Saturday, August 29, 2009

All We Love Will Be Lost--The Coral Reef Edition

Yesterday, I went Scuba diving and snorkeling in the marine sanctuary off Key Largo. Part of it was job related--tough gig, I know--as I was there to do an observation of a field trip that one of our Science Faculty has created for her classes.

On the boat in the morning, I overheard one of the dive guys say that he'd just heard on the radio that the ocean temperature at Molasses Reef was 91 degrees, the hottest ocean temperature ever recorded at that location. The normal temp would be 83 or 84 degrees. But we may be looking at the new normal. This summer has seen the hottest recorded ocean temperatures across the globe. Should these temperatures remain as the new normal, we're facing severe consequences. Most of the marine life that we like best, whether to look at or to eat, cannot survive those temps. What can survive? Jellyfish, and other creatures we find unpleasant.

As I swam the rest of the day, I looked at all the beautiful fish, so many of them, awed at such variety. I felt like I was part of some gorgeous movie, as swarms of fish came towards me and swam around me. I felt oddly at home in this quiet environment (quiet to me, at least), which is strange, of course, since I can't remain submerged there long without a tank of oxygen on my back and other bulky equipment that weighs me down on land but becomes more weightless in the water.

I felt a piercing sorrow, since these creatures may be doomed, and I hate that helpless feeling that it's much too late, and I can do nothing about it. I thought of what John Dufresne says in his wonderful book about writing, The Lie that Tells a Truth: "But death is the central truth of our existence--the sadness at our core. Everything we love will vanish. We can't hold on to anything. It is this tragedy that accounts as well for the beauty and nobility of our lives because in the face of this knowledge, we go right on loving, trying to hold on to what we cherish, defying death with hubris and with faith" (p. 61).

Some day, perhaps I will be that old woman who tells youngsters what the seas used to look like: "Before the seas became so enswamped with jellyfish that you can't swim through them, there were beautiful creatures in such a breathtaking variety of color and shapes. You don't believe me, but I swam there, and I tell you that it was true."

Maybe the question that future generations will ask is not that old classic: "What did you do in the war?" Maybe it will be "Why didn't you do more to save these threatened environments?" Or maybe no one will be around to ask these questions, no one human at least.

I think that one of the most important jobs that we have as writers is to be observers who write things down. I've noticed that in my own life, things that I don't write down tend to be lost. Of course, throughout human history, the act of writing doesn't ensure against the loss of what we love. But future generations have a record.

I love the coral reef and all its beautiful (and ugly) inhabitants--even jellyfish have a strange beauty. I love old-fashioned vinyl records and typewriters and the summers of my youth. I love the music of the 80's, even the music that I hated during that time period. I love the Appalachian mountains and the museums in Washington D.C. The list of all I love is so long and getting longer. My life is so short and getting shorter. Nothing to be done but to write it down.

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