and this idea of mastery. You cannot master the forest, without mostly cutting it down. The sense of space: that theatrical space, linked to an ‘off stage’, to an elsewhere that is unconscious, is by its very nature submissive. The submission allows for that walk in the forest. That walk is creative and it also the discovery of a path. The Situationists used to say, get a map of Berlin and use it to navigate yourself around Milan. — John Steppling
I’ll shift out of the woe is me thing, and discuss quickly what just took place on Dissident Voice Sunday, a Christy Rodgers piece, “Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance: The Five Stages of Ecocide.” I was opening up DV, and found Christy’s powerful piece, and read it, not much after not being able to settle down after watching on my free Hulu, If Beale Street Could Talk.
She covers the so-called stages of grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, Acceptance — as we collectively and individually confront the great dying, and confront all those feedback loops and lag times and tipping points to our rape of the world as they are now being played out as the chickens coming home to roost. Fricken Chaucer: Some six centuries ago, when Geoffrey used it in The Parson’s Tale:
And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.
— Geoffrey Chaucer, 1390, The Parson’s Tale
Malcom X, those chickens coming back to roost.
Rodgers is talking about this climate warming chaos, the stages of grief, confronting what in our lifetimes is the most dramatic event civilization has spurred and will ever witness. She is part of an artist collective, Dark Mountain, and she is prefacing the latest anthology by talking about the deep remnants of human pain during this bearing witness and bearing the weight and cause of the quickening of species extinction and the betrayal of all those goods and services capitalism and other forms of rendering civilization put into the equation of take or give.
Acceptance doesn’t mean accommodation with oppression and injustice. It means acknowledgment that we aren’t trying to prevent the apocalypse, because civilization is the apocalypse. We are trying to open a path to a future that is worth living in. Our feelings are experienced individually, and they do not directly impact the material world. But they are not irrelevant. The path to truth for a complex being must itself be complex. On the day a hundred thousand people come into the streets to grieve together for the lost reefs, the lost forests, and all the unnumbered victims, human and non-human, of civilization’s rise, we can mark the beginning of a new era in human life on this planet.
At the Brink of Extinction on the Coast Near the Salmon River
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
— “Auguries of Innocence,” by William Blake
A crossroads is the big X in my life, like the symbol of the thunderbird in many myths of original peoples of the American Pacific Northwest, Southwest, East Coast, Great Lakes, and Great Plains.
Of all the places I now am rooted in and adapting to — the Central Oregon Coast — I am thinking long and hard about what it means to have traveled through body, soul and mind in a 62-year-old journey.
I’m thinking about how I ended up in Otis, near Cascade Head on the Pacific. From birth in San Pedro, California, upbringing in the Azores, formative years in Paris, France, and learning teenage years in the Sonora, from Arizona to Guaymas, I am here reinvigorating what many elders I’ve crossed paths with as adopted vision quest instructors have taught me.
When you are ready, come to me. I will take you into nature. In nature you will learn everything that you need to know. – Rolling Thunder, Cherokee Medicine Man
I was told that very lesson by friends’ dads and aunties from so many tribes – Papago, Chiricahua and White River Apache, Navajo, Yaqui, Tohono O’odham. Even at the bottom of the Barrancas del Cobre, several Tarahumara elders imparted the same wisdom: In nature you will learn everything you need.
I received the same tutelage in Vietnam by ethnic tribes leaders near the Laos border 25 years ago. And I learned the same points in my life six years ago on the Island of St. John from a turtle hunter who had grown up in Dominica.
Ironically, just a few days when I was welcoming 2019 into my life, I received the same sort of holistic “how to live in harmony” message from a social worker friend who is also an enrolled member of the Grande Ronde tribe. He texted me this:
“I chatter, chatter as I flow to join the brimming river, for men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.”
This from a tribal elder who I worked with on independent living programs for foster youth. One of our clients was from the Grande Ronde tribe living in Clackamas County, Oregon, receiving services for developmental disabilities caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.
My former colleague waited five minutes before a follow-up text came to me: “Bro’, that’s from Lord Tennyson, so don’t go all Dances with Wolves on me, man . . . haha.”
That text came to me while I was solitary, across from a sand spit where 20 harbor seals were banana-splitting in their favorite haul-out near Cascade Head, where the Salmon River pushes out freshwater ions, tannins, soil streams into the Pacific just north of Lincoln City.
The pinnipeds were cool, but listless. Instead, I was busy espying two bald eagles swooping down on the sand a hundred yards from the seals who then began pecking and ripping at a pretty good-sized steel-head carcass.
The moment before the incoming tide shifted hard and was about to isolate me on a lone rocky outcropping, I was thinking like a mountain, sort of – at least I was deep in the afterglow of having just reread Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Country Almanac:
A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.
Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf. – Thinking like a Mountain, Aldo Leopold
How did I get here, Oregon’s Central Coast? How did I end up learning about eagles pecking at the afterbirth of sea lions in and around the rookeries here on this coast? Why is the eagle, a talisman for me since my early years traveling throughout the American Southwest and into Mexico, so important to me now?
Adaptation or extinction, change versus stagnation. For so many reasons, change and evolution have been part and parcel of my life – newspaper journalist, novelist, college professor, case manager for adults with disabilities, social worker for homeless veterans, and a million more intersections in a world of apparent chaos.
The Mexican flag of those Estados Unidos Mexicanos is an eagle on a prickly pear cactus with a snake in its mouth. I learned as a high school junior that the ancient Aztecs knew where to build their city Tenochtitlan once they saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a lake.
The beauty of the American eagle adapting to the toxins in DDT is clear: Homo Sapiens seems historically to never employ the precautionary principle for both ourselves as a species and others in the ecosphere when creating and dispersing new powerful technologies and chemicals.
All of this was coursing through my mind as a scampered across large sloughed-off rocks and boulders where the Pacific was now tangling with the Salmon River.
Eagles there dining on entrails and then in my memory cave, like a magical realism moment, other eagle quests flooded my memory – and I was there, in the now, with a river otter toying with me just offshore, and then studying that tidal estuary, hoping to keep my Timberlines dry, ruminating about age, and all the adaptations I’ve made easily and also kicking and screaming, yelling, “No more change . . . no more upheaval.” Like Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha:
When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!
Another one of my muses, Gabriel Garcia Marquez then came into focus while those eagles were picking apart muscles of the steel-head and then clouds only this part of the Pacific can incubate started swirling above me on cue —
He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
I am still waylaid by that concept, eliminating the bad [to] magnify the good. I am coursing through understanding myself in this walkabout, here in Otis, not exactly the center of anyone’s universe. But then, the nagging Marquez again, and a quote I used to deploy to students in El Paso to think beyond their false hopes: “He who awaits much can expect little.”
I have lived most of my life working with the so-called “bad” — disenfranchised and economically strafed people, those with substance abuse challenges both mocked and misunderstood, and those not on the neural normal scale – assisting them to adapt to their own hard histories and epigenetic bad cards dealt to be self-enhancing people.
There seems to always an eagle overhead when I am going deep into the recesses of memory. In Spokane when I was with a battle-scarred veteran friend who was at a cemetery ready to commit suicide. When I put my sister’s ashes into the sea near Hyder, Alaska. The moment I was called in Vancouver when my brother-in-law died.
Then, it hit me while driving away from Cascade Head — those eagles have been my talismans for six bloody decades! The words of writers, from the minds of people like Louise Erdrich or Jorge Luis Borges, or way back to Beowulf, and farther back to Muhammad al Tulmusani, are also my talismans of sort, but the eagle has been my vision quest. Not the brown eagle of the Aztec incubation, but the bald eagle.
These galvanizing moments are serious times of not just reflection, but ruminating and cultivating change. Adapting.
My father said when I was born in 1957, several bald eagles from Catalina Island were spotted near the San Pedro hospital where I was delivered — Little Company of Mary Hospital.
Here, 62 years later, I now have the sense to take that “sign” to my grave – bald eagle vision quest.
I’m thinking about 36 million years ago, when the first eagles descended from the kite line. I’m thinking reptiles, and 66 million years ago when birds evolved from the lizards. Looking at the ocean broiling up in Whale Cove will do that to the mind.
Millions of years of adaptations, brother, sister, eagle, and then Thoreau ends up dredging from me a fractal of thought every single day in this tidal wetlands as tides in and tides out signal climatic climaxes yet to come: “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”
Adaptations for this American symbol, Haliaeetus leucocephalus — as the continual use of DDT (and other pesticides) spread throughout the country — was a world of constant trials and tribulations. And near extinction.
From 1917 to 1953, the “adaptation” of Alaskan human salmon fishers to an abundance of salmon was to harvest more and more runs, intentionally killing more than 100,000 bald eagles as a threat to “their” catches.
The lack of adaptive abilities of a species like the bald eagle when faced with the unnatural distillations of chemicals by humanity should have hit us hard fifty years ago: birds that weigh in at 10 to 14 pounds, with wingspans of up to 8 feet, having strength and agility to pull salmon out of the sea while underwater themselves, and a lifespan of up to 30 or more years in the wild can’t weather man-made toxins.
If the 36-million-old eagle can’t make it under the assault of better living through chemistry , then it’s easy to understand humanity’s lack of adaptive skills (how many short years of evolution have we been messing with our adaptations?) to stop business-as-usual industrial and lifestyle processes like spraying DDT. We too are now experiments in the grand cauldron of chemicals produced and released daily.
The effects of that process of humanity “adapting” their environment to their needs — industrial agriculture demanding insect-free habitats with these pesticides that Rachel Carson, mother of the environmental movement, discussed in her 1962 book, Silent Spring — was the near extirpation of the American symbol of strength, power, independence and persistence!
Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from Greek, sea, hals and eagle, aietos and white-head, leukos kephalē !
Recall from our Baby-Boomer high school biology books — DDT and other pesticides spread like a slow-motion tsunami across America, sprayed on plants and then eaten by small animals, which were later consumed by birds of prey. Today, we call it bio-accumulation. That poison did its dark magic “art” on both adult bald eagles and their eggs. The egg shells became too thin to withstand the 36-day incubation period, often crushed under the weight of one of the parents.
Again, what I learned in the 1970s as a high schooler – eagle eggs that were not crushed during brooding mostly did not hatch due to high levels of DDT and its derivatives. Large quantities of PCBs and DDT ended up in fatty tissues and gonads. The maladaptation of the eagle to pesticides was to become infertile due to man’s maladaptation, or in the case of Homo Sapiens, the rearrangement of ecosystems and organic pathways.
That was me in Tucson, Arizona, scrambling through desert ‘scapes. I was junior in high school when DDT was officially banned in 1972, largely due to Rachel’s amazing book and petitioning. That was eight years after she had died (Apr 14, 1964) at age 56 from cancer (many attribute breast cancer to the poisons of her time).
Eagles were listed in 1967 as endangered on one listing and then later, 1972, nationally through the Endangered Species Act.
I remember eagles as brothers and myth carriers from many of my buddies who were Navajo, Zuni, Apache and Hopi. Their mothers and uncles would tell us many stories about eagles. I remember traveling to El Paso for a wrestling match and seeing the Thunderbird burned millions of years ago into the Franklin Mountain range. This amazing natural formation of red clay on the mountainside, watching over the Chihuahua desert, captured me then, and later when I was a reporter and teacher in that part of the world.
I was touched then as 17-year-old wrestler visiting a place where a huge eagle to me (thunderbird), was there with outstretched wings and head tilted to the side as if protecting us all from predators, who I knew even at that age were us, Homo Sapiens.
Ten years later and for two decades I was there at that sacred place, a mountain along the Paseo del Norte, straddling Juarez, El Paso and New Mexico. In the 1990s developers were wanting to move (bulldoze) more and more up Thunderbird Mountain for more and more eyesores, AKA tract home subdivisions. Writers and artists on both sides of the border came together to not only stop that sort of desecration, but also to stem the tide of pollutants in the Rio Grande and the denuding of the fragile Chihuahua Desert.
On one of our 10- foot wide protest banners we held along the US-Mexico border, the bald eagle was painted on large and brilliantly, as a symbol of resistance and a “comeback kid story” because man’s chemicals were banned. For many thousands living and working in Juarez, their offspring came out stillborn or with anencephaly – parts of its brain and skull missing. Those industrial chemicals from the American-owned twin plants have not been banned.
Proof of Homo Sapiens’ chemicals prompting maladaptation in our offspring.
So, here I am in Otis, Oregon, thinking about that El Paso Thunderbird while watching the estuary bring in swamp-creating waters from the Pacific. What does it mean that I am adapting now in Otis, the town that was up for sale in 1999 for $3 million. That’s 193 acres (another auction occurred in 2004). I have coffee at the quasi-famous Otis Café which was not part of the town’s auction (it never got bought). The café owner’s grandfather bought the land from descendants of the Siletz Indians for $800 in 1910.
As a direct result of the DDT ban, on June 28, 2007 the Department of Interior took the American bald eagle off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species.
The reality of putting the bald eagle in peril, and then its eventual recovery and broad habitat colonization means that they are seasonal residents near Yaquina Head. Eagles are like those proverbial human Snow Bird residents of Oregon who end up in Arizona or Nevada or even Hawaii to get the chill of Pacific rain forest winter out of their bones – they go where the living is best.
Here is the adaptation for the eagle – they go into the rookery of the murres, which have a major nesting colony at Yaquina Head. The eagle swooping in and taking the occasional adult murre isn’t the problem, scientists point out.
It’s the encroachment of “secondary predators” that is having a negative impact on the murres’ reproductive success.
An adult eagle is expert at swooping in and grabbing an adult murre and flying off. That’s not putting the murre species in peril. It’s the crummy hunter juvenile bald eagles who end up landing on the rookery. All the adult murres then scatter into the air.
That door then opens for brown pelicans and gulls to alight and grab eggs or murre chicks. These secondary predators will destroy hundreds of eggs in minutes.
Adaptation and re-adaptation.
Ecosystems out of balance, and now in Otis, I am adapting to the reality of the human footprint; even a small one like mine, is significant to each and every micro-biodome I come in contact with.
Soon, maybe, the eagle will be put on the hit list, and they too will feel the hard impact of game wardens’ bullets taking them out because, again, adaptation for the bald eagle means things get more and more out of balance.
Murres or eagles? People or salmon? Crab cakes or whales?
The weight of place, and being one with geographic and ecologic time always culls my disparate attempts at calm and inner self exploration. Otis, the Pacific, the entire riot that encompasses rowdy sea lions and the humpback’s 12-foot blowhole sprays, all those murres and double-crested cormorants, petrels dive bombing, black oystercatchers waddling at the tide lines, now are gestating into entire “memory palaces” for me. I think of my place alive in the world. The mutable feast of learning in my walkabout is a continual journey of adapting.
I am looking at an amazing gift of words, and from the Oregon Humanities Magazine, a serendipitous parallel moment for me and the works of Melissa Madenski, who in her essay is talking about this same geographic arena, where she’s lived for more than four decades and just recently left. She talks about spruce, alder, hemlock and maple and their powerful bio-nets and biological relationships through their interconnected forests of roots they share:
Unlike me, they don’t question or worry—that is the wisdom I project on them at least—a symbol for acceptance of what is. I’m coming to believe in my own memory palace that lives in my roots and the roots of my children, a stability that remains even as visible markers disappear. Look at the big picture, I tell myself. You got to live here for over half of your life; your children were able to grow up here; you got to love the land and leave good soil. – “Unclaiming the Land” (February 26, 2018)
Today, I foist my emotional and spiritual rucksack loaded up with my own learning and traveling as I engage with Otis, the Central Oregon Coast, and the people and cetaceans, alike, a repository for my next learning, my new series of adaptations. The bald eagle for all its battles and all the mythological connections, is my talisman and vision quest.
But I feel like that Zuni Eagle Boy who came upon an eaglet that had fallen out of the nest. The boy hunted for the eagle, foregoing working in the fields while the rest of his clan worked and worked.
His brothers resented the boy for raising this chick, who got big and healthy, big enough to fly away. But the eagle stayed with the boy. The clan was ready to kill the eagle to get the boy back, returned to the fields to grow corn and squash.
The boy saw that the eagle was downtrodden in his cage, and asked why. The eagle said he had grown to love the boy for saving him and raising him but had to leave so the boy could go back to his duties and be a boy with his people.
The boy wanted to leave with the eagle, and finally the eagle succumbed to the boy’s pleas.
The eagle told the boy to fill pouches with dried meats and fruit and blue corn bread and to put two bells on the eagle’s feet. The boy climbed on the eagle’s back and they flew off. They ended up in Sky Land, in the city with thousands of eagles who looked like people when they took off their wings and clothing of feathers when they entered their homes. The boy received wings and feather clothing.
As in many stories of rite of passage and adaptation by Native tribes, the Eagle Boy disobeyed the orders of the Eagles to not go south, and once the boy did, he thought it was a beautiful and safe place. Until people of bones – skeletons – chased him.
He made it back to Sky Land, but he was not welcome there for disobeying. Finally, the eagle that the boy had raised said he’d help him fly back to his people. The boy took an old cloak of feathers and made the arduous journey back. His friend the eagle circled above him the entire way to make sure he made it safe, and once Eagle Boy landed, the eagle took the cloak of feathers and flew away.
The Eagle Boy lived with his people, who honored him because they knew that Eagle Boy wanted to be with his people, even though he could fly away at any time.
Like Eagle Boy, I look to the skies and smile at the eagle’s graceful and wide veronicas as thermals take them up where humans can’t see clearly. The boy adapted and loved his people, even though the journey to the Sky Land was always with him and in his stories of adventure.
I am here, looking for my own Sky Land, but cognizant of the fact the love of my clan – family, fiancé, daughter, friends – is the uplift I count on to make it through the every-changing evolution of my mind and body. I can be an eagle on the ground, scampering through gravity-fed fields, hoping to understand how I might lay claim to finally understanding what all the adaptations mean in a life so lived.