Dust, Whales, Cancer & Life in a Changing World


If you asked me “What do you love best?” I would shuffle my feet, clear my throat, think of my family and friends, and answer, “The beauty of this planet.”  No one would be lessened or slighted because we are part of the beauty of this planet. I would go on to explain the following:

I will always hold the fragrance of geraniums oozing into the warm Los Angeles air in my grandmother’s garden. She served tea and See’s candy on a blanket spread across the lawn where we could see in the distance the brilliantly blue Pacific Ocean  from her Los Angeles hilltop home. No older than two-years, I didn’t understand that my mother’s premature death was just days ago. The red geraniums among the ferns and other verdant plants in my grandmother’s  garden, with the big blue at earth’s end, is the only memory I can bring up from that time. The garden, the sea, and the candy, of course, soothed me and I was comforted even when my grandmother tried to explain that “Mommy won’t be coming home anymore.”

Fast forward six months later, my new home was in the middle of the Mojave Desert. There were no neighborhood children with whom to play with, so I learned to play with my imagination.  I created a world with creeks, rivers, lakes, and an ocean in the distance.  This world was built in the desert sand, and the creeks that ran into my ocean, were compliments of a nearby hose.

Into my teens the Pacific Ocean was this California girl’s savior from all the angst that a teenage girl can hold within.

College years took me to the high mountains of California where the smell of fallen oak and sycamore leaves called to sooth my continuous nervous state.

Adulthood to include motherhood, brought me two daughters, one named Ocean because she encompassed all the beauty and power of the sea; and another named Dakota because I saw her filled with the spirit of the Earth itself.

My choice of getaways and vacations is rarely urban, but always a place where trees, water, or simply silence and big skies become my distraction. I find equal beauty in our deserts, forests and coastlines. On a boat, mid-sea, life teams in ways we still don’t understand. The depth of the sea is as daunting as the height of travel by air when we touch the clouds and infinite sky.

Sadly, this beautiful planet is ill, very, very ill. Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t develop this cancer by my connection with the planet. Are we paralleling each other? Well, that seems rather bold and overtly prideful, but I can’t help but wonder — especially with the reports of Earth’s unusual and consistent rowdy weather, and the crisis within our oceans. Melting ice. Plastic pollution. Acidification. Hypoxia. Dying coral reefs. Sick marine mammals. Unusual  mass die-offs and stranding.

Yesterday, with a friend, I walked along the beautiful Central Coast bluffs. A magnificent display of wildflowers painted rainbow colors up against the cerulean blue sea. It was breathtaking. My friend shared her story about a recent whale watch trip. “It was great. We saw seven gray whales. But there was a baby whale that was alone and swimming south instead of north. That bothered us.”

An explanation failed me even while I’ve amassed quite a bit of information about the gray whale since my first personal encounter with them in San Ignacio Lagoon.  That single experience opened my mind and eyes to those of the gray whale. It was transformative. Laugh if you might, but I can feel their connection when we are near each other. There is a certain kind of a vibe, if you will, that whales can transmit. It’s not a vibe sent just to me, but to any human willing to allow it to penetrate our thick skins and ignorant minds.

Research, science, naturalists, oceanography and everyday observation of our seas, worldwide, can not debate that something’s off-kilter with our oceans.

Today’s Orange County Register reported that with this season’s annual gray whale migration from the cold waters of the Bering Strait and the north Pacific Ocean to Mexico and back, that  30 gray whales have been discovered dead.   “This year already represents the third-largest gray whale mortality total on record, when compared to the first four months of the year, and it’s not even the peak stranding season, which is typically late April through June,”  said Justin Greenman, assistant stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Stranding Network.

The migrant whales are skinny. The Mexican researchers reported that 60% of the arriving whales were thin. They compared it to an anorexic woman who is unable to conceive, or carry through her pregnancy, or provide milk for her child to nurse. Consequently the gray whale birthrate this season was substantially down. That’s not good. We were warned of this years ago at a workshop I attended in San Francisco. As the Alaskan waters warm, the bulk of a gray whale’s food source will deplete or move to colder waters. That would be north of their usual summer feeding grounds, giving the whale a longer migration route. Plus, those northern waters are warming at record speed — beyond what scientists predicted.

So to answer my friend’s question about the wayward gray whale calf, “This could be one reason so many juvenile whales have been appearing in the Los Angeles Harbor — to snack in a shallow-water habitat. It’s the same in San Francisco, Alisa Schulman-Janiger (who runs the Gray Whale Census & Behavior Project from the Point Vicente Interpretive Center on the Palos Verdes Peninsula,) said, where whale experts have reported at least five skinny whales feeding in the harbor.”

Furthermore,  “Schulman-Janiger worries there’s an ‘ecosystem crash,’ with warmer-than-normal waters in Alaska melting ice and having an impact on their food.

“ ‘They probably stayed longer to try and find food. And when they got to Mexico, it was a quick turn-around,’ she said. ‘Mom needs to go get food. She’s not going to hang out socializing, she’s going to go get food.

” ‘If something is wrong with them, something is wrong with the ecosystem.” ‘

This is one of the negative marine issues happening on the West Coast. Visit my blog Neptune 911 to discover that these are worldwide issues.

Meanwhile, I do my best to not impact our planet as much as I possibly can. At the moment, it’s a bit of a challenge because of some medical issues that require less environmentally-friendly purchases. That frustrates me. But it represents the same insidious conditions of a changing climate — more heat, more call for refrigeration; more extreme cold, more call for heating. Disruptive and violent weather, more call for the use of non-breakable plastics, more plastics washing out to sea; more mining for rare earth and other minerals for more life-saving devices and communication efforts; more inability to farm resulting in more migration — like the gray whale hunting further and further for food. Migration can bring more intolerance toward change and population fluctuations. Radicalism grows as we tribalize to protect our race, our faith, our way of life.

Was this what the great brain of the whale has tried to communicate as it forgives us for our history of their slaughter?  I don’t know. These questions simply swim through my imagination like that time as a child in the dry Mojave Desert trying to create my own fertile and happy world in the dust with a hose.










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