Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cypress Cetaceans

Cypress Cetaceans

“i who have died am alive again today”

Two giant old cypress trees blew down in a storm last year in this Pacific Grove park, very near the church where we have our Blue Theology Mission Station.  A local guy noticed that the stumps looked like breaching whales and suggested the city fund a transformation of dead trees into living art. 

The city liked the idea, the Rotary Club helped fund three chainsaw artists and – voila – two humpback whales breaching and leaping in joy.

“i thank you God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which infinite which is yes.”

“leaping greenly spirits of trees” have become a natural infinite yes!

The quote is from the great ee cummings poem, whose next line is “i who have died am alive again today.”

Actually the city hesitated at first, but this park hosts over 100 weddings a year, and some local ministers and caterers I know joined in the chorus; transform what had become a wedding backdrop of destruction into a lively celebration of coastal whale love.

I stopped by this week to see the finished sculpture and met three other groups of folks on the same mission.  We all smiled and admired and took pictures for each other. 

When we take our church youth groups or adult pilgrims to the Aquarium, as part of our church’s Blue Theology program, we already walk through this park.  Now we’ll have a new stop, where we can say a prayer of thanksgiving that whales, who were hunted along our coast for a century almost to extinction, are now safe and protected and thriving. 

Hi whales, you who were dead are alive again today.   Hi public art, thank you for bringing a smile to my face.   Hi love, celebrated in weddings and whales, giving all of us reason to leap for joy.  Well done, Pacific Grove.

(“Before” photo – David Royal.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Makana the Albatross Says Vote Yes on Prop 67

Makana the Albatross says Vote Yes on Prop 67

Watch this adorable and persuasive video from the Monterey Bay Aquarium about voting Yes on California Prop. 67, the statewide plastic bag ban! 

Very cool staff person Patrick and the most excellent Laysan albatross Makana (which means “gift” in Hawaiian) give you good voting advice.  As a 20-year volunteer I am so glad that the Aquarium has recently become quite bold in taking political stands. We have a special exhibit on Prop. 67, many of us volunteers are wearing “Yes on 67” buttons and our director Julie Packard co-wrote the Voter Guide argument for Yes on 67.

If this sounds familiar (don’t we already have a plastic bag ban?) two years ago Gov. Brown signed a ban into law, making our state the first with a state wide ban.  But the out-of-state plastics industry forced the law to be put on hold until there was a referendum.  Many cities have passed their own bans; indeed if all those residents vote, there are enough voters to make it statewide.  But we all have to vote!

Here’s my column from two years ago in case you need reminding.  Makana thought her work was done.  She has told me she is tired of advocating for this bill and seeing her fellow birds die from plastic.  (I decided not to post gory pics – just Google “plastic inside albatross”) Please vote Yes on 67.

11:30 AM Monterey Bay Aquarium
Me: “Welcome to the daily feeding program here in the Kelp Forest exhibit.  Inside the exhibit is another volunteer here, Les, our diver today.”
Les: “Hi, Deborah.  I’ve got food here for the fish.”
Me: “Les, you dive in Monterey Bay – does this exhibit look like what you would see out there?”
Les: “Yes, except sometimes I see stuff that doesn’t belong underwater, like this.” (Takes a plastic bag out of his zippered dive bag.)  “A turtle might think this plastic bag is a yummy jellyfish, and eat it, and die.  And when plastic breaks down into little pieces the birds mistake it for food, and even feed it to their young.  Fish too, which means the plastic eventually ends up inside us too.”
Me: “So we can help the ocean by reducing our use of plastics?” 
Les: “Yes.  And the Aquarium is urging Governor Brown to sign the new bill to ban single use plastic bags from all stores in California.  We encourage all you from California to write the governor if you feel the same way.”
Me: (Thinking to myself, “I’m glad the Aquarium has become more activist lately, encouraging us to ask guests to take a stand on legislation, like the shark finning ban, and now the plastic bag ban bill.”)
Me: “But wait, Les, look at all the fish.  They seem to be applauding and jumping around in delight.  What’s happening?”
Les: “They just found out that the Governor did sign the plastic bag bill yesterday Sept. 30, 2014.  California is now the very first state to ban single use plastic bags.  The fish are thrilled.”
Me: “Yea!  And look, here comes Makana, our injured Laysan albatross who lives here at the Aquarium and is part of another daily program here in front of the Kelp Forest.  She looks pretty excited too.”
Makana:  “You bet I’m excited.  The governor signed the bill!  Where I’m from on the Midway Atoll our chicks are dying because mom birds mistake these little bits of plastic for little fish food for our babies.  As we albatross do our yearly flight all around the Pacific, 50,000 miles a year, we see that the ocean is full of plastics.  Thanks, California, for leading the way!”
Me: “Wow, Makana.  Thanks for coming out before your usual 1:30 show.  Did you bring the see-through tube we pass around to guests to show how much plastic can be found inside one dead albatross?”
Makana: “Here is is!  Ugly and gross and deadly.  But people are starting to use less plastic.  Keep it up!”
Me: “Well, Makana, we know your name means “Gift” in the Hawaiian language.  You are a gift to us here, an ambassador for your species.  Thanks.”

(When you come to Pacific Grove for our Blue Theology mission trips and retreats we give you a free “spiritual tour” of the Aquarium.  We’re booking for 2017 spring and summer.  Come meet Makana, and tell her how you voted.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Holy Hermit (Crab)

Holy Hermit (Crab)

I was invited to a Blessing of the Animals this past Sunday and I offered to bring a sea creature of some kind, to round out the usual dogs and hamsters.  The good folks at La Selva UCC said, “We’ll give you a table for your sea creature, and please say something at prayer time about it and your ministry around ocean stewardship and spirituality, Blue Theology.”

Later I thought - Wait!  I’m all about protecting the ocean.  I keep saying we should treat animals as subjects, not objects.  They are BEINGS I have an I-Thou relationship with, not THINGS I would use just for my needs.  How can I take a precious creature out of its home for “show and tell” at church?

I consulted my Monterey Bay Aquarium friends about my dilemma: keep my promise and honor St. Francis or leave well enough alone?  They suggested an acceptable compromise – find one hermit crab in an ocean tide pool, put it in a big jar with sea water, take it to church, ask God to bless it, and return it promptly to its home. 

So early Sunday morning found me in my church clothes at my favorite secluded rocky beach, poised over crashing waves with my jar – voila, my little hermit.  I picked up some lovely feather boa kelp also, as an altar cloth, and to make little Herman feel at home on the table.

At prayer time I said, “I brought for our blessing today a hermit crab, to represent the millions of sea creatures that Francis, and God, include in the family of all creation.  I thought it was appropriate to bring a hermit crab, because it reminds us of the great monastic tradition of which Francis is a part.  (Get it? Hermits?)  And because, as an animal born without a shell, it represents the homeless and vulnerable that Francis so loved.  As the hermit crab grows, and seeks to find an empty shell to move into, we remember how we can stand in solidarity with the homeless, and offer what we have (our empty shell?) to those in need.”

Or something like that.  I was sort of kidding.  And sort of not.  It really was holy, this holy hermit (crab.) 

I dropped it back in its tide pool on my way home, and added my prayer of thanks.

(I wrote this post a year ago.  I was back at La Selva UCC this past Sunday with another hermit crab, whom I named Hermione.  She too was blessed and was a blessing.  The day before our Blue Theology Mission Station helped sponsor  Not only did we sprinkle sacred water on the 50+ pets with rosemary sprigs, but we also anointed with oil the pet owners, saying, “May God bless the love you share with your animal friend.”  Two beautiful outdoor worship services with many blessings.)
Pacific Grove’s “First Annual Blessing of the Animals,” an ecumenical service put together by Dan Paul of our Christian Church, with folks from St. Angela’s Catholic Church and St. Mary’s by the Sea Episcopal Church.