Sunday, October 26, 2008
Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and feared dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound's orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who carefully track the endangered animals.
"This is a disaster," Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday.
While the official census won't be completed until December, the number of live "southern resident" orcas now stands at 83.
Among those missing since last year's count are the nearly century-old leader of one of the three southern resident pods, and two young females who recently bore calves.
The loss of the seven whales, Balcomb said, would be the biggest decline among the Puget Sound orcas since 1999, when the center also tracked a decline of seven whales.
OK, so why am I now posting about whales? Well, two reasons: First, many may not know this, but they are my favorite animal. (Mammal, I know, I know).
Secondly, I've been on four or five whale watching expeditions, and while the humpback remains my favorite of the species, the Orca whales of Puget Sound gave Wendy and me the most joyous adrenaline rush we've experienced on vacation. Here's what happened...
The year was 1997. We'd been whale watching the year before off of the coast of Maine and only saw one small Minke whale. So, we entered into our second whale watching experience, off of the coast of Washington State, with a bit of trepidation and a lot of cautious hope. We'd been out on the water a couple of hours when the guide began to spot Orcas. Lots of them. In fact, she said she thought we were approaching an entire pod of Orcas - a traveling band of about thirty whales.
The boat stopped and we watched from a distance. Suddenly, from another direction, a second group of whales began to move in. Markings, size, and behavior allowed the guide to recognize these whales by sight. Each had a name, each a distinct personality.
We watched approximately 60 whales begin to play, spy-hop, breech, and communicate.
The word must've spread, because a few moments later came the remaining pod of Orcas that inhabit the Puget Sound area. Even the guide was in speechless awe. She said she'd never seen this happen before, but the 90 whales we saw dotting the horizon made up what they call a "Superpod".
We stayed and watched in silent joy for what felt like hours.
I hope these whales can be saved. I know a 'Save the Whales' statement would get scoffed at in this day and age when we are having a hard enough time saving ourselves. But, these majestic giants of the sea are a glimpse at something divine. I hope, if we can't save them ourselves, we can at least stay far enough out of their way so they can thrive, and we can still watch from just off the mainland.
Monday, October 13, 2008
As I listened to our associate minister gather the woes of the world up in his arms yesterday, sharing a passage from my favorite prophet, the Patron Saint of New Jersey, I was struck by the notions that (1) I truly love belonging to a church where Bruce Springsteen can be quoted from the pulpit, and (2) tattered though we are, we're still the Land of Hope and Dreams.
It got me to thinking about how, in my circle of friends at least, the sacred and the secular commingle. The Right and the Left meet in the middle for a handshake and an agreement for a fair match. Did I just get lucky? Because here are The People I Know:
The Conservatives I know love America, want the government to help where they must, and stay out of the way otherwise. They believe more firmly in the common man than the politician. They want their kids to have the best education possible. They are generous with their hard-earned money, and more apt to give a check to the MDA than the NRA. They work hard, and want to provide for their loved ones. They expect the best of others. They pray for peace, and hate the notion of war. They believe in love, not fear; unity, not division.
The Liberals I know love America, want the government to improve our communities, and stay out of the way as much as possible. They believe more in the common man than the politician. They want their kids to have the best education possible. They are more apt to spend their Saturdays helping a neighbor than picketing a power plant. They work hard, and want to provide for their loved ones. They expect the best of others. They pray for peace, and hate the notion of war. They believe in love, not fear; unity, not division.
The People of Faith I know are humble and kind. They don't believe they have all the answers, but trust their Creator, respect those of other faiths, or of no faith at all, and pray that they may be better people, not that others may be better people. They don't want to convert you, but seek to live the kind of life that makes others want to know more about what they believe. They find truth in everything from the Gospels to Garrison Keillor, from Jesus to Jazz. They believe in love, not fear: unity, not division.
The People Who Search that I know are humble and kind. They aren't sure who, if anyone, is driving this little blue marble, but they trust themselves, their loved ones, and the wisdom handed down before us to help navigate them through rough terrain. They respect people who spend their Sunday mornings at the altar as much as they respect those who spend their Sunday mornings at Starbucks, and believe that we all choose a path best suited for our journey. They find truth in everything from the pen of Vonnegut to the assurance of science. They believe in love, not fear; unity, not division.
When I read the news about people calling for the death of one of our presidential candidates, or see the venom spewed between persons of different faiths, in the name of what they believe, I consider myself more than a little blessed. I don't know those people. The People I Know remind me what is best about our nation and our world. We have our moments of anger and confusion, but we see ourselves as on an arms-locked journey together, not in a combative race. We wrestle thoughtfully with our choices and our decisions, and we wish each other the best. We often walk out of step with one another, but we're all trying to get to the same place:
Big wheels roll through fields
Where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams
Thursday, October 9, 2008
There's a great scene in the film "Hannah and Her Sisters" where Woody Allen's character, a classic hypochondriac, is relieved of the very real concern he might have cancer. He leaps for joy, then almost crumbles on his way back to earth, as the weight of the world is lifted, only to be replaced by the existential burden of eschatology: what is the point? Why bother?
The notion sends him on a spiritual quest. After he re-explores his abandoned Jewish heritage, he then seeks out Catholicism, including a brilliant scene where we see him unloading his shopping items for the day: a crucifix, a painting of Christ, and a loaf of Wonder Bread.
But, Woody can't get behind the papal traditions either. To him, it's a Catechism In the Rye. So, he walks the streets of Manhattan questioning why there is suffering, and what it all means. Then, exhausted and depressed, he wanders into a place that restores a glimmer of hope for him; not a synagogue or a cathedral, but an old movie house showing The Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup". As he watches Groucho, Harpo, and Chico defy their audience not to laugh at their antics, the corners of his mouth begin to rise. Finally, his spirit reluctantly embraces the notion of hope.
Most of us are likely reeling from the daily dire reports of financial woes, political divisiveness, and the accompanying feelings of fear and uncertainty. I'm quite blessed these days amid it all, and yet, I absorb the stress like Spongebob absorbs sea water. It's hard not to. I'd go back to see my chiropractor for a tension-reducing adjustment, but I just recently learned that she died of cancer a few months ago at the age of 39. This life will humble you quickly...and repeatedly. To quote another New Yorker, Lou Reed: "Life's good...but not fair at all."
We only have so much control over the affairs of the world, and the best we can do is keep our little portion of it as tidy as possible. That includes our spirits.
In terms of coping mechanisms for the rest of it - the monumental rest of it - I encourage everyone to realize the equally monumental power of humor. Mark Twain said it was mankind's only truly effective weapon. It got Hawkeye Pierce through the Korean War, and Kurt Vonnegut through the bombing of Dresden. If it weren't for "The Daily Show", "The Office", and my friends on Facebook who keep me in stitches, I think I'd go over my credit limit on therapy bills alone.
So, rely on your prayer beads and your business acumen, but also be sure to take some time out for an old stand-up comedy routine, a favorite movie clip, a sit-com on TV Land. It seems trite, but you don't realize how cathartic it is, how prayerful it is, to simply revel in the ridiculous, if only for a few moments a day.
Laughter is God's spiritual version of electrolytes. Replenish your spirit, and get back in the race.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Do you believe man is a rope stretched over the abyss?
Do you believe PJ and Dolly will always cry 'Not Me' when accused of a wrongdoing?
Do you wrestle with the notion of a higher power?
Do you wonder why dad turns his comic strip over to the artistically-stunted, pun-loving Billy on holidays?
Well, then, this site is for you:
My buddy John turned me on to it and I meant to post the link a long time ago, but when a friend on Facebook today reminded me that 'from chaos comes order', and I couldn't remember if he was quoting Nietzsche or Mel Brooks, this website came flooding back to me.
So, enjoy the caustic, nihilism of the notorious German philosopher merged with the images of the family so cute and clever even Hallmark hates them. It's the Nietzsche Family Circus!