A foreshortened hike into the wilderness due to "mountain lion country" signs at the trailhead had me contemplating all the things my friend could fear instead. But rather than list them each aloud, I squeaked out the obvious anytime-anywhere traffic accident possibility and left it at that.
If quietly my brain ticked off a quick list of the real dangers we face every day, I couldn't help it. But it was time to move on, as a squirrel ran through some brush and we had to git. I must admit some high anxiety myself: if I laughed again, I might get jumped on--not by puma, but by Sue-ma.
Lions and tigers and sharks, oh, my! Last week when Robert stabbed his thumb with a pen cap, he said he might have to sit out surfing that evening because sharks smell blood. Well, they do, turns out, but I would have suggested staying out of the water for other reasons involving human waste and the inherent bacteria. A few days later, the red tide came in, and Laguna's shoreline looked as rusty as, well, blood.
In Florida, the teenager vs. shark horror story has many worried. No wonder. But I do think people could temper that scare with the statistical likelihood of getting chomped on by "man's best friend." I petted a shark on Friday (with two fingers, as required by aquarium law), and I suppose it could have whipped around and taken my hand off if it felt like it. I felt terribly safe touching the back of an unknown shark. I don't think I could do that with somebody's idiot pooch.
To view such odd abstractions from below the sea in the brightest of modern aquariums is like being inside a lava lamp and feeling remote and connected at the same time. I put solitary wilderness on my list of natural highs, of course, but this crowded museum of captured wild things really does play with the mind.
Sue enjoyed the sea dragons best: thin, drifting fish with wriggling fins (I think) that branch up from their long bodies like oak leaves. I savored standing at the base of the floor-to-ceiling kelp forest, filled with life that thrives five miles from this desk; it is lit from above by the sun, and I've been up there looking down, but never down there looking up.
It's much cleaner in that titanic jar than any spot along the Southern California coast. They mention that in writing somewhere along the wall in the lobby, but unless it's moving, people don't look. The kids are so excited to see parachuting luminescent jellyfish and schools of silver-dagger herring chase around in circles as if competing in some ichthyological grand prix that they miss the obvious point--that this is the gallery of a vanishing ecosystem. Of course we adults already know all about this sadness. Sort of.
Ferried out to Catalina from Dana Point to see if we could hike a little; not likely, it turns out, with only six hours before the return. While "88 percent" conservancy-owned, the island's start-off point is the small town of Avalon, a compact but cleanly Californian resort which does not serve up trailheads easily. We found one after lunch and the museum and after a trolley ride to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden (spotted with endemic species including Catalina Mahogany: "only seven of these small shrubs or trees occur naturally in a single canyon").
It was too late to start a hike that would take us far enough inland to have any real sense of scale. Had a brief chat with the shirtless, shoeless trailhead nametaker who quenched his crippled feral pig's thirst with a bottle of beer and told us stories of rattler comebacks, but we explained we just didn't have enough time to head up that steep switchback behind his tent-slash-home.
I'm glad they saved this island as much as they could and are working to put it back together after ranches (bison, Arabian horses, Cubs training) and wild pirate nights, both Spanish and Chinese. After you boat in for 90 minutes dodging the loose elbows of wobbly teenagers reeling from the swell and chop, the first part of Santa Catalina is a shaved vertical cliff, with cranes and other mechanical contraptions at its base. Looks like a quarry, and it turns out it is. Only as the ferry turns do you see the distinctly bright town and then beyond that, a magnificent open-space preserve of canyons and steep hillsides spreckled with variances of the coastal scrub oak found on the mainland here and indigenous poppies and succulents. In fact it looks almost the same as California does in Wendt's paintings, from a distance. Avalon, tasty treats and all, is not this wilderness. One day I will go there and stay overnight so I can explore the real thing.
Hey, the earth has to breathe, or it would quickly die. Sometimes upon exhalation a slight palsy shivers across the land, which in turn causes us to hold our own breath.
Well, we can breathe easy. All this fear of the end is silly. After all, we're not salamanders. They're done for.
"Scientists monitoring stable populations of 49 amphibian species listened and watched as they crashed in just two years, with 20 native species disappearing completely."*
I noticed this with my own sophisticated tracking system a couple months ago--and I'm not even a biologist. The mysterious saga of the vanishing ingredient of stews and brewshas lasted a couple decades, now, so we've had time to get used to the doomsday chatter on the radio and in the Sunday garden section. But when I realized I couldn't hear them anymore... Well, no worries. Aside from a handful of chin thrummers like me, most people are much more concerned about those China-made figurines not glued down to the top of the TV set. As the things we cherish edge closer and closer to shattering on the floor when the big one finally arrives, we shift our survival instincts to material goods. And that makes sense: Out of the roughly 37 million people living in California, nobody's dead from an earthquake this week. So why worry?
A catastrophic intellectual laziness dams the minds of energy industry players; although frankly I suspect cunning--not unawareness. Electricity costs money, and overweight felines enjoy crisp Benjamins with their fish. They want to obscure "moderation" (a synonym for "off switch") by affirming our "need" for unlimited power. It is our god-given right to plug things in!
The NWF and its American Indian allies win a small battle to protect a gasping species that not long ago teemed backwards from the sea. The barons cry war crime and promise to raise the rates with the roof. Investors who prefer a steady profit stream to an uninterrupted river would prefer their customers forget that they really don't need to have the lamps on in every room. Nor do empty parking lots have to be lit up like baseball stadiums at night. In fact, even if people left to their own devices decided to leave those devices running, we could power down power use by huge percentages just by shutting things off at work.
A hundred years ago, no one would have suspected such a battle was necessary. In another hundred, they may not remember it at all.
The diaphanous burden of humidity, stirred and spurred by traffic, copulates with the thick-necked grunt of noise to produce this greasy growling monster that chases after me with shattering footfalls and Dolby screams. The endless braying of countless engines, one after another, like a herd of mechanized bulls; the caterwalling of electronics with their chipper alarms, construction drills, the unrestrained voices of Americans with a broken volume knob; these distractions strip my nerves to a coarse stretched twine. I am something akin to a fitful edgy predator trying to get some rest, every moment or so awakened by another yip and yowl from the jungle, tired of the hunt and fight, waiting for the moment when, for the first time since birth, silence prevails.
But silence cannot prevail. It is inherent with coexistence and an absence of conflict. Noise dominates, noise reigns.
To show disdain for this artificial contamination, to want to escape anything industrial or technological in America or the world, even that desire, makes one a mad, insular and sociopathic recluse with apparent multiple anxiety disorders. (The Internet with the speakers off is such sweet hypocrisy.) While years ago, quiet was the norm, or at least acoustic peace, we have now become so accustomed to the fracas of industry versus wilderness that we hardly notice, at least most of us. And we contribute to it ourselves: a honk of the horn here, a T-Mobile rendition of "Claire de Lune" in the line for Mickey D's, the artillery fire of a motorcycle there.
The world is at war. Stillness is the obsolete adversary of human progress. Every day we design new weaponry against the opponent, crank it up and see if it works.
Earthquake? Oh, yeah, that's right, I did feel that, sort of. As usual I figured it was just my loud neighbors, cuz every time they walk it feels like the San Andreas has finally let loose. When the walls wobbled more than five seconds, I realized it was prolly best to roll out of bed if not onto the floor. But then it stopped.
I got up and looked around: a few tripped trinkets, nothing moving, so I went back to bed. Now I've been up for hours and had forgotten all about it. So why is it in the news? Grr. A pebble rolls down the mountain and it's news. Steal the mountain, nobody says anything. Carve it into woodchips and marble countertops, serve it up as real estate, turn it into a slip & slide park, that's ok. Just don't shake it. Or do, please, or we won't have anything to keep us properly scared.
It rained stallion tater tots on Tulsa this week, when creationists won the right to put their monkeyshines on display. This bizarre phenomenon is nothing new for Okies, a proud people who relish such Biblical moments and welcome them with game zeal. The farmer and the zoo hand should be friends!
The intelligent design hypothesis, as opposed to the theory of evolution, negates nature and instead puts blinders on the horse, with the afterlife as carrot stick. Science cannot do-si-do with superstition because life itself--"itself" not "himself," um, otherwise known as "reality"--has no motivational power. Even I bow my head to that.
Yea, but if ye could only step outside for a moment, ignoring the asphalt and telephone wires, the jets and the freeways and the tracts of endless mattress warehouses...Why, there is life that goes on despite that lack of inspiration, that evolves (!) despite its having no reason to do so! And this is no miracle. One need not search far to bear witness to these struggling creatures of suspect morality, hiking up their bootstraps in the cracks of that vast parking lot known as America. They don't have time for religion or smoke and mirrors. But for the grace of nature itself, they're too busy surviving the onslaught of mankind. Testify!
Guess it's rotten politics and not-so-rotten science that keeps us from pulling back. Must those silly soothsayers remind us that everything rotten is not cheese? Is it our fault the earth is spontaneously combusting and that the expense will be chocolate, polar bears and fine wine? Ack! And an increase in tropical ailments will travel the heatwave; good for the farms that sell us eggs and good for settling bets with those crazed prognosticators of overpopulation. Heck, if we all die from malaria and its cousins, how can we blame ourselves?
Had one of those miscellaneous mini-non-life forms flatten me out Monday night, a little mortality reminder that worries the parents more than me. I wouldn'ta said nothin' 'cept my voice is quieter, which means it's the quietest voice on earth, softer than the whisper of a snowflake. Won't be seeing too many of those much longer; they're headed to the graveyard faster'n me, so while they're around, best take pictures.
Hey, snowflakes and viruses sorta look alike... Maybe it's not so bad after all.
The world will not stir for one sad voice. It may dream of a quiet song, like the low-pitched whistle of the winter wind through an empty house, host to a flock of blackbirds and a foot of white snow in the attic. It may awaken wistfully and stretch with a yawn, this world; but it drifts quietly back to sleep, so unthreatened by the white noise of mankind, even unaware. It revolves as it evolves, it has no concerns.
Meanwhile all is in motion, a microbial circus, the exchange and interchange of atomic combinations so rapid and continuous and so loud--but furtively silent, so quick--that when the world does awaken, it will not recognize itself.
We help a lot with this. We shift how things have fallen into how we would have them stand. Our goals and desires seem in direct contrast to this docile dozing globe beneath our feet, but also to the incessant biological processes at work on its surface. We reconstruct its deconstruction, burn its history in our engines, rewire its systems, cast off its elements here, consume them there. A few of us sniff and whine a bit over some superficial damage (I'm one of those), while the rest hustle nature into oblivion, not only failing to pay back what we've taken (how could we) but sending more cronies out to club the world's knees and ultimately have it whacked.
Sleep, gentle world. We will join you in a minute.
Someone typed "Elvis painting cries real rears" into Yahoo! and thor_progeny blog came up on the list. How someone "cries rears" I don't know. I don't want to know.
That is how I get readers, by the way: random words strewn throughout six months of unnecessary writing trigger a hit from a search engine.Yay! I wonder if this random person with such a random search and random typographical error was disappointed.
Meanwhile, such randomness on earth dwindles. Frankly, I worry about a world without fish. What will I turn up my nose to at the buffet? Will the only fish left be the ones pasted to the rear bumpers of superstitious suburbanites? Well, maybe the people with fish on their SUVs aren't too worried about it because, after all, you can divide a couple fish among a few thousand people. And if the few thousand divide theirs, why, there's no end to the number of mouths one could feed, were one so inclined or dedicated or idiotic.
The collective child in our heads
gains exit through our fingertips,
wildly developing an illicit web
of quiet rage.
Wrapped inside such warm cocoons,
we sleep awake,
trapped within this cyber stage
content, alone, "communicating,"
distracted from our age.
And yet the welcoming refrains
create abstract online alliances;
these encounters, so unlikely,
so remote, in any case,
are like the stars we seem to think
we could carve right from the sky:
a thousand light years from our eyes.