Rhapsody in Blue

R.I.P. Beautiful Rhapsody

R.I.P. Beautiful Rhapsody

As a volunteer at The Seattle Aquarium I try to engage people in the uniqueness of Puget Sound marine life.

Things like our incredible mesmerizing Giant Pacific Octopus, diver-friendly Wolf Eels,  mysterious Six Gill Sharks, and our resident Orcas.

The Orcas are not like any other Orcas in the world. They live here year round, cavorting in the waters shared by Washington and British Columbia called the Salish Sea. They are the most studied Orcas in the world due to their wonderful accessibility. Scientists have been studying them for decades and as a result have identified all the individuals within the pods and the unique behaviors associated with them. Each Orca has a distinctly patterned saddle patch, the area directly distal of the dorsal fin. It’s the Orca equivalent of a fingerprint. This gives all of us that take an interest in their lives the opportunity to know each one as an individual.

They are a family unit known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales and are distinguished further by “pods” the technical term for a clan. They are smaller in size than “transient” populations and unlike transients are matriarchal societies. Similar to elephants, the Southern Resident Orcas are led by the eldest female. Their life is dominated by the search for food, as they live almost exclusively on Salmon. An unfortunate preference that puts them directly at odds with the demands of the human population.

Three pods live here: J, K, and L pod, they collectively total 78. It was 79 until a week ago when 18 year old Rhapsody was found dead on Vancouver Island with her full-term calf in her uterus. I’m very distraught and heartbroken over the loss of this beautiful animal. Her death is indicative of the hazards and terrible odds these animals are facing here in their native habitat. Orca infant mortality is 90% in their first year. This is due largely to the consumption of poisoned food and polluted waters. Biologists continually find fatal doses of chemicals like PCB’s in beached and stillborn calves passed on from the bloodstream of their mothers. What will become of them? The odds of a calf surviving are really bad. And thus, the odds of the pods sustaining their existence are tragically dismal. Like many non-human denizens of this planet, they are in a steady decline.

I have to write this or I will implode. The overwhelming helplessness that I feel at their plight dominates my thoughts anytime I hear of another tragic death. Maybe Rhapsody died of complications from the birth, not by human influence. Until the planned necropsy is finished, we won’t know for sure. I really hope it wasn’t because of us. Either way though, it’s a tragic loss.

In conclusion, all I can say is that I love these animals, and that Rhapsody’s death resonates with me as though she were my own family.

 

 

Categories: Meaning of Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

This is the way the world ends…this is the way the world ends…

the_wastelandI spoke to a good friend tonight and during our conversation my admiration of T.S. Eliot came up.

This led me to thinking about endings. Like many writers, Eliot went through a lot of personal turmoil. From what I’ve read, “The Waste Land” and “The Hollow Men” were both written during dark and trying times. I don’t think it’s necessary to read any background on Eliot to infer his private conflicts; it’s very obvious in the vivid, bleak, and cynical tone of both poems.

His choice of narrative, particularly in “The Waste Land” , is erratic and downright schizophrenic. His ‘voice’ is constantly changing throughout, as though every mood he had in the months it took him to write it, is reflected in each line of prose.

Big, epic endings are always drawn out, they never happen overnight. Not to great leaders, political powers, civilizations, or cultures – and certainly not to individuals. Sure, there are catalysts and pivotal events, the proverbial ‘point of no return’.

But the dismantling, unhinging, and unraveling of a person, for example, is a long and excruciating process. This is why people are caught unaware when a loved one or family member does something uncharacteristically self-destructive.

The inner demons each one of us uneasily stows are well camouflaged by years of practice. Sometimes, I think, from ourselves as well. We go through life taking all the jolts and setbacks to our self-worth, our ambitions, our idealization of those we care about, and eventually our defenses start to erode. Like a tall and imposing mountain peak, pummeled by the elements, it will start at first, to imperceptibly wear away. The layers of soil and rock giving in to the battering of summer and winter alike till it’s a stunted version of it’s former presence.

Sometimes precipitated by major events, oftentimes not. Feelings, emotions, thoughts are more malleable than any chemical or substance in the known universe. They change constantly, obsessions take root, negativity gets a toehold, and pretty soon little things turn into very formidable obstacles. It’s hard to predict anyone’s actual breaking point; the innocuousness of a breakdown is a frightening road trip. You cannot retrace a circuitous route. It’s as organic as photosynthesis, but the chemical reactions don’t create, they destroy.

Years can go by before a catalyst’s effectiveness is realized. We can appear to be coping, living, planning, but the corrosion is well under way. There are no signs, no bleeding profusely from the eyes or mouth, no bizarre hives or rashes, and no deformation of the spine and bones.

The change is hidden, so we go about our daily routines and take surface appearances as accurate barometers of a person’s mental state. But it’s not.

Most endings, most irrevocable declines, happen not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Categories: Meaning of Life | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Brittle Stars of Puget Sound

Today, during my shift at the Seattle Aquarium, I made sure I hand my iPhone handy so I could capture the bizarre brittle stars in their newly added exhibit.

These elusive and spidery animals are the sprinters of the sea star world. They can move surprisingly quick with their spindly arms in a rather stilted awkward crawl. Like sea stars they have a central disc that radiate five arms. Though in actual sea stars the arms taper into the center rather than appearing attached.

Aptly named, brittle stars are rather tiny and delicate. The arms are easily broken which actually aids in their survival. They regenerate quickly if an arm is latched onto and snapped off. The ones captured in this video have a center no larger than a dime, and oftentimes much smaller. They can lie flat camouflaged in sand with their arms raised, undulating in currents, appearing much like vegetation.

Like many bottom feeders they will eat detritus along a sandy bottom and filter feed plankton and other tiny organisms. However, they also prey on tiny unsuspecting mollusks, skittering and engulfing them so fast that the mollusks don’t see them coming.

In this footage a scant drop of euphausiids or krill is enough to jostle them out of their praying stance and get them moving.

 

Categories: Weird Shit I Have to Share! | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Persistence of Memory or What the Red Queen Told Alice

redqueenaliceThere is a passage from ‘Through the Looking Glass’ that has stuck with me since I first re-read Alice’s Adventures , as an adult in my early 20’s.

‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’

‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first —’

‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’

‘— but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’

‘I’m sure mine only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’

‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

It’s a conundrum that puzzles theoretical physicists and philosophers alike. What is time and what is memory in relation to time?

As I write this I am in the present, but what I just wrote is in the past and what I’m about to write is in the future. Therefore, as soon as I write a sentence it becomes the past and the future sentences that I write are always in the present. But by that rationale there never really is a present. The present is like a dog chasing it’s tail, a goal that can’t be reached, the vain pursuit of something that cannot be caught.

I’ve come to realize the worst part of being human is knowing you are and knowing you will end. Not just you but everyone and everything. What’s that old saying? “You’re never getting out of this alive.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, brilliant, stupid, lazy, accomplished…you will die. And perhaps worst, you may experience the gut-wrenching, and soul shattering death of someone or something you love.

Time takes on a whole new concept when all you have are memories and mementos. Souvenirs of experiences that cannot be repeated, the bumper sticker, the t-shirt and the emptiness.

The lifeforce of those that are gone is the perception that lingers; like staring straight into the sun and looking away. dark motes temporarily blind you to the terrestrial world and your eyes have to adjust.

Your brain does the same thing, only you don’t have to look at something specific to be blinded. Stumbling into a smell from the past, tripping over the sound of a piece of music, colliding with some random association of experience that you shared and feeling your heart clench and the breath sucked out of you as a result.

Everyone else looks fine. They go about their business, eating, working, making plans, going somewhere. Your loss is underscored by the isolation of your memory, and the object of your suffering doesn’t exist to most of those around you. It’s all in your head. Quite literally.

It’s depressing to consider that time cannot be paused when you are happy, can’t be sped up when you’re upset, or rewound when you want more. You know this but you wish for it anyway.

Whole industries and empires have been built to trick you into believing that time is on your side, that there’s a reason for everything, that when you die you can be reunited with your loved ones and stay dead happily ever after.

I guarantee you, no matter how much time you have with those you love, it won’t be enough. And when they’re gone suddenly it scrambles your brain and your short-term memory goes to shit and your intestines are inside out trying to digest battery acid.

Time is like the slot machines in a casino. Chances are you will never feel like you had an adequate amount of money to sufficiently succeed, you always run out, the game is fixed and the House always wins.

And what of those nebulous, corporeal and persistent memories of a time? Where did they go? Are they happening somewhere else, as many physicists have speculated? In the right spaceship can you go to the past or the future at will? Is our flawed concept of time structured at all? In other words- is there a past, present, and future?

I’m inclined to think that we make this shit up like we have since…oh, the beginning of time. We don’t know. Our mammalian brain tugs at our deepest and most impractical emotions while our neocortex tries to make sense of it all. It may be the greatest philosophical paradox, right after the concept of a Creator of Everything.

In the meantime, you are stuck with those memories and the uncertainty of Time. You can choose to end it all yourself, or you can navigate the trenches of existence and hopefully keep all your limbs.

Now let’s agree to be good little soldiers and march to put the future behind us.

Categories: Meaning of Life, Writer's Wisdom | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

CBC’s 48 HOURS visits The Highway of Tears

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50135366n

Last November CBS reported on the Canadian highway I’ve come to know very well after writing a non-fiction piece in fall of 2011 about the chilling and perplexing history of Highway 16 in British Columbia.

The story I wrote is published in this blog.

Categories: Uncategorized, Weird Shit I Have to Share! | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Melancholy and moving Aurora En Pekin

Categories: Meaning of Life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Bradbury Chronicles End

Ray Bradbury

“Death doesn’t exist. It never did, it never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing.”
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes
A huge influence on my development as a writer, Ray Bradbury was an original visionary with a huge heart and an endless imagination. I will miss him terribly.
Categories: Meaning of Life, Writer's Wisdom | Tags: | Leave a comment

If 3am had a theme, this would be it ~

Under The Sycamore Tree by Angelo Badalementi, sung by Jimmy Scott

Categories: Meaning of Life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Bargaining With Death

“The Seventh Seal”

Death: Do you never stop questioning?

Antonius Block: No. I never stop.

When I was little girl I believed that if I thought about death, no harm would come to me. My limited rationale reasoned that people die when they least expect it, therefore, as long as I obsessed about it I would be safe.  So obsess I did- this manifested itself in nightmares and night terrors, separation anxiety, and a kind of low-grade paranoia.  It goes so far back that I honestly don’t remember not being afraid death, consciously, that is.

Not much has changed, other than the ridiculous comfort I took in thinking about death as a way to ward it off, that’s now gone. I’ve learned it doesn’t really work that way, death can be across the street or in the same room with you, and you’ll never know until it makes itself known.

I have reached the point in my life when the blunt-force reality of death has sucker punched me. The acute and final unexpected loss of someone is inescapable and inevitable. Eventually, if I don’t die first, someone else will.  I look around myself every day and wonder who will be next…will it be me? And then I think, I need to live more and fear less. Death will always be there, waiting in the wings, but life won’t.

I’m not ready to go and I’m definitely not ready for the people and animals I love to go. There are days when I feel like I’m on the verge of some bone marrow deep understanding of the underlying processes of life, it’s nuanced subtext. But like a word or a name on the tip of my tongue, it remains out of reach. I think too much to die, I need time to put the pieces together, to elucidate my experiences. My life doesn’t resonate the way I’d like it to, I need more time. I have books, and movies and music to experience yet.

But time is elusive, an impassive observer of death and decay. Time is a human construct and has no real empirical value. Time is relative.

If I could negotiate with death, the most I could get out of it would be more time, but would it ever be enough? And what of all the people I love? Would there really be a point of outlasting them? I mean…if there really was some kind of apocalypse and everyone I knew perished, would I really want to live? Most movies and books would have us believe we would want to go on despite incalculable loss, but I wonder…it sounds like a fractured fairy tale to me.

Death is as Shakespeare had Hamlet put it, “…the undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns.” It really astounds me that other people that I shared this vital existence with have gone to the other side. They’re just…gone. What was it like for them? Did they experience anything or was it – lights out? Then there’s the after. Personally, I don’t think there is an after. But what of what’s left behind?

The sun still rises, technological innovations still occur, people continue to make plans and live with expectation. But it’s not fair, it’s not right that the imprint of someone’s life can diminish like pillow marks on your face in the morning, like they were never there.

Beauty and meaning are forgotten,  interchangeable with circumstance. Only you know what you’ve lost and what you ache to understand, and your perception isn’t pure, it’s biased and colored by a life of limited experience. In this regard, we all die alone. As sad as that sounds it’s true. No one can really go with you in the end.

A skeptic and debunker of spiritualism, Houdini spent much of his time when he wasn’t “escaping” to investigating paranormal events and spiritualists. He wanted to be proven wrong, to have definitive evidence of an afterlife, a spirit world. He  swore to his wife that if there was a way he could communicate with her after he died he would. And he didn’t.

Death can’t be avoided, but life can. The flip side of the coin of existence is this – life can languish away, under appreciated and unfulfilled until it’s finally extinguished, your body becoming “worm food” or it can be your way of letting the Universe experience it’s own wonder, in the end contributing to the stardust that we were born from. Of this I’m pretty sure.

Personally, I’d rather be stardust.

Categories: Meaning of Life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Answer to Everything in One Word

Image

For the past two or three weeks I’ve had this itch in the back of my brain. It’s not the first time this has happened – In fact, like seasonal allergies, it pops up with some regularity.

How did the Universe come to exist? What happened before the “Big Bang”?  I’m not a quantum physicist but my gut tells me GRAVITY is the answer.

In Star Wars Obi Wan Kenobi describes “the force” as “an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” That is exactly what gravity does, and that’s not all it does.

Sir Isaac Newton has been historically credited with “discovering” gravity. But in his famous Principia Mathematica he describes  “universal gravitation” in terms of how a mass of larger proportion affects another mass because of a force exerted between the two. He was even able to calculate accurately, the force it would take to launch a satellite into orbit (as opposed to beyond our orbit) based on the Earth’s constant gravitational pull.

But Newton could not explain the why or what of gravity. He’s not alone. Though Einstein was able to expound on Newton’s theories and modify them to make them more “correct” over larger distances, he also fell short of explaining the why or what. No one thus far can, despite decades of effort by quantum and theoretical physicists.

We know ( or think we know), that gravity trumps all, including light. The force is so all-encompassing that not even light traveling at 186,000 miles/sec can escape it. This sort of gravitational manifestation is known as a Black Hole. But Black Holes are so dense a mass that they actually warp spacetime as well. We infer their existence because no light can exist beyond a Black Hole’s event horizon, we can “see” the holes interacting with other objects and measure their radiation output. But so far that’s all.

I used spacetime as one word purposely. In the real world (outside of our limited 3D perspective) space is time and time is space. They’re indistinguishable in an astronomical context. Another heady subject that strains the cranium, and an existence that can’t be adequately explained, spacetime.Wormholes, M-Theory, String Theory, White Holes, Matter & Dark Matter affect or warp spacetime but what is it and how does it exist? Why can’t we manipulate it here, on Earth?

Interestingly, there have been many attempts at a “Grand Unified Theory” yet no one has managed to unite gravity with the other forces (i.e. electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force). Gravity seems to operate differently than anything else in the Universe. When we gaze into our past as far back as we can, some 13.75 billion years, we see an explosion of density and matter, the Big Bang. But what caused the bang? The general agreed upon theory is that a singularity (a super dense Black Hole with no charge and no angular momentum) was the point at which everything expanded away from and cooled. In fact, is still currently expanding and cooling.

Unfortunately Einstein’s General Theory and Hubble’s Big Bang theory can only explain what happened after the point of critical mass. Relativity stops working at an event horizon, our telescopes can detect an expanding Universe but can’t tell us what existed before or to where it’s headed. Large portions of the biography of the Universe are missing. Try reading a book with the first three chapters torn out, one here and there towards the middle, and the last four chapters missing. Good luck with that.

But when considering the behavior of matter in the Universe, the structure of nebulas, the birth and death of stars – gravity is always front and center. With nary an explanation of what exactly it is. Why is that the one force that cannot be explained by quantum physics and the only force that appears to operate independently of the other three?

Where did gravity come from? If it erupted from a singularity than how did it get there? If the Universe is infinite than how could it have a beginning or an end? Why can gravity “bend” spacetime in an otherwise flat Universe? How can it swallow whole planets and stars? Why why why?

The answer is out there, and gravity is all over it – I feel it in my carbon-based body. It leads me to wonder, perhaps we aren’t asking the right question?

Categories: Meaning of Life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.