Does the Sea See Me?

from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions, El Libro de las Preguntas.

“When I see the sea once more
will the sea have seen or not seen me?

Why do the waves ask me
the same questions I ask them?

And why do they strike the rock
with so much wasted passion?

Don’t they get tired of repeating
their declaration to the sand?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

My daughter and her husband went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. I was anxious about their trip as the Covid-19 Virus was at its peak there. They were both fully vaccinated, but even vaccinated people are contracting the virus. Thankfully, they are fine.

This was their first time in Tahiti. My daughter was good about keeping me in the loop by sending a daily photo or two of the tropical waters, so clear and warm. They stayed in a little hut at the end of a short pier. They walked down a few steps and they were in the water. One day, my daughter, Annette, sat on a chair with her feet in the water. For two hours, she watched two fish build their nest. They swam below, scooped up sand and gravel and swam upwards to deposit it in the nest. Two hours, it took them and my daughter sat there, mesmerized, watching them.

She said, “Afterwards, I didn’t want to wade in the water. I didn’t want to tread on anyone’s nest.”

She did go snorkeling with her husband, once. There are sharks in these waters and although there have been no recent attacks, Annette was a bit nervous. What might swim out from behind a reef? Regardless, she got into the spirit of what it was to be on this island. After her return to the States, we talked on the phone. In describing the impact of her trip…

“Mom,
I was the island
I was the water
I was the fish
I was the sky
I was the earth”

She said that she felt sensory overwhelm…that there were fish the colors of which she had no name. The whole energy of the island touched her in a way that she hadn’t expected and couldn’t explain. She cried a lot, she felt elated, she was in awe.
She said “There is a whole civilization under the sea. We have no idea.”

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I told her “Now, you are an advocate for the ocean, one of its protectors.”

I sent her a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us. Here’s a quote from Carson’s book:

“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively.”

― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

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We do have a romance with the ocean. As Neruda queries whether or not the sea sees him, generally, humans seem to be ignorant as to what the ocean provides besides fish. We have neither fully realized nor protected the ocean’s necessary ecology for our planet earth. Humans continue to use the ocean as a dumpsite for our waste. And as we know, plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes are harming life under the sea. We are a very egocentric breed who considers that everything is here for our use or misuse. We lack gratitude and a sense of reciprocity. Perhaps, there is more environmental awareness being taught in our education system, but we’re slow to evolve our ways of using the earth.

“…The ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Climate regulation: Covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns…”

from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Pablo Neruda had his questions, you probably have yours and I certainly have my own. Why is it so difficult for humans to connect the dots of our existence on earth. This interdependency?

What’s Trying To Get Your Attention?

Today, there’s so much vying for my attention, your attention, for attention! I live in California where there are summer fires…a clear and present danger. We live in the midst of a pandemic. Our scientists around the world have scrambled around creating vaccines whose efficacy and for how long is being questioned. Then, what is the new virus that is surpassing the present one? Water is our most precious resource and across the world, there is scarcity. Air quality, in some places, is poor. Climate change is making the news, at last. The earth is being misused and yet humans with the apparent power continue in the direction that they have been going.

The earth is giving us feedback. Yet, we stick our heads in the sand and think “That’s not about me!” or as an acquaintance said with a shrug of his shoulders, “That won’t happen in my lifetime.”

The ancient ones shared their predictions, not to alarm but to make us aware. If we don’t acknowledge what’s happening, we play the same hand over and over again and get nowhere. The technological lures distract us condoning detachment from what is real and what sustains us? The very basics of survival. The Indigenous tribes share their wisdom today and what is Indigenous within us knows the truth of our interconnectedness to our planet and all of life. Although we seem small and insufficient in the face of orchestrating change, this is exactly what we’re called to do. To be a participant in what’s next. What are we waiting for? Where, when and how do we take action?

A poem by Annie Dillard reminds us There Is No One But Us!

There is no one but us.

There is no one to send,

nor a clean hand nor a pure heart

on the face of the earth,

but only us,

a generation comforting ourselves

with the notion that we have come at an awkward time,

that our innocent fathers are all dead

– as if innocence had ever been –

and our children busy and troubled,

and we  ourselves unfit, not yet ready,

having each of us chosen wrongly,

made a false start, failed,

yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures,

and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.

But there is no one but us.

There never has been.

Why are so many people dissatisfied, disillusioned, frustrated or angry? What is the source of this distress? Is it that we don’t recognize the unity that we are called to–earth, air, fire, water, animals, insects, sea creatures–humans–not superior to but responsible to and we are included in this vast nature.

There are languages–deeper ways to communicate than we realize. There are those messages that we ignore or misinterpret, the inner whispers that we shush. Then, there is the yearning–yearning which propels us forward into the unknown, the seeming unknown yet it is knowable if, if, if we listen.

Is there something trying to get your attention?

Seal is too a Power Animal!

The seal as a power animal is both a land animal and a sea animal, symbolizing adaptability to the water and earth elements. Seal Energy taps into the intuitive while helping you to stay grounded. Some of the other qualities that it represents are playfulness, protection, imagination, strength, good luck, dreams and movement.

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My brother said that this seal looks “somber.” He added “…but who wouldn’t be with one’s habitat being destroyed and population dwindling.”

I told him that if he could see her in person he might think that she embodies power.

“The canvas is 24-inchesx24-inches,” I replied

He texted back, “Yes, I might have misspoken by using the word somber–maybe defiant (which could imply power) would be a better adjective.”

I texted back: “Interesting. I posted the photo on my artist page on Facebook. A friend wrote back: “He is so cute. He looks like he came out of a child’s story book. Beautifully done.”

I guess it is in how one sees it.

I didn’t plan to paint a seal. I didn’t plan to paint an animal. I mostly paint intuitively. I painted what emerged from the canvas and today, it is this seal.

I grew up by the ocean in San Francisco, CA. There was a big rock that we called Seal Rock because that’s where the seals loitered. There was a coin-operated tower viewer through which we could watch the seals as they clambered over the rock, as the waves dashed the rock, as the fog drifted in over the rock and hid it all from our sight.

According to Wikipedia

Seal Rock (or Seal Rocks) is a group of small rock formation islands in the Lands End area of the Outer Richmond District in western San Francisco, California. They are located just offshore in the Pacific Ocean, at the north end of the Ocean Beach, near the Cliff House and Sutro Baths ruins.”

As I type these words from Wikipedia, a nostalgia washes over me like a soft salty ocean wave. And then drifts across the sand into ocean’s memory. I knew these places and like the seals we grew up beside, we took them for granted. It’s often in memory that things take on a lovely patina and sometimes we linger there over the words and the images that they conjure. Lands End, Sutro Baths, Cliff House, Ocean Beach, Seal Rock–all in my backyard as we lived four blocks from Ocean Beach and The Great Highway that ran the length of the beach from the Sunset through the Richmond District. We rarely could see sunsets in the Sunset District. The fog was so thick! The foghorns played our nightly and daily lullaby.

We weren’t allowed to go to the beach on our own. As I got older, I got permission to take my younger siblings there. We walked from Moraga Street, crossed Lawton, Kirkham, then Judah where the streetcars ran. We turned down the street from 44th Avenue to 48th Avenue. At Judah and 48th, there was a tunnel which ran under the Great Highway. We ran through the tunnel, screaming, our voices echoing. The tunnel smelled of urine and the ocean. We probably ran and screamed to chase off any unsavory characters who might be lurking nearby. And then, like a light at the end of life’s tunnel, there was the ocean big, bold and vast. We were so small beside her.

When I was a young mom, I used to take my daughters to Ocean Beach and we’d sit on a cement wall gazing out to sea having our hot chocolate in thermoses with doughnuts. We would sit beside the mesmerizing ocean. The constancy of the waves, the intrusion of the foghorns, the taste of salt on our lips mixing with the bittersweet chocolate. People of all ages and sizes bundled against the cold, running, walking their dogs, walking with a companion or alone. I never really felt alone when I walked solo beside the ocean. I considered the ocean like a mother to me. Familiar and all-embracing.

Memories…a friend is writing her memoir. Mine would be wrapped in sea salt, waves, barking seals, my siblings, fog, and yearning.

This painting of a seal has taken me back in time and conjured up these memories.

Frolicking

Frolicking in my fool’s paradise

How long can this go on?

The air quality had been so pure

Now the wildfires have begun north of here

I plug in the air purifier

and pray it cleans the air

fools paradise

head in the sand

feet in the air

or head in the clouds

feet on the ground

which is preferable?

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Another summer of smoke.  The wildfires began in June in the forests and mountains of northern California, USA.  And in the flatlands south of here.  Then, there are new ones cropping up to the north, east and west.
Yesterday was a pure air pristine day.  We are dependent upon the direction of the wind.

Earth, air, fire, water.  What is your relationship to them?

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Living in the mountains for twenty-two years now, my connection to the earth has been amplified.  Although, before this, I grew up and lived by the ocean.  I would never say that I understood the sea.  I had an intimate relationship with her nonetheless.  I sought her out for comfort…and found it.  Her dynamic qualities captivated me…they do today too when I visit.

And the mountain has its own trance.  As I continue to write this post, it’s now mid-August and we’ve had two months of smoke.  Waking to smoke daily, a pall over the new day.  The spirit descends as I pull back the curtains to yet another day of smoke…

But today, the sky is blue and a smile wraps my face…we are so dependent upon our elements.  Across the planet, weather–the elements–is the media star these days.  Floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes–we are bombarded.  The earth certainly is demanding our attention.  Is she giving us feedback for the ways in which we’ve disrespected her?  Can we see this as feedback, learn from it and do some things differently, more respectfully, reverentially?

Global warming, media fact or fiction?  Where I live, I have no doubt of climate change.  I don’t need to read the news to know that.  Why is there an argument…what sort of lens are people looking through that they don’t see this?

Chavez Ravine

Have you noticed how, when affluent individuals or corporations want something, they don’t care who gets crushed in the process?

Watching a film on the life of Fernando Valenzuela, former pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I learned that the land upon which Dodger Stadium was built was acquired by forcefully evicting the residents. In the first half of the twentieth century, Chavez Ravine was a semi-rural Mexican-American community in the suburbs of Los Angeles. By the early 1950’s, it was home to over 1800 Mexican-American families. These families were not offered alternative housing for relocation–they were forced out and left stranded.  The owners of Dodger Stadium won…the mostly impoverished Hispanic families who lived there had seemingly no right to protest.

The Panama Canal was built with the slave labor of the men who were promised money and a better lifestyle as they were deceived into digging the canal…an act that established the United States of America as a super power at that time in history.  Was the loss of lives & the abusive treatment of laborers justified by the accomplishment of connecting two oceans and making for easier trade routes?  Five thousand (5,000) human lives were lost during the construction of the Panama Canal.  How does one measure success then?

Corporations are the modern day Goliaths and the little peon people are the Davids who oppose this giant.

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We had our recent battle with the Goliath, Crystal Geyser Water Bottling Company…what would make me trust that a corporation, once they have their foot in the door of our community, would care about seventy-five home owners in the immediate area or the three thousand residents of the city of Mount Shasta?  How would taking the water from this mountain affect the mountain itself? Why should the citizens allow this corporation to get away without doing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR)? What makes me believe that even in this time of drought, that the voices of affected individuals would be heard?  Corporations appear to have immunity from the law.  Citizens don’t appear to be protected by the law. 

The fact that corporations are considered as a “person” with the same rights as a person has undermined and mocked human rights.  The truth is that not by any stretch of the imagination is a corporation a person.  Where is the equality when a group of citizens with limited financial resources oppose a corporation with vast financial resources?  Not.

Water is a human need…how bizarre that it be taken from the land of origin, bottled, shipped & profited from while the community of origin receives neither guarantees for its own water needs and use nor remunerations. 

Are rights only ours to fight for? 

If the Crystal Geyser deal was a true collaborative effort, then the community should have been involved from the beginning and not be notified through an after-the-fact newspaper photo of the ribbon cutting for the Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant!  Where were our city council fathers when this was being formulated?

While we elect and entrust our city officials to represent the best interests of the community and the environment, it is neither blind nor mute trust.  It has to be an educated trust.  We, as citizens, do not hand over our power to the elected officials.  We educate ourselves and ensure that they are true to our communal values of preserving the pristine quality of this area in order to provide optimally for ourselves and our families and future generations and for the wildlife that thrives here.

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Earlier this year, 2021, after seven-and-a-half years of opposition and court battles, Crystal Geyser withdrew their interests in the water bottling plant in Mt. Shasta:

A newspaper article read:

“Fierce and persistent local opposition was at least one factor in the company’s decision to back away from plans to bottle and sell Mt. Shasta’s famously clean water. The announcement came during a Mt. Shasta city council meeting last week.”

I’ve learned that any victory is temporary. The fight for rights, whether it be personal or political, has to be sustained over time.

Stopping the Desert

Can one person really make a differenceWhat can one man alone (or woman) do?

Being true to himself, Yacouba Sawadogo, followed his curiosity or one could say, his calling.  He never learned how to read or write, but he was in conversation with the earth, that particular place on the earth where he lives.  That is, the landlocked country, Burkina Faso, in West Africa

People were having to fold up and leave their homes, their villages due to a lack of water.  That is one condition that creates climate refugees–people are forced to leave their homes “due to a sudden or gradual alteration in the natural environment…drought and water scarcity.”

Yacouba had an idea and he investigated it.  People thought he was crazy, ridiculous and even sacrilegious.  They mocked him and vandalized his fields.  He persisted with his experiment which was partially based in his intuition, common sense and some of the old ways of farming.

Can one person make a difference?  It looks like he did.  And, when many people unite for a common cause, then the impact can be exponential.

Yacouba Sawadogo?  The Man who Stopped the Desert.  I highly recommend this film for many reasons.  First of all, it is inspiring.  Secondly, in our lifetime, where we live right now, we may be called upon to “stop the desert” due to climate change.  It looks as if everyone across the planet is affected in one way or another by these changes. It seems wise to get knowledge from those who are pioneering new/old ways.

Water, Water Everywhere…

Water,Water Everywhere

She does look a bit parched, doesn’t she?  This painting was exhibited in a local art show with the theme of WATER.  Water–not that long ago, living in San Francisco, we could drink tap water.  Bottled water was unheard of.  Now it’s commonplace.

Rather than root out and respond to the cause of impurities in our water, we bottle and ship water from sources that we hope are not contaminated.  We buy water!

I notice how we adapt to the changing circumstances that are caused by our improper use of the earth.

The way that we extract resources–detrimental to the earth and the inhabitants of that land.

The way that we dispose of waste…detrimental to the land and sea and its inhabitants.

The way we package products–detrimental to our health and the environment.

The way we ship products long distances–detrimental to air quality.

What is causing cancer rates to increase?  What is it in our external environment that contributes to this?  The way we eat, drink, the contaminants in our food, our clothing, the air?

STOP!  When do we begin to reverse what we’ve discovered is messing up our environment.  What animal trashes home the way that humans do?

As we tamper with our ecosystems, there is going to be less potable water and more saltwater, undrinkable.  I don’t understand the science of it…but things are heading in that direction.  Neither do I know the timeframe.  That premise is what informed this painting.  It doesn’t have to be this way…but it’s not going to change until human beings gather and stand together to change things for the better.

Earth wants to work with us.  Let’s not ignore the call.

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A few years ago, I watched a full-length video (it’s about twenty-one minutes long) on The Story of Stuff as presented by Annie Leonard.  Following is a two-minute segment that begins to give you an idea of how we make, distribute, use and dispose of stuff.  If you are interested in seeing the entire video, you can find it on YouTube.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

 

Try Something New

landscapea

Being an artist who is committed to growth, it helps to try something new and different.  In this painting, I completely surrendered to Nicole Wikman’s process to paint a landscape.  I love the outcome.  Although it isn’t my style, I learned several very helpful techniques that I can apply elsewhere.

She reiterates the value of a horizon line.  She has a unique technique of laying down a colorful sky.  The brush dances between colors in the sky to reflections of those colors in the water.  The way in which the land and trees are placed establishes perspective and lends depth to the painting.  These are valuable techniques to practice and learn.

That said, I love this piece, and it doesn’t feel like me.

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Land and Sea are big themes for artists.  A contemporary artist, Janette Kerr is known as the “foul weather” painter.  It seems that she spends weeks on boats heading into storms.  There are so-called adrenaline junkies out there and while I’m not one, I applaud the curious nature that leads one into the eye of the storm.  Her work is phenomenal!

 

 

The Salmon

If I wrote a similar blog before, oops…I apologize.  That said, it’s probably worth repeating as the salmon are sacred to the Native Americans.  They symbolize, among other things, that the water is healthy.

I pull off the Klamath River Highway 96 into the Temple of Heaven campground and drive down the 200 feet to be beside the Klamath River and perhaps get a glimpse of the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  As a woman alone, an insecurity haunts me.  No one knows that I’m here except an old man at The Visitor’s Center at the last rest stop.  He gave me directions on how to get here.  I told him that I wanted to see the salmon running upstream.

“Likely place as any to see the salmon, though I’ve only seen one myself this year, so far, back about two weeks ago,” he ruminates.

“Why, when I was a boy growing up here, the salmon were so thick you could walk across the river on their backs.”

His eyes squint, studying me to see if I bought that.

“It’s true,” he said.

Then, “Go to the right; stay on the road for six miles.  You’re gonna be up 200 feet and you’ll come to a hairpin turn.  Cross over to the left and drive down.  It’s a campsite and there’s a sign, “Temple of Heaven.”

He looks me over, “It’s safe there,” he says as if reading my thoughts.

At Temple of Heaven, I park the car noting the one other car there.  I don’t see anyone but you can bet that my instincts are sharpened.  I find a place not far from the car beside the river.  A wide pool seems to have an underwater light infusing it.  I spot not a single salmon.  I feel somewhat wary, out of my familiar zone, off the well-trod path.  I don’t stay long, though it’s a beautiful spot, pristine and remote.

Driving out of the Temple of Heaven, I pull off the highway several times to see the river from different aspects.  The 1901 rough hewn wooden bridge over Ash Creek which Abner Weed (of the town of Weed fame) had a hand in constructing.  On the ground next to my parked car, I see a scrap of a paper wrapper.  It reads “Live to experience ‘MY INSOLENCE.”  I can only guess that it’s the name of a perfume, or a condom or an insolent miniaturized alien who obviously left because she’s not here when I kick the paper over.

The Klamath River, like most of the rivers I’ve seen, is distinctly beautiful.  I drive towards Yreka along a stretch of road I’ve never traveled before.  Highway 263 parallels the Shasta River.  The Shasta River snakes through Dry Gulch.  At one point, there’s a pocket of houses in a canyon beside the river.  I stop the car to take a picture.  I pull over several times to let the occasional car pass or to view the winding river stretching though the rocky gorge.  White foam and ripples brace the vegetation on the banks.  Another distance and then, Mount Shasta appears with new snow on its north face, rivaling Shangri La.

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The Native American Tribe, Winnemem Wintu, is local to northern California…they are the protectors of the salmon, the river, the water.

 

Reflections

Reflections
© by Christine O’Brien

A whole forest has tumbled over
and lies, bottom side up
in the water!
A horizontal duck skims
the surface of the forest
and its twin follows upside down.
The crags promenade
above and below
snow sifted on their high points.
Ripples distort the reflections.
A bird call sounding like
a squeaky wheel
although no bird is in sight.
I promised to sit here
for one hour today
witnessing
what I see and hear.
An invisible dog’s bark.
One noisy motor boat passes
not at high speed.
The surface of the lake responds,
disturbed,
waves, the wake, plowing hard to the shore;
silt at the bottom by the shore
rises to the surface.
everything is affected
including me
It takes awhile for it all to
settle down.

Castle Lake.1a.jpg

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When was the last time you took an hour (or half an hour) to witness your surroundings?  Something shifts when I take the time to do this.