I just read the news that Tahlequah is pregnant again. Oh, how I hope this baby will survive the pregnancy and thrive, for Tahlequah’s sake, for the pod’s sake, for the world.
Lynda V. Mapes, who covered the Tahlequah’s journey of grief for the Seattle Times two years ago, reports that scientists have confirmed the orca’s pregnancy from drone pictures. We can hope.
Down to a population of just 72 whales, every baby counts for southern resident orcas. And their chances for successful pregnancies are not good. About two-thirds of all southern resident pregnancies are typically lost, researcher Sam Wasser of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington has found. Stress from hunger due to lack of salmon is linked to the whales’ poor reproductive success…
Yesterday, I felt like I was forgetting something important. Someone’s birthday.
Today, I realized what had been tugging at me. July 24 marked the second anniversary of the birth, and death, of an orca made world famous by her mother’s 17-day sojourn of grief.
Humans are not the only species that feel the suffering of loss.
Tahlequah’s previous child had been stillborn three years earlier, and this one did not hold the thread of life much longer. Tahlequah held her dead child above water on her rostrum, following her pod of killer whales for over 1,000 miles. Her companions took turns helping her keep the baby afloat until finally, after 17 exhausting days, the grieving mother released her daughter back into to the sea.
Like the tip of the iceberg, like the dying canaries in unsafe mines, another species makes visible the hidden toxins beneath our changing landscapes and seascapes.
“Regrettably, approximately 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population as “Endangered” have not survived.“
Tahlequah, known by scientists as J-35, is part of the J pod of the Southern Resident community of killer whales that frequents Haro Strait in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Unlike seal-eating transients, the Residents’ diet relies on Chinook salmon. With salmon runs ever more depleted, and the increasing pollution in our seas, the orca population not only suffers malnutrition but also the build up of harmful biochemicals in their bodies. Those high levels of PCBs are a big part of infant mortality.
In her deeply moving memoir, Into Great Silence, poet and scientist Eva Saulitis described her experiences with another group of orcas, the AT1 (Chugach Transients), a pod devastated by the Valdez Oil Spill. Saulitis paralleled their situation with her own losing battle against cancer. How I wish she were still here, sharing her lyrical, luminous reflections on the natural world.
Her Chugach Transients are disappearing. The Southern Residents may not survive much longer.
“In the seminal 1989 book The End of Nature, Bill McKibben confronts a new reality, a world in which human impact alters even the untamed force of weather. Our dominion over the earth, our global reach, our changing climate, our acidification of the rain and the ocean, our mass poisoning of the communal food supply mean nature as we once conceived it — bigger than us, out of our control, pure and free — is over. Nothing on this earth is apart from human tinkering. No raindrop falling on my face is free of human causation. Even my body, burdened with cancer, burdened with fifty years worth of toxins, enacts this truth.“
Lima, Peru, 29 April 2020, COVID-19 Lock-up
by Rose Mary Boehm
These bars surprised me when we bought
the flat. Hated living behind bars.
But most people in the days of the terror
lived behind bars, and soon they
made me feel safe
in Lima, the town of thieves.
Coronavirus, and the bars are no longer
in place to keep out, but to keep in.
How many weeks has it been?
Too many, too few… It’ll be a while
yet. There are those who don’t believe.
Who defy the orders, authorities
who can be bought, too many who
drink, dance and make merry,
too many who die.
A conspiracy of death. The elderly, the young,
the black, the white, the gay, the poor, the evil,
the out of work, the workers,
And we have become prisoners
of reason and of fear.
The front door opens, the gateway to…
We have been immensely privileged to be able to enjoy open spaces and forest walks in these complicated times, but as the weather warms and more people are out, we have to find new, less traveled routes. Our masks are not enough when others do not wear them, nor honor the distancing that keeps us safe.
We have been spared the harsh nightmares that others are living through with COVID-19, but there is no escaping the new reality. The invisibility of the enemy and the uncertainty of the future are constant undercurrents.
With friends and family scattered across the globe, many in places where the virus has been devastating, we are extremely lucky to have had our little bubble of isolation in Tennessee. We have been sharing our quarantine with on of our sons and his family -only ten minutes from us – and were able to hold our new granddaughter as soon as she got home. (Thankful for the Knoxville hospital’s careful protocols!) Our Click List online shopping has been working well, except for the lack of bleach and other disinfectant products. We open the trunk, they load our groceries, we shut the trunk. No contact. The little sanitizer we have left stays in the car for gas pumps and drive through pickups.
Nevertheless, there is always a hovering nervousness, a fear of unwitting contamination. Did we wipe down every inch of packaging? Will a slip in the wiping of that bag of frozen peas come back to haunt us? Apparently, the virus can survive 6 months in a freezer! We haven’t seen our usual mailman in a while. What if he sneezed or coughed on our mail? Did we get too close to our neighbors while talking in the yard? Unlike us, several still go to their workplaces. Considering that the active virus has been found even on particles of air pollution, everything becomes suspect. I don’t walk around fearful, but at the back of my mind is the ever present possibility of inadvertent exposure to someone or something or some surface where the demon virus hides in wait. Nothing is taken for granted. No guarantees.
In the back of my head, a thousand future scenarios play out. I imagine a post-recovery period, looking back at the Before, considering the After. There is a new line drawn in the sand. Who will not be there? What businesses will be gone? How will architecture prepare for future pandemics? What new systems will be in place?
Here’s an author to watch! Stay on the lookout for whatever stories, novels, or series might spin out of her posts. J. Federle will take you far beyond Hansel and Gretel, past Red Riding Hood and her big bad wolf, and will leave Beauty in the safety of the happy-ever-after realm while Federle takes you into serious, often disturbing adventures with the unknown. Yet just as easily as she can terrify us, she can serve up humorous encounters with the paranormal and philosophical reflections on being and non-being…
Last spring, my sister and I drove to a dog park a bit further into the country. This “dog park” is better pictured as a pasture for horses: a wooden fence frames a massive field of rolling grass. The dogs did their dog-thing, and we headed to leave.
Before piling into the car, though, I begged my sister to let me take a photo.
Across the road from the parking lot, an old red bridge led into the woods. It fed whoever crossed it onto a walking path, one that dipped and turned before disappearing into the trees.
We didn’t think much of walking over. But as I took the photo, we heard… something.
It was an almost-scream? High-pitched and brief, but organic. From the fleshy throat of something living. We glanced at each other. At the direction it had come from—toward two trees to our left, where between them…
This story is part of a larger novel. The dune-covered mountain Yuraq Orqo (yuraq means white in Quechua, orqo means mountain) was sacred to the ancient Nazca culture. It became known as Cerro Blanco after the Spanish conquest. I read and heard several versions of its origin story while researching my novel, and wanted to include the essence of the tale, while weaving in some of the differing perspectives. Some were told like cautionary tales (the unfaithful wife will be punished), some were tales of liberation (the young savior who frees the unhappy daughter). Some featured battles between ancient gods, others were post-conquest intrigues between Lords and Ladies. What still strikes me as significant food for further rumination and exploration, is that the god/lord/curaca/chief and the lover/rescuer/thief both had names, but the female character was consistently referred to by the name of the mountain she became. She may be revered as a sacred mountain, but as a woman, she remains nameless.
“Patya had heard so many variations of the legend that she once asked her grandmother which one was right. Kuyllay replied that they all were. ‘There is never only one way to see something,’ she said. ‘Stories should keep you thinking.’ ”