Day 91 9/24/13: Ralph Collier’s Awesome Resume

Writing the introduction to Ralph Collier’s lecture tomorrow. This man knows everything about white sharks from their interactions with people to their inspections of inanimate objects and sea birds. He was the first to notice how white sharks roll their eyes during predatory or investigative attacks. The Egyptian Government asked for his help after a series of attacks in the Red Sea in 2010. He’s appeared in 50 documentaries, his work cited in over 300 publications. He’s written stuff on white shark dietary habits, and how they see colors and respond to sound.

It is a fascinating thing—the devotion of one’s entire life to understand the behavior of such an alien creature…. I wonder how one might compare this obsession with sharks to the obsessive drive of the artist?   It’s a question that I’m frankly too tired to contemplate, so here’s a meme:

Codependent No More

Day 90 9/23/13: New Beginnings & The End of Half-Assed Veganism

After “Sharkwater” ended, I talked with my students about Paul Watson’s remark that major social change always begin with a handful of people, not a miraculous awakening of the masses. “I think we need to do more than protest, though,” a student remarked wistfully. I agreed.  She’d pinpointed a restlessness in me to start something, to go beyond teaching–although today this section, which had felt a bit stilted, became a bit more alive.

“Why don’t classes talk more about things like this?” another student asked. “Things” like the fact that we are living through a mass extinction. On the way out, a young woman asked for advice: she had to give an informative speech. Should she talk about Sea Shepherd’s mission or the plight of sharks? As they gathered their books I overheard a few others talking “Have you seen “Blackfish”? It’s really sad.” I liked that they were talking. Sadness is a beginning. Anger is a beginning.

After the class had ended, I thought about how sharks have shaped the evolution of other animals in the sea, and how they have shaped my evolution as well. Fear and charisma. I think my students would find me weird or sentimental for saying so, but sharks are to me like strange, ancient Gods.

And what should we call the brutality and waste of shark finning but a mortal sin?

Continue reading

Day 89 9/22/13: First Ocean Dive/Santa Cruz Island

When my dive group arrived at Ventura Harbor, ambling down the ramp to the docked boat, we noticed this slumbering, adorable, blubberous sea lion stretched out on the edge of the dock, his eyes glittering in the dark.

We headed out in the morning, the ocean impossibly blue, but so rough I spent most of the ride out in the bunk down below deck, escaping the rollicking Pacific by reading an old copy of the Atlantic Monthly which luckily for me had both an article on Sylvia Plath and one on The Beatles. I tried earnestly not to throw up and succeeded.  When I did return to the deck, I learned I’d missed a pod of dolphins frolicking near the boat, but sea birds were flying close, reminding me of a  trip to Channel Islands many years before, with my friend Dan and his father Richard. An expert birder, Richard had switched his obsession to butterflies and had come to the Islands to try and spot one. As Tim O’Brien once said, “odd fragments stick to memory” and I recall that Richard told me there was technically no such thing as a seagull.

Dan and I lost our fathers months apart last year.  Before I’d come to the dive boat, I’d had a difficult afternoon.  As a writer, your material is your own life and every word I wrote, summoned my father and confirm his absence. But I tried to exert some control on the flood of memories as I stepped on the dive boat. I didn’t want to be distracted by some melancholy image of a birch tree or a pasture and end up dead, tangled in a kelp forest.   Continue reading

Day 88 9/21/13: Wetsuits, White Sharks, & Whiskey

The smell of wet neoprene has already joined the ranks of dusty hay, lilacs, and library bindings in my sense memory hall of fame. Evocative of pools–and soon the ocean. It’s been a week since I last used the wetsuit and it still isn’t dry. I suppose it doesn’t really matter since I am about to walk off the side of the boat into the ocean, but I find myself worrying about all sorts of things as I prepare to leave. My mouth feels slightly dry.  A byproduct of caffeine or Mild Terror?  I’ve packed ginger pills for nausea and a flannel sheet for the sheet-less bunk on board the boat which will sail from the quaint port of Oxnard, but I wish I had a little flask for whiskey.  Last week we read “Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor” in class and I’m not thinking of  sharks so much as the endlessness of the ocean, how border-less it is, how impossible it seems to me that people can actually create boundaries between national and international waters.

But I’d better can the poetry for now, and get on to more practical concerns like packing….and signing this petition to place covers on boat engines to protect great whites who follow cage diving boats in South Africa.

Day 87: 9/20/13: The Lemon Sharks of Jupiter

You know what really pisses me off? When people use the word “harvest” to refer to hunting animals. As if bears were wheat or lemon sharks were lemons. Of course, “harvest” is only one of many really awful euphemisms like “animal research,” or “by-catch.”

Maybe the bigger question is why human beings seem hellbent on killing the things that are already disappearing?

For the vanishing lemon sharks of Jupiter Florida, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed that the new “harvest” date begin on January 1, 2014  just as the sharks are gathering to give birth to their pups.

Please read this post from Sharksavers and leave your comments for the NMFS asking them not to change the opening date of fishing season.

The comment period closes Monday, so please take action this weekend. It will only take 5 minutes or less!

English: Lemonshark

English: Lemonshark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 86 9/19/13: Meditations on a Gaping Maw

I’ve been meditating for a little over a year now. I try to do it twice a day, although I admit sometimes I miss a session or two. But my meditations aren’t limited to those periods that I sit for twenty minutes with my eyes closed. Lately, I’ve been concentrating my attention on this image of a great white. I’ve posted it before. I don’t know what exactly sets it apart from countless other terrifying images of white sharks with tooth-ringed-death-tunnel-cavern-mouths, but in this particular photo, the shark not looks as if it has ambushed its prey (the viewer?) but is itself, startled, surprised.

In my anthropomorphic projection, I read a sense of wonder in the black eyes and open mouth.

As I study this picture,  I remember something from the meditation lecture I went to a month or so ago in which Thom Knoles paraphrased the words of Guru Dev:

Transcend where you are

Go Beyond the field of thinking

Master non-thinking

Then Transcend that

After that my lecture notes are garbled, excited. Words like “simultaneous,” “integrate,” and  “alternate” fill the margins.

When I go beyond thought (thoughts largely involving “terror” and “death”), what is there besides the creature itself?  If I go beyond thought, am I then allowed to take in the silence of the shark, its essence, which feels a little like cold sea water seeping in under my skin?

Yesterday, I had students respond to E. O. Wilson’s famous line, “In a deeply tribal sense we love our monsters.” Why do we love them? I asked the class, scrawling their ideas on the board. “Because they are free,” someone shouted. “We want their freedom.”

Maybe this solitary project should become a group meditation.