I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Our changing world

Me and Luena, hoping for whales
My sister-in-law, Luena, is visiting from southern California for a couple of weeks. It is probably the most beautiful time of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, with the days long and the skies filled with sunshine, a bit of rain, and fluffy white clouds. Yesterday we went on an all-day whale-watching cruise in the San Juan islands in hopes of spotting some whales.

This was the first time I've gone, and I have to say I don't think I'll go again. Not because I didn't enjoy myself, and we did see a humpback whale, but because I have been made aware of how much humans have contributed to the destruction of these magnificent creatures. In the middle of the day, we docked in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a couple of hours, and Luena and I made our way to the Whale Museum for a tour. It was intriguing, very well done and worth our while to visit.

Friday Harbor is a quaint little town devoted to tourists (at least the small part we saw of it) who stream into the harbor from the huge number of whale watching tours from all around the Salish Sea. What is that sea, you ask? Here's some information from that Wikipedia link:
The Salish Sea is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of Washington. Its major bodies of water are the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. 
One of the reasons we retired here from Colorado in 2008 was the draw of beautiful Bellingham Bay and our proximity to Canada. What I didn't expect was to fall in love with the entire area and especially the climate, the temperate rainforest that surrounds us. Native Americans have lived here and fished these waters for many centuries. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into this environment. It fits my life perfectly. I suspect that the long-time residents who have known nothing else are unaware of this treasure.

Yesterday, we climbed aboard a touring vessel that holds up to 150 passengers, and we were about half filled for the 8-hour-long adventure through the many islands. Our pilot told us many interesting facts about the islands as we passed through them on our way to Friday Harbor. When we all gathered to reboard, I noticed that nobody was late, probably worried about getting left behind. And then we set out to look for whales.

The boat pilots must have some sort of communication system to report sightings to one another, because we made our way to an area that already had four boats watching this one spot in the ocean. "Old Scratchy" had been seen feeding in the area, a humpback whale that gave us our one sighting. We were not allowed to get very close, but we did see his spout as he blew upon surfacing. We were close enough to hear it, and we watched as he dove to feed. Once he flicked his tail at us before a deep dive. Everyone on the boat was gathered on the deck, with cameras snapping pictures. Most of us only had our cellphones, but there were some people with huge camera systems, who probably got some great shots. I did get one or two but I missed capturing the tail flick, unfortunately.

As I stood on the deck clutching my cellphone, surrounded by the rest of us, I got the feeling of being a bit like a voyeur, watching this massive creature going about his business while we hoped for a breach (there wasn't one). I realized that there will come a day, not so long from now, when this activity of whale watching will also be extinct, along with the whales. We humans have decimated their numbers. I felt a huge sense of loss well up in me and I had to fight back tears. That said, I also felt gratitude to have been in such close proximity to this magnificent mammal.

I recently read a report about the massive extinction rate that is happening right now on the planet, because the human species is taking over the planet and crowding out all the others. Last year alone, we lost several more species. You can read more here, if you can handle it. According to the Center for Biological Diversity,
"Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals—the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years," the center stated. "We're currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago."
 I have been very fortunate to have lived through a period on our planet that is graced with so much beauty and diversity of species, and the children being born today will never know what they missed. I am in my twilight years and will probably miss the worst of what is to come, but they won't. It breaks my heart.
The cost of our success is the exhaustion of natural resources, leading to energy crises, climate change, pollution, and the destruction of our habitat. If you exhaust natural resources, there will be nothing left for your children. If we continue in the same direction, humankind is headed for some frightful ordeals, if not extinction. —Christian de Duve 
 This rather sobering lesson is what I took away from my whale-watching excursion yesterday. However, it's not everything that is happening in my life today, either: it's a beautiful day, a gorgeous environment, and everything around me is green and lush. Now I could wallow in my grief or just pick myself up, dust myself off, and take a different path towards light and life. That is what I intend to do, because frankly, other than giving money to causes that I care about and doing my part to recycle what I can and living frugally, there is little I can do to change the outcome.

What I do I have power over is the ability to respond with gratitude for the world as it is today, for my numerous blessings, and for the environment that surrounds me. Luena mentioned how much she is enjoying the respite from southern California's heat and endless vistas of concrete. While here, every day she walks from her airbnb to the bay, enjoying what I take for granted. Today she will join my friend Judy and me for a trip to the independent theater to see a movie. We'll walk around in the sunshine (there seems to be plenty of it again today) and maybe grab a bite to eat afterwards. It would take effort to be sad on a day like this, which I intend instead to enjoy to the fullest.

I hope you, my dear reader, will find a way to enjoy yourself today, and that you will maybe take a look around your surroundings and think how you might be able to improve things a bit. Just a tiny bit; if we all did that, it would add up to big changes. I am reminded of that wonderful quote from Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
The day is beckoning, my tea is gone, my dear partner sleeps beside me, and I am ready to get up and continue moving forward, always forward, upward and onward. I hope you will not forget to give thanks for what you have in your life, your loved ones here and beyond, and will find some pleasure in this day. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things.


Linda Reeder said...

Having traveled to other states and countries, I am always grateful to return home to Puget Sound country, with it's great beauty. I revel in the glory of May here.
On our whale watching trip some years ago, we saw minke whales, and the trip was OK, but I don't need to do it again. We now see whales spouting on the Oregon coast, near Depot Bay, where there are resident grays. We also had an up close and personal "show" provided by a gray whale and her calf surfacing and tail flipping right in front of us in the Tillamook Bay channel, as we stood and the jetty, marveling, the only people in sight. That was not something you can plan or pay for.

gigi-hawaii said...

Humpback whales come to Hawaiian waters every year and throngs of people go on boats to watch them. I have never seen the whales, because I get seasick on the water and therefore avoid boats.

Linda Myers said...

I am on my way home to the green beauty and I expect I'll be equally grateful once I"m there.

I try to do my part right where I am, and perhaps others will do the same. And I plan to vote!

Marie Smith said...

I know exactly what you mean when you write of the emotion you felt seeing the whale. I feel emotional when I experience animals in their natural habitat. How much longer will they exist like this? I always ponder the future for our world too. I do what I can as well. So many sources are saying it’s already too late. I pray for a miracle!

My husband and I went hiking this morning and felt such gratitude for our lives and the place where we live. Will our grandchildren be so lucky?

William Kendall said...

Very wise.

Elephant's Child said...

I also worry. And some days despair.
I do try and make the world a better, greener place.
And am filled with gratitude for the wonders I have seen and do see. I do hope that the up and coming generations see them too. At least some of them.

Arkansas Patti said...

Whales always make me feel sadness and loss. They are magnificent creatures and we are shoving them out, killing them off or driving them crazy with sonar. The book the Last Whales by Lloyd Abbey made a profound impression on me. Like you, I do what I can. I so hope Margaret Mead is right.
That said, any day on the water is a wonderful day. So glad you got to enjoy the day.

Gigi said...

I think any small changes we can each make in our daily lives can have a huge impact. The caveat is, of course, that we all have to make changes.

The Furry Gnome said...

DJan, I share your concern about whale-watching. We took our children twice, once on each coast of Canada. I like to think the educational value makes a difference. It sure did for our children. But when I read that there are only 75 resident Orcas on the west coast (of both our countries), I could easily agree with a complete ban on any boat traffic! I'm concerned much more widely with the apparent explosion in tourist traffic at many fragile sites in recent years, some would say Instagram generated! Sadly I have no answers.

Red said...

You deal with a very difficult topic. We are destroying the earth on a rapid pace. Now I don't mean it will all be over tomorrow. It will take time.We are still in the money stage. we want to make a buck off anything even if it it harmful. what I can't understand is how people can miss the improrant things going on around us. I guess they just think somebody else can clean up the mess.

Rita said...

I wonder sometimes what kind of world Ian and Liam will know...and their children...

Maybe they will grow up and work for and with others who will be doing wonderful things to improve the planet. You never know. They are the generation who will be doing it.

Far Side of Fifty said...

So glad you got to see one whale! It seems the whole world is in some kind of distress...:(

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, I read this edition of Eye on the Edge yesterday while on the ferry crossing Puget Sound for an event in Shelton, Washington. It was neat to read about your experience on the water while I was on the water myself. We are so on-the-same-page when it comes to concern about the whales. This is so much like other things in our world: if people can make money doing it, they will, without regard to what they are doing to the environment. Sometimes it gets so bad that governments must put regulations in place, but then, even so, sometimes that doesn’t work or solve the problem. We (citizens of the world) prevented the extinction of whales by outlawing capturing and killing whales internationally. Now the killer whales of Puget Sound are near extinction due to human interference with overfishing and too much noise as we try to get close to them with tour groups. Call me a “tree-hugger” if you wish, but I’m disgusted with some of my fellow humans. Now, on the positive side, I’ve included a picture of djan’s restaurant in Seattle for you in my post today. Have a great day and rest of the week. Thank you for sharing Eye on the Edge.

Friko said...

Like you I live in a beautiful area, albeit inland, away from the sea, and every day I am grateful for clean air, gentle hills and magnificent birds in the skies. Many of us here are the same, aware of our good fortune we wish to preserve it for future generations. As you say, if we all do our bit then maybe the end won’t come quite so soon nor so dramatically. Unfortunately, big business and some politicians don’t want to believe that their doings are destroying our wonderful planet.

Galen Pearl said...

I had to laugh because I spent a few hours on one of those whale watching boats. The whales would be spotted somewhere nearby and we would scoot over there to be told we just missed them. Then a new message would come in and off we would go again. When we got back to the dock people on other boats were talking about all the whales they saw -- I didn't see one! Ha!