Monday, May 3, 2010

the names-- a bestiary for the oil spill

I meant to write something here for Earth day updating everyone about the quilt, but time seems to be escaping my life continuously. These last few weeks, I’ve been spending time with several peoples’ uncontainable grief, breaking-- again-- my heart which was already always broken. I have been reading and thinking about grief... and loving. The way we love even though we know that everything dies.


Meanwhile it is Spring in California and everything is very much alive. All morning we’ve been watching a pair of tiny wrens bring straw from the garden into their birdhouse one piece at a time. The house finches have laid four blueish eggs in their nest over the kitchen window. The farm is covered with roses and irises and the bees are out in the warm air working at their continuous gathering. We’ve had an unusually rainy year this year, so all the wildflowers are banks of color on the hills. It is beautiful.


And my mind wanders. Because it is also Spring in the Gulf of Mexico. The brown pelicans have been building their nests in the wetlands of Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi. Five species of sea turtle are finishing their journey to sandy shores where they, too, will lay their precious eggs. Blue fin tuna are returning from the open ocean to spawn in the warm waters where the Mississippi river empties her giant body into the gulf. Songbirds- orioles, warblers, swallows-- are at the peak of their migration North over the blue circle of the Gulf on exhausted wings, waiting to reach land again. Spring brings new life. Fragile life. Everywhere.


This oil spill will wash up on the new life of nearly everything: grasses, sedges, birds, fish, people. The broken rig that continues to spill hundreds of thousand of gallons of crude oil into the gulf shows no sign of stopping-- or being contained. News outlets warn of the worst environmental disaster in the US in recent history. Recent must mean in the last few weeks, because these exact coastal communities and ecosystems were shattered by Katrina five years ago. And last month 31 miners were killed in Appalachian mines, a tiny fraction of the devastation caused by mining practices that have endangered local communities, filled in thousands of miles of streams and destroyed more than 450 mountains-- another area the size of Delaware. That seems like a pretty huge environmental disaster to me. Who gets to say which area the size of Delaware is bigger, land or sea?


The news measures time and size in peculiar ways. My friend Sarah who works as an eco chaplain in Appalachia, recently wrote about the cumulative loss of human life and health over time in her mountains-- how it far outstrips the death toll of miners last month. I remember my shock, cleaning up the Cosco-Busan spill in San Francisco Bay, at lifting, not oiled birds, but the stiff bodies of raccoons out of the grass and mud of the Berkeley Marina. They had come down to feast on small contaminated fish washed up on the shore. Like sludge from mines and all toxins, oil moves up the food chain, concentrating itself in larger animals. But we never see cancer declared an environmental disaster.


Appalachia and the Gulf Coast have a lot in common. They contain our poorest and sickest communities in the US, the roots of our deepest music, some of the greatest biodiversity we have, and they are continually being decimated by our collective inability to change our lifestyle.


This is not special calculus. It explains itself.


You can see it with your eyes, reach out and touch it. Except we don’t. Its definitely easier not to. In my reading about grief, denial is the first stage. The one that allows us to continue living, just barely, doing what has to be done. It keeps us from really feeling and so it is useful temporarily, but dangerous in the long term. Adam swam in the Gulf of Mexico every summer of his life, on the beaches of Florida that are now state emergencies. He’s been reading me the news this week, full of names he knows, full of sadness. And I haven’t listened. Not really. Numbness has come, tinged with helplessness, blame, denial. But nothing else. Until this morning. We found two tiny unhatched eggs in an old nest and I thought, suddenly, of Hawksbill sea turtles, a species I love. How their eggs each contain something precious, one more body to add (the way we do with endangered species) to the life count: the ones still left. And I thought of Joanna Macy's Bestiary, which includes the Hawksbill. In grief, it is small details that move us out of denial: particular names, colors, what was heard, remembered. In the presence of these, denial breaks down into everything else: anger, despair, fear, sadness, breath, and, eventually, resilience.


The details are so important. To remember is not the opposite of to forget. It is the opposite of to dis-member. The opposite of undoing our membership in life. The opposite of not seeing, not touching the particulars of everything. I’ve heard a lot of people cursing our government, the conscience-less corporations, the people who created this disaster. I myself have spent all week responding to Adam’s memories with educated venom and statistics. But this morning I remembered one name. I started to remember myself, and the tears came, and the real anger came, and words came, and movement. Here are some names to re-member that we can see and touch, can go on living with a broken heart. They begin to move beneath the news, the measurements, to the heart of everything: our life and resilience; our ability, when we are present in our senses, to respond.


The names*:


Hawksbill Turtle

Brown Pelican

Alligator Gar

Tripletail

Tilefish

Green Sea Turtle

Schoolmaster

Blackfin Snapper

Red Snapper

Cubera Snapper

Ballyhoo

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Blue Angelfish

Queen Angelfish

Sqirrelfish

Black Driftfish

Sailfish

Mako-Shortfin Shark

Mako-Longfin Shark

Human

Skipjack Tuna

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Seaside Sparrow

Clapper Rail

Mottled Duck

Bermuda Chub

Hogfish

Scrawled Cowfish

Smooth Puffer

Pinfish

Spot

Escolar

Grey Snapper

Dog Snapper

Ibis

migrating songbird families:

Warblers

Orioles

Buntings

Flycatchers

Swallows

Mahogany Snapper

Lane Snapper

Silk Snapper

Blue Marlin

Sand Tilefish

Manta

Tarpon

Southern Kingfish

Gulf Kingfish

Atlantic Croaker

Planehead Filefish

Striped Bass

Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern

Least Tern

Striped Mullet

White Mullet

Black Grouper

Yellow Mouth Grouper

Gag Grouper

Scamp Grouper

Comb Grouper

Tiger Grouper

Yellowfin Grouper

Wilson's Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

Ruff

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Pilotfish

Lemon Shark

Spiney Cheek Scorpionfish

Yellowtail Snapper

Leatherjack

Atlantic Thread Herring

Gulf Toadfish

Pigfish

Red Porgy

Gulf Flounder

Southern Flounder

Broad Flounder

Spinner Dolphin (Long-snouted)

Striped Dolphin

Creole Fish

Black Drum

French Angelfish

Bluefish

Bigeye

Blue Whale

Bottlenose Dolphin

Clymene Dolphin

Fin Whale

Bighead Sea Robin

Smalltooth Sawfish

Largetooth Sawfish

Laughing Gull

Reddish Egret

Rosegate Spoonbill

Wenchmen

Jack Crevalle

Bar Jack

Horseeye Kack

Spinner Shark

Silky Shark

Bull Shark

Blacktip Shark

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Dusky Shark

Carribbean Reef Shark

Sandbar Shark

White Shark

Yellow Rail

Black Rail

Snowy Plover

Piping Plover

Wilson’s Plover

American Oystercatcher

Swordspine Snook

Fat Snook

Tarpon Snook

Commen Snook

Bank Sea Bass

Rock Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Sowerby's Beaked Whale

Sperm Whale

Least Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs

Little Gull

Sabine's Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Atlantic Spadefish

Melon-headed Whale

Striped Burrfish

Bay Wiff

Sand Seatrout

Spotted Seatrout

Siver Seatrout

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Blainville's Beaked Whale

Fraser's Dolphin

Gervais' Beaked Whale

Risso's Dolphin

Rough-toothed Dolphin

Mountain Plover

Parasitic Jaeger

Pectoral Sandpiper

Sei Whale

Short-finned Pilot Whale

West Indian Manatee

Southern Stingray

Atlantic Stindray

Bluntnose Stingray

Black Crowned Night Heron

White Ibis

Black Skimmer

Frigate Bird

Round Scad

Redtail Scad

Humpback Whale

Killer Whale

Minke Whale

Irish Pompano

Porcupine Fish

Sand Perch

Greater Yellowlegs

Herring Gull

Wahoo

Atlantic Sturgeon

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-tailed Jaeger

Marbled Godwit

Mountain Mullet

Bonefish

African Pompano

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

Dwarf Sperm Whale

False Killer Whale

Thresher Shark

Alabama Shad

Bay Anchovy

America Eel

Franklin's Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Glaucous Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Iceland Gull

Northern Right Whale

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin

Bryde's Whale

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Red Head Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Snowy Egret

Dunlin

Black Margate

Porkfish

Sheepshead

Cory’s Shearwater

Pygmy Killer Whale

Northern Gannet

Neotropic Cormorant

Seabream

California Gull

Brown Noddy

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Hardhead Catfish

Bullet Mackerel

Frigate Mackerel

Golden Crab

Double-crested Cormorant

Anhinga

Masked Booby

Eastern Oyster

Gafftopsail Catfish

Silver Perch

Grey Tigerfish

Queen Menhaden

Bearded Brotula

Longbilled Dowitcher

Western Sandpiper

Lightning Whelk

Blue Crab

Stone Crab

Fiddler Crab

American Alligator

Caspian Tern

Gull Billed Tern

American Woodcock

Grass Porgy

Jothead Porgy

Saucer-eye Porgy

Whitebone Porgy

Knobbed Porgy

Ocean Tigerfish

Yellow Jack

Thayer's Gull

Upland Sandpiper

Whimbrel

Atlantic Oyster

Apalachicola Oyster

Kumamoto Oyster

American Cupped Oyster

Breton Sound Oyster

Sanderling

Blue Runner

Spotted Pinfish

Fat Sleeper

Sharksucker

Rainbow Runner

Ladyfish

Rock Hind

Pomarine Jaeger

Boat-tailed Grackle

Virginia Rail

Graysby

Speckled Hind

Yellowedge Grouper

Coney

Red Hind

White Shrimp

Brown Shrimp

Pink Shrimp

Glossy Ibis

Yellow-nosed Albatross

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

Marbled Grouper

Goliath Grouper

Red Grouper

Misty Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Snowy Grouper

Nassau Grouper

American Woodcock

Baird's Sandpiper

Black Skimmer

Queen Snapper

Silver Jenny

Little Tunny

Gulf Killfish

Tiger Shark

Yellowfin Mojarra

Nurse Shark

Green Moray Eel

Spotted Moray Eel

Blue Striped Grunt

Black Tern

Roseate Tern

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-necked Stilt

Bonaparte's Gull

Tomtate

French Grunt

White Grunt

Pudding Wife

Scaled Sardine

Bluntnose Jack

Cobia

Clearnose Skate

Roundel Skate

Remora

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Vermillion Snapper

Oilfish

Atlantic Bonita

Spanish Sardine

Blue Parrotfish

Rainbow Parrotfish

Queen Parrotfish

Red Drum

Chub Mackerel

Kind Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel

Cero

Spotted Scorpionfish

Bigeye Scad

American Avocet

Lookdown

Greater Amberjack

Lesser Amberjack

Almaco Jack

Banded Rudderfish

Southern Puffer

Guaguanche

Southern Sennet

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Great Hammerhead Shark

Bonnethead Shark

Great Barracuda

American Golden-Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Black-bellied Plover

Atlantic Needlefish

White Marlin

Blackcheek tonguefish

Longbill Spearfish

Inshore Lizardfish

Albacore Tuna

Yellowfin Tuna

Blackfin Tuna

Bigeye Tuna

Florida Pompano

Permit

Palometa

Swordfish

Atlantic Cutlassfish

Houndfish

Common Snipe

Forster's Tern

Common Tern

Sooty Tern

Bridled Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Ruddy Turnstone

Hudsonian Godwit

Killdeer

Long-billed Curlew

Pomarine Jaeger

Purple Sandpiper

Red Knot

Red Phalarope

Short-billed Dowitcher

Stilt Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Willet


* this list is not exhaustive, and includes no plants, algae, fungi, sponges or coral











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