Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Usually We Think Nothing Of It

Usually We Think Nothing Of It

Here’s a sweet sad poem by tenth grader Elise Wing, this year’s high school winner of the Ocean Poetry Contest, sponsored to the California Coastal Commission.
Thoughts We Have Getting out of the Car in Monterey

Night in the Philippines has fallen

and usually we think nothing of it
as we go about
checking our watches and tempers
our laundromat costs and taxes

and our kettles and language

But today is different

today we clamber out of the backseat
and the wind shocks us
the sun is too harsh on the sea

and the sea too wide to look across it

So instead we imagine across it
thinking of the boy
with lips wide and elliptical like banana leaves
as he melts into his hammock

Listening to dogs bark
and cars rattle over the potholes

the rain falling like slashes of black ink

and the neighbors

laughing over the last bowl of squid curry

Elise Wing
Grade 10
Our image today is titled “The Heart of Ocean” by 3rd grader Karina He from San Francisco, winner of the Ocean Art Contest in her grade category.

We often read and write poetry as part of our Blue Theology youth mission trips and adult pilgrimages.  It opens our hearts to the “Heart of the Ocean.”

Like Elise Wing, when we see the wide ocean, we often think nothing of it, just checking our watches and tempers.

But today might be different.

The ocean is indeed very wide.  What do you imagine across it?
 (We in California should be grateful for the California Coastal Commission for enforcing our fantastic Coastal Act, coordinating the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, and sponsoring this annual Art and Poetry Contest.  Check out their website for all the winners.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Coral Diplomacy

Coral Diplomacy

A new day is dawning for Cuba, not just on land, but at sea.  But we don’t know what kind of day.  On its magnificent coral reefs, Los Jardines de la Reina (The Gardens of the Queen), will it be a Good Friday, or Easter?

Marine scientists and divers now call this pristine and healthy reef, teeming with marine life,  “an accidental Eden.”  Isolation and good stewardship by the Cuban government have spared the Gardens the massive coral bleaching and reef destruction suffered by most of the Caribbean.

It’s been an ironic blessing of the US embargo: no pesticides for agricultural runoff, no massive sport fishing industry decimating the top predators who are necessary to maintain the precious balance coral needs to survive, less pollution and warming and ocean acidification - all the forces that bleach and kill these dynamic habitats.

For now.

I learned this story from the cool ocean organization, which has been engaged in science and education exchanges with the Cuban marine science community for many years. (Scientific, educational and religious groups have been allowed limited travel to Cuba during the embargo.)  Their partnerships helped promote scientific scholarship, exchanges and management advice, after Cuba establish the Jardines as the Caribbean’s largest Marine Protected Area in 1996.

The “queen” honored in its name is Isabella; 500 years ago Columbus recognized the Jardine’s preciousness.  But he was just the island’s first foreign exploiter.  Expected massive tourism and economic “development” could threaten the reefs’ survival.

Coral reefs are indeed Edens – beautiful, undamaged birthplaces.  Many organisms spawn there, like fish and lobsters, and then travel throughout this confluence of Gulf, Atlantic and Caribbean seas.

Not even Cuba, like no man, is just an island – one coral’s death diminishes us all.

This dispatch from the international desk of the Blue Theology Mission Stations reminds us that oceans have no borders, fish no passports, corals no protective safety nets.

At Easter we celebrate walls breached, tombs emptied.  Will these coral gardens keep blooming with new life, or suffer the crucifixion of consumerism?  Let’s chose life, and life abundant.
________  Our summer youth mission trips and adult pilgrimages here on the Central Coast are filling up – dive in!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Miracle of Life is Graphic!

The Miracle of Life is Graphic!

A sea otter gave birth right off the deck at the Aquarium Saturday afternoon.  The waves in the bay were very high and rough, so she swam into the sheltered Great Tide Pool and found there a good birthing rock.

Hundreds lined the railing all day, watching with respect and awe.  Both guests and staff, including otter biologists who, after a lifetime of study, were finally witnessing their first birth of this very wild and private animal.

Thousand more watched it live online, myself included.  You can see an edited version (births take a long time!) on the Aquarium’s YouTube channel.

They titled the video “Watch a baby sea otter being born!  (Spoiler alert: the miracle of life is graphic!)”

Oh really - “graphic?”  How about “the miracle of life is miraculous, or amazing, or inspiring?”  I’ve seen human births and I’ve given birth and I would definitely call those miracles very graphic, probably because there was a lot of blood and a lot yelling involved.

This mother otter was visibly intent and determined and yes, really pushing.  For hours.   That I could identify with.

But graphic?  No blood.  (Some cool mucus.)  No yelling. (The new pup did some cute squealing after it was all over.)  What struck me was not how graphic it was, but how natural.  Normal.  And just incredibly moving.

Most amazing part?  Finally the head appears (maybe it’s the tail, hard to tell, a matted wet blob.)  It emerges from the mother’s body just a little.  And then she calmly reaches down, and with her paws she tugs the rest of the baby out of her own body!  She pulls it out!

Next?  Hours of grooming and licking and cuddling and nursing.  The baby soaked with mucus becomes a fluff ball.  All that grooming gets the baby’s blood flowing, and builds up the fur so the helpless baby (has not yet learned to swim) can float.

Mom, baby, miracle.  Safety in a storm.  Calm intensity.  Pushing.   Pulling it out of herself by herself.  Licking and cuddling and nursing.

A very holy event.
(Steve Choy photo, NOAA, another newborn pup.)

(Update – Mom and pup stayed three days, then headed off into the bay.  She’ll teach her baby how to dive, collect food, groom itself and other life skills.  Otters were declared extinct from hunting 100 years ago, but from 30 that were hiding in Big Sur have descended 3000 or so, but still highly threatened.  Calif. residents – on your tax return, check off a contrib. to sea otter research.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Holy Fabric

Holy Fabric

Easy to see why it’s called “Lace Lichen.”  So soft and finely patterned, like a delicate lacy sleeve for the tree.  Maybe a veil or stole, nature is consecrating oak and pine and cypress.  While it looks fragile, like a precious hand-knit doily, lace lichen is more like a sturdy woven fishing net, holding strong in windy coastal storms.  

Point Lobos State Reserve guests often assume it is a deadly fungus killing the trees, insisting we remove it quickly to save the forest.  No, we reply, lace lichen is actually good for the tree.  It acts as a drip system, collecting nighttime dew and then dripping it, like a wet towel, to the roots; trees draped with lichen can withstand drought unlike their naked cousins.

It is so soft and absorbent that the native folks of the Central Coast used lace lichen for baby diapers and menstrual pads.  Thanks, lichen for swabbing softly our natural fluids.

We see less of it in city parks because it is a barometer of air quality – you find it only where the air is free of chemicals.  Like the canary dead in the coal mine, the absence of lichen in urban sprawl says, “Danger ahead!”

And what exactly is lichen?  It’s the equal partnership of two organisms, fungus and algae, in symbiosis.  The fungus provides the structure, the algae the food.  We all need something to hold on to, and we all need something to eat.  The Point Lobos Rangers say the fungus and algae “take a lichen to each other.”

You get the point – we love our lace lichen.  So we were thrilled that Governor Brown recently signed a bill designating lace lichen as our state lichen!  Naturally, ours is the very first state even to name an official state lichen, and of the 1800 California lichens, the lace lichen was singled out for honors.  It joins all our other cool state symbols – grizzly, poppy, golden trout, garibaldi fish, gold, redwood, quail.....

Do you need me to break down the Gospel According to Lichen?
-I set before you the ways of lichen and death; chose life.
-We all need someone we can lean on. (And if you want it, you can lean on me.)
-I was naked and you clothed me.  And sopped up after me.
-Appearances are deceiving.  What looks harmful may be a blessing.
-How great Thou art.
 Photo: Holly Benson, California Lichen Society