“So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is. Trees and rocks and rivers really do have things to say to us….Many Indians have told me that the most basic difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that Westerners view the world as dead, and not as filled with speaking, thinking, feeling subjects as worthy and valuable as themselves.”—Derrick Jensen
I sat on the cliffside, cushioned by sea fig (ice plant) and looked out at the ocean, and secret beach, far below. (Beach? What beach? How many times do I have to tell you people…IT’S A SECRET.). To my right, I watched two friends approach, flying just five feet above me in the sky. First one crow, then it’s mate, glided slowly over me, giving me a cock eye and scanning the ground for snacks. I turned back to the ocean and thought “What am I really looking at here? Beyond all the negative spin put on the news reports of environmental degradation, how dead, how alive is that water? What life stirs under the choppy surface, going about its business in relative health? Do I sit here and weep and mourn, or do I let myself take in the beauty of the great blue, as I did in younger days?”. No answer came.
I decided to walk down into the dunes. I stood atop a large cement block at the bottom of the first decent, to get better phone reception and finish a phone call with a client. I looked up, and here came another friend….Mister Accipiter Red Tail, with his missing flight feathers. He perched on a power pole, right above where I stood. I said hello, and jumped down to continue my meander, asking “Which way should I go?”. He flew off to the left, a direction I don’t usually walk. I took his suggestion.
It was warmer down in the dunes, sheltered from the wind by the sea fig and monterey cypress, the cape ivy and the yellow lupin. I came to a cross roads and looked over my shoulder to where a path led towards the west. Two dragonflies hovered at the bend and then disappeared that way. Something inside me said, “Go that way.”. And I noticed immediately within myself another voice that told me to ignore that inkling. That I was imagining things. I paused, and it surprisingly took a lot of will, but I decided to follow the advice of that first whispered voice.
Just past the bend, the path began to wind dramatically downward, leading to the beach below, which was much closer now. I felt a surge of joy…although I go to these cliffs every week, the hike down to the water is treacherous and I can never seem to find a good path. I recognized that I had indeed, found a “good” path and that I was being invited to the shore. Hurrah!
The path carved through sand stone, my own miniature grand canyon. Along my feet were hundreds of beach strawberry in bloom. I had fast visions of sweet rejoicing when the fruits were ripe, which was immediately followed by the knowing that there are other eyes watching those blooms…from above and under the bushes…and I would be lucky, indeed, if I ever found one ripe, ready and untasted. Finally, the last descent was covered in large leaps down a soft sand dune and there I was, greeting the waves.
Seven steps to the flotsam and jetsam, which extended miles down the beach on either side. Three steps closer and then I realized what I was looking at.
Among many small twigs, there were many other small particles. Many. MANY. All of them plastic. Except for the tiny white balls, which were styrofoam. I was looking at the washed up edge of a plastic island. Bottle caps were the largest bits, the rest were broken, disintegrating, miniscule pebbles of plastic. Never biodegrading, utterly artificial plastic. Filling the bellies of pelicans as they scoop up sea water in their bills to feed to their babies. Filling the bellies of whales as they suck in tons of water through their baleen.
“What am I really looking at here? Beyond all the negative spin put on the news reports of environmental degradation, how dead, how alive is that water? What life stirs under the choppy surface, going about its business in relative health? Do I sit here and weep and mourn, or do I let myself take in the beauty of the great blue, as I did in younger days?”.
If I take in the beauty of the great blue, how can I bear it, those feelings of hopelessness, despair, isolation, rage, at the apparent apathy that creates this tragedy of high tide? I think about apologizing on behalf of my species to the waters, and then realize that I can’t speak for my species, that I would be lying. All that plastic, all that consumption, all that destruction…its not stopping anytime soon, if at all. Lately I have felt dispirited and disheartened. My hope, my hope that has always been as perennial as the grass is fading. Excuse my language, but lately I have been perceiving that we are fucked. The damage to our natural world is too vast.
Where does this leave me?
I’m tempted in this post to talk about real solutions, social change, how “personal growth” needs to go hand in hand with coming back into relationship with others, that healing ourselves can and should be about healing the world…heal the self so that we can shoulder opening to a world in crisis. How taking it upon ourselves to “consume less” is exhausting and if you have stepped into a Target lately, you’ll know that buying less plastic isn’t making a difference. But that all feels like useless pontificating.
Ultimately, here is what it is…It leaves me with a choice. I can shut down into despair and helplessness, or I can love. Love makes the rest of my choices clear.
I hiked the steep journey back to the cliff top. I paused and looked back at the ocean, and then noticed another bird flying towards me, its wings arced towards the tips. It landed on a branch above and I recognized it as my kestrel friend. I bowed to him, one bodhisattva to another. Then I walked back to the parking lot and drove home.
“If we wish to stop the atrocities, we need merely to step away from the isolation. There is a whole world waiting for us, ready to welcome us home.”–DJ