Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

The Right to Slaughter

May 13, 2015

Many people, I would guess most people, roll their eyes when they hear the term “animal rights.” People see rights as something arbitrary that are bestowed upon us by the government. You vote for your rights. Animals can’t vote, so it’s stupid to say they have any rights. This is an incredibly superficial view of existence, yet pervasive. But the truth is that rights are not arbitrary; they are inherent. In any intelligent, healthy system, it is not the government’s role to bestow rights, but to see that they are protected.

What rights do animals have? For starters, they have the right to live out the laws of their being. That should be plainly obvious. And we human beings have an obligation, a duty, to not get in the way of that. We must create our civilization in such a way that it makes it possible for the animals to do what they do. I’m sure some oaf will be thinking, “Well, we have the right to live out the laws of our being, too. If the animals get in our way, that’s their problem.” But we are a different kind of animal. We have the capacity for huge amounts of free will. We also have the capacity to destroy all life on this planet. That’s not living out the laws of our being. That’s just being greedy and blind. We don’t know anything about the laws of our being. We can’t when all we care about is money.

The preceding diatribe is inspired by the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers has just been given permission by both the Fish and Wildlife Service and a federal judge to begin the slaughter of tens of thousands of cormorants in a nesting colony on East Sand Island in the mouth of the Columbia River. I’ve been to East Sand Island and have seen that colony. Thousands of pelicans and terns congregate there as well. The slaughter has been approved supposedly to help keep the salmon from going extinct. But that’s bullshit. What they’re really doing is trying to protect the fishing industry. They want to kill the birds so that humans can eat the fish instead of the birds. We don’t actually need the fish, but the cormorants do. And they have the right to them. That’s how nature works. And if the salmon are endangered, it’s not because of cormorants. It’s because of us, through our dams and overfishing. The Army Corp of Engineers, which thought up the plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which approved it, the federal judge who approved it, and Wildlife Services, who are to carry it out, are all killers in the pay of Mammon. I don’t believe for an instant that there is any environmental concern here whatsoever. And even if there is, it’s incredibly hubristic to think that we know what to do. We’re terrible when it comes to helping nature. All we know is how to exploit it. I, for one, can never give whole-hearted allegiance to a system that does these things.

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Pelican Dreams and the Importance of Nature

April 15, 2015

Judy Irving’s new film, Pelican Dreams, is available now as a DVD, a streaming video, and a download. It’s in all the usual places—Amazon, iTunes, and, as far as we know, Netflix, although I think only as a DVD. (Other people are in charge of distribution and neither one of us has enough business sense to remember all the details.) Judy’s nonprofit company, Pelican Media, has an online store that sells the DVD, and this is, of course, how she would prefer that people view it. The store is at pelicanmedia.org. To go to the store, you can click here. I can’t pretend to be an unbiased observer, but it is a very good film. Surprisingly good. Moving, humorous, intelligent. There is one moment that never fails to choke me up. I’ve seen it 30 times or so, and it gets me every time.

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

DVD cover for Pelican Dreams

Circumstances have made me less of a hermit lately (you have to be a hermit to write a book) and I’ve been having more frequent encounters with strangers than I usually do. The usual questions come up—where do you live? what do you do? have any kids? what does your wife do? and so on. When I tell people my wife is a filmmaker they usually perk up. “Oh, yeah? What kind of films?” “Documentaries.” “What about?” “Nature mostly.” And then I often see the interest fade. A lot of people see nature as an inferior subject, not worthy of the attention of a serious artist. Nature is nice and all, but all critters do is eat, sleep, and breed. They’re not as fascinating as we human beings. This is the ignorance of an almost entirely urbanized population that is obsessed with money, technology, and celebrity, and fascinated by its own neuroses and addictions. But all life, all the plants and the animals, have a deeper reality than the one we habitually see. There is a poetry to everything that lives, and just as love is not nonsense simply because some people make bad movies or write bad songs about it, neither is nature shallow and boring just because people make shallow and boring films about it. (It’s so pitiful to feel any need to say this!) The beautiful thing about Pelican Dreams is that it captures some of the poetry of the pelican’s existence. And that existence is absorbing in a way that the neuroses of human beings are not.

Swimming in the Rain

February 12, 2015
Swimming in the Rain

Mark and Judy Go Swimming. Photo by Emily Wick

In the drink

In the drink

Pelican Dreams Opens in San Francisco

October 26, 2014
Opening Night

Opening night for Pelican Dreams at the Balboa Theater

Judy had her opening night party for Pelican Dreams Friday night at the Balboa Theater here in San Francisco. The film has been getting some excellent reviews, which is a relief. There was some concern that the general theme of the reviewers might be, “well, it’s not The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, but…” In fact, there has been little comparing. The new film is being taken on its own merits, which are considerable. The party was a lot of fun—and I say that as one who usually doesn’t do well at parties. I saw a lot of people I’ve met over the years all in one place. I met some new people, too. The party had a good feeling, which carried over to the screening.

The central location for all things pelican is http://www.pelicandreams.com. Theater dates, links to reviews, and so on. There will be more theaters added in the coming months. If you get the chance, check out the movie. It’s warm, smart, funny, and moving. It’s not really a nature documentary—not in the traditional sense. It’s a movie that stars pelicans and people. And it’s about real life.

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Olympia, Washington, where I’m giving some talks at Evergreen College. I’m looking forward to it. Then back here to help Judy with more openings and back to work on Street Song.

Sneaker Synchronicity

October 14, 2014

Nearly every October, the City of San Francisco afflicts its citizenry with the screaming lunacy of the Blue Angels. (A friend describes them as a motorcycle gang in the sky, which, I think, nails it.) I think it’s best to restrain one’s hatreds, but the Blue Angels are one of the few things I will admit to feeling contempt for. It’s been my practice for several decades now to skip town the days of the horror show. A few years ago, Judy and I and a few like-minded friends started up a tradition of going up the coast to Drakes Beach to spend the day in the sand, eating, talking, and swimming. Sometimes I bring a book, and I decided to do so this year. I wanted something lightweight (meaning, not too heavy for my daypack), something I could dip into if I felt the urge to read, but could quit easily. I studied my shelves for some time before settling on a book of poems by Gary Snyder. Short nature poems at a wild beach. Perfect.

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach is narrow and ends abruptly at the base of a long wall of sheer white cliff. You can tell from the sea weed and the channels in the sand that the waves sometimes come up all the way to the base of the cliff. But they’ve never done it during any of our outings—and I’ve been there 15 times or more. I’ve sometimes wondered, in my ignorance, if it was something that happened only at night. When Judy and I arrived around noon, none of the others had shown up yet. The fingers of the waves were coming in closer than usual. Judy asked me, “Did you check the tides before we left?” I assured her that I had, although I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d read. It seemed to me that high tide was supposed to be at 2:40 pm. But that was for the Golden Gate. I’d understood the book to say that there is a one hour 20 minute time difference between the tide times at the Golden Gate and at Point Reyes Peninsula—where we were—which would put high tide at 1:20 pm. At 1:15 the waves were still a reasonable distance away, so we relaxed. I pulled out the book of poems and began reading. I kept one eye on the waves, though, and, while I couldn’t be sure, it looked as though they might be coming closer.

Other people on the beach were becoming uneasy. Not that there was any danger. It was more a question of “Are we going to have to move our stuff?” A small group of picnickers passed by on their way up the beach, and one of them stopped to ask me if I knew when high tide was. I told her what I thought I knew, but had to admit that I wasn’t sure. She had an accent, so I asked her where she was from. She said France, which led to a brief conversation. While we were talking, I remembered reading that the Coast Guard had issued a warning for sneaker waves that day. I asked her if she knew the term “sneaker wave.” She didn’t, so I thought I ought to explain it to her. She had difficulty understanding, and was more concerned with catching up to her friends. She let me think she’d understood and then left. A few minutes later, a guy approached me and asked if I was waiting for a particular wave, a wave that had a name. His question made no sense to me. I thought he was just being goofy, and I was a little rude until I realized that he was French, too, a friend of the woman, and was seeking clarification on what a “sneaker wave” was. As we talked, the surf kept throwing out an occasional longer wave. Last gasps of the high tide? Playing it safe, Judy and I moved our stuff a little closer to the cliff and onto a slightly elevated portion of the beach. The way the waves were breaking, I felt certain we were in a place that would stay above it all. I spotted a park ranger coming down the sand, so I trotted over to ask if she knew when high tide was. She said 2:40, which meant I’d misunderstood the tide log. It was obvious now that we were were going to have to abandon the beach entirely. Right at that moment, two of our friends, Bruce and Michele, showed up. As Judy and I greeted them a huge wave reared up, smacked down on the sand, and started rolling toward our stuff. The four of us hoisted everything up off the sand just in time. We were luckier than most. Up and down the beach, folks were mourning over their soaked picnic supplies. Just then the French girl walked by. “That was a sneaker wave,” I shouted.

As we were leaving, Bruce noticed that we’d missed one item, the book of poems by Gary Snyder. It was sitting in a shallow pool of seawater. He picked it up, handed it to me, and I saw the title again: Regarding Wave.

Into the Arms of Mother

August 24, 2014
The starting point of the swim, with the finish line on the horizon.

The starting point of the swim, with the finish line on the horizon.

I successfully completed my swim this morning. 38 minutes. It wasn’t all that hard, but I feel wasted now. In a couple of days, I’m leaving for a week in LA and will write about the swim when I get back. (Judy’s new film Pelican Dreams is going to be released into theaters this fall, and we have to do some work on it down there.) I love open-water swimming. I couldn’t do the crawl before I met Judy. Now, I’m okay at it. Slow, though. I was able to do the 1.2 miles in 38 minutes because we swam it on a flood tide. It was astonishing how fast we were moving along the city shoreline. Fun to watch.

Staying in Contact with Mother

August 22, 2014
Baby Parrot

Baby Cherry-headed Conure

I still get called in every now and then to deal with the parrots. This morning someone telephoned to say that he had a parrot in a bush outside his front door, that it had been there for several hours without moving. He lived just up the street, so I put aside work on the book and headed over with a towel and a small travel cage that I use for emergencies. I was expecting to find a sick adult, or maybe a bird that had crashed into a window. To my surprise, it was a brand new baby. I’d never seen one out of the nest earlier than August 31st, and usually I didn’t start seeing them until early September. So this one was at least nine days ahead of schedule. Parrots rarely go so low to the ground, so he had to have been in some kind of trouble. When I walked toward him, he bolted away to a nearby bush. I heard parrots in some trees call out and he responded. The parents! The baby then flew up to a tall poplar where they were waiting for him. He looked a little weak and sloppy, but he made it. He’s in safe hands now. My hunch is that he fledged a little too soon, or else he’d been trying to keep up with his parents before he was ready to. At first after fledging (taking their first flight) the babies take only short flights and stay in a tree for most of the day waiting for the parents to come back and feed them. I always love seeing the babies. They look so fresh and innocent looking with their big baby eyes.

On another nature note, I belong to something called the South End Rowing Club, which Judy got me into. It’s not what its name might make it seem. It’s at the north end of the city and caters mostly to swimmers, but does have rowers and handball players, too. It’s a blue collar club—not a fancy white collar one. The building is real old and located right on the beach of a cove in San Francisco called Aquatic Park. Most people stick to the cove for their swims, but there are some intrepid swimmers who venture out into the bay itself, swimming Alcatraz and beyond. Judy’s one of those. After sticking to the safety of the cove for thirteen years, I’m about to do my first out-of-cove swim. I’ll be doing a 1.2 mile swim out in the bay along the shoreline from something called Coghlan Beach back to the cove. I’ll be doing it on a flood tide, so it should be relatively easy—like a log being washed along by the tide. I’ve been training for several weeks, and it’s done a lot to take my mind off my book frustrations. (Things are getting better in that department, by the way.) The swim is Sunday morning. Wish me luck.

Is There a Place for Technology?

July 19, 2014

Today I was perusing the New York Times web site and came upon an article about “what role poetry plays in a technologized world.” The full article belonged to the premium level of the web site, so I was only able to read the teaser. But I thought, “That’s backwards.” The root of existence is utterly pure—pure poetry. It’s the place where there is no commerce, desire, anger or lies. It’s the pure playing out of what really is. We have arisen from that, as has everything else. The poetry is karma, which is not reward and punishment, but cause and effect. Karma is the events that arise, in part, from the decisions we make, some of which are less pleasant that others. And karma is inexorable. As Stephen Gaskin once said (I’m paraphrasing), “Karma can be compared to taking a swing at a golf ball in a fully tiled bathroom. It’s going to get you.” Technology, along with a bunch of other of our creations, has been leading us away from an awareness of the purity of reality. Technology is not reality. It’s virtual reality. If we don’t reduce our obsession with the distraction, we’re going to suffer greatly for it. So the real question is what role technology might play within the pure poetry of the universe.

Thought for the Day

May 17, 2014

When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones

Gary Snyder, from Regarding Wave

Venturing into the Future

April 19, 2014

A couple of days ago, Judy and I drove north to Eureka to screen her new film Pelican Dreams for some wildlife rehabilitators who helped with the project. (The film isn’t ready for release yet. She still has a lot of color correction and sound work to do. But she has achieved what’s called “picture lock,” meaning there won’t be any more changes to the visuals.) The screening was an interesting experience. It was held in a creative performance space—actually an old warehouse at the edge of town. When we got there the entrance was surrounded by homeless people who were either sleeping or just hanging out. We carried our gear inside (projector, screen, laptop, speakers) and  discovered that the power had been shut off by the utility company for nonpayment. Someone had forgotten to send in the check. The warehouse is divided into two spaces, and on the other side of the wall an industrial punk band was rehearsing. We got their attention during a break, and they let us run an extension cord over to their side. We were able to draw enough juice to power the projector and our small speakers. So that audience members could find their way to their seats, we lit the winding hallway into the theater with candles. The band had paid to rent the space where they were rehearsing, so they weren’t willing to call it a night. We had to run the first half of the film over the sound of their pounding drums, howling vocals, and buzz-sawing guitars, which were just on the other side of the wall. Somehow it worked. Everybody accepted the situation for what it was. I was most amused by two women in their seventies who ran the gauntlet of homeless people outside the warehouse, picked their way through the candle-lined hallway, and watched the show with the punk band playing behind the wall. They could have been old hippies, but they didn’t look it. Whatever they were, they were unruffled by it all.

I was thinking later that this is how the future is going to be. We’re going to live through a time where the availability of energy is unreliable. In this particular case, it brought people together. Everyone had a good time.