Monday, November 24, 2014

Blackfish Friday

The endangered Southern Resident killer whales have been venturing south into Puget Sound the last several days. I was working with my husband at our project house, an hour away from home the sunny Saturday day they spent hours just off the coast of Blake Island, which I can see from my living room window. Glad to be doing my part (vacuuming) for our home renovation livelihood, happy for those who were witnessing the majestic whales, but sad I wasn't among them.

Today, thanks to the folks who post sightings on the Orca Network, I tracked the progress of a pod (extended family) of fifteen or so whales first sighted near Tacoma this morning that spent hours in local waters wowing area residents who took to parks and lookouts to spot them.

It was already late afternoon, 3:45 p.m. and raining, when I grabbed my brand new binoculars (oops, Dad, I pre-spent my Christmas cash!) and hopped in the car for a ten minute drive to the Southworth ferry terminal to wait as they would emerge from the north end of  the Colvos Passage that runs between the west side of Vashon Island and the southmost end of the Kitsap Peninsula, an infrequent, but not unheard of route.

After watching from the dock until my hat was soaked, I joined a handful of other folks inside the ferry building, all of them like me, with binoculars,cameras, and the Orca Network Facebook page loaded onto smart phones. We stood, nose to windowpanes, all eyes on the slate water as the minutes passed  and daylight waned.

The whales had been taking their time all day, which is a good sign, it meant they were finding salmon--which comprises nearly all of their diet, and which, sadly, due to dams that block their runs and overfishing, is at 10% of historic levels. The whales came into the Sound a few weeks ago, the entire length and back in one day, never stopping their swimming, as they looked unsuccessfully for food.

There were 98 Southern Residents when they were declared endangered. Today there are 78. Ten have died since 2010. There are very few whales having babies. None were born in 2013. The one born this year died after only 17 days. The whales are most likely starving, but today they found fish. Today they meandered.

Photo taken in the morning from Point Defiance by Birds The Word. For more photos visit Facebook.

Today I rejoiced when, against black water, and deep gray sky, their sleek dark fins sliced through the water mid-passage in the last minutes of visibility. Unable to see past the reflections in the window, I had repositioned myself outside in the rain again as word of their progress came. Though they were too far away to hear, I felt my pulse quicken and I gasped in amazement each time a whale surfaced, as though I were being given glimpse after glimpse of the beloved divine.

I have learned a tremendous amount about these whales in the past two years. The book Death at SeaWorld, and the movie Blackfish which is available on Netflix, have been instrumental in my education, and I have littered this post and one last year with facts so that you, too, may know how these creatures hover on the verge of extinction.

There was an excellent and sobering article in a recent issue of The Skagit Review.

Although they may spark our thinking, I don't think facts convert us. It is the heart that turns within us and changes us. It is the spirit of the other that touches our own spirits, that bridges division and weaves recognition until we feel and know that we are one. Though I cannot recognize individuals by sight as many devotees can, these whales have captured my heart.

I did not love them years ago when I watched them perform tricks in a concrete tank, accompanied by rock music, flashing lights, and stilted trainer dialogue at SeaWorld Orlando. I considered them nothing more than trained chimpanzees or dogs, there only to entertain me. Truth be told, I wanted Shamu to do more flips.

But, two years ago, riding the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle, and rushing on deck to witness as they swim around us, to hear the potent primal whoosh of their breath, I understood that I had moved to their home, that they belonged only where they chose to live, and I began to repent.

I pray it is not too late for them, or for us to save them. It may be arrogant to think that we can save them; but it is our arrogance that has doomed them.

To say I am awed and humbled by their power, their beauty, their devotion, their perseverance is not enough. There is something about these whales and their consciousness--surrounding a ferry carrying tribal artifacts last year, for example--that resonates within me, that has become my passion, and that calls me to action on their behalf.

So what is a middle-aged writer who knows nothing about marine biology or environmental science, and who, with her husband, has invested everything in their home renovation business to do?  Write a book of poetry and donate 10% of her royalties to the Orca Network. My book, Burnt Offerings, came out in January, and my sales have been small, less than 100 copies. I don't have a budget for promotion, and unfortunately didn't receive reviews from blogs or other sites to drive sales.

That said, Burnt Offerings has received half-a-dozen excellent reviews on Amazon, and I have been able to donate $48 to the Orca Network. I want to give more, but my finances what they are, I need to sell books to do that. So, from now until December 31, I'll donate $1 from each copy of Burnt Offerings sold through my website to the Orca Network (which is two to five times more than my usual royalty donation).

I hope you'll consider buying a book or two as Christmas gifts. All books will be autographed and inscribed, and will include a photo card of my previously unpublished poem, "Lament for Blackfish." Click here to order. Please help me spread the word.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Story Behind My Veil

“There’s no sense in spending eight hours a day doing something you’re not passionate about.”

Those words of wisdom came from Cat, the twentyish cosmetologist who cut my hair yesterday. She’s newly licensed, working her way through a six-month training with the Gene Juarez Salon.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Facebook lately, giving things away, and my hair fell to the floor by Cat’s feet because of it.

In my old life, I was a settled homeowner and pastor, the walls of my home office plastered with Christian symbols, especially cross plaques; my neck adorned with one of two dozen cross necklaces—many gifts from parishioners and family—outward proclamations of my inner convictions.

In my Washington life, I don’t display much, not knowing how many months until we move again and I’m spackling nail holes, touching up walls, packing knick-knacks. Other than my wedding ring, I rarely wear jewelry; it’s a hazard in remodeling, a nuisance when gardening.

So when I unpacked the Christian symbols that’d been boxed for nearly three years, I knew they belonged to my past, not my future. I wanted to give them away, but not to the Goodwill to be sorted, tagged, sold to strangers.

Wall plaque group shot for Facebook

Necklaces round 1, group shot for Facebook
Last winter I gave away furniture and clothing my grandmother made, the brass day bed my husband’s mother gave us, and many other major or sentimental items through the Buy Nothing community that flourished on Bainbridge Island. I chose the recipients, knew their names, and a little something about them.

While the Buy Nothing project has spread around the country and world, in my new locale, the component of community building and creative sharing is absent; it’s simply about unloading or asking for stuff, full of abbreviations: ISO (in search of) and INO (in need of), as if relationships are irrelevant.

I decided to turn to virtual community: Facebook—most of my friends are Christian, many clergy—to find homes for the plaques and necklaces. I kept a few necklaces: my first cross, the one my children bought me for my 40th birthday, the glass one I made myself, and one plaque my husband bought in Argentina.

This kind of giving is more time consuming than the drop-off donation. I photograph the items, transfer them to my computer, upload to Facebook with a short description. I respond to comments, ask for addresses, package the items with short notes, make a trip to the post office.
Giveaway items round 2 group shot for Facebook

Before I began my giveaway, I was listening to 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change Your Life. Cami Walker began her project in the midst multiple sclerosis. Sick and broke, she embarked on a discipline of daily giving that changed her attitude and her health.

I thought about adopting her daily discipline, but unlike Walker, who lives in Los Angeles and is, I think an extrovert, there are days I never leave the house, and don’t encounter anyone other than my husband.

Giving usually engenders receiving—that was the Walker’s experience with her project, and mine with the Buy Nothing Project. I received two items being given away: Chanel #5 perfume I gifted to my mother-in-law, and a television. I made one (fulfilled) request: to borrow snowshoes for a trip with my family and dear friend visiting from Florida last December.

On the day I began my Facebook giveaway I stood in the bathroom photographing each necklace against my blue sweater, noticing my scruffy hair. I should do something about it I thought.

Necklace modeling with scruffy hair

Scruffy hair

There are local Facebook pages where people ask for recommendations for everything from car repair to Thai food. I got a referral to a dentist that way in June.  I recalled several asks about hair stylists, and thought I’d scroll through, make some calls, get prices, and then decide between a trim or a new style.

Before I did, a post showed up in my newsfeed from a page I don’t recall visiting after I liked it. A newly licensed cosmetologist needed two people willing to get a Veil cut. The salon was in the regional mall, and the cost only $5. I sent a message and Cat booked me for the following week.

I had the same stylist for 25 years in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She was with me in all my phases: spiral perm, bob, color. She could cut and carry on constant conversation. She didn’t need to concentrate.

Cat did. Yesterday she sketched my cut on paper using a ruler to draw angles for my Veil cut, and consulted before, during and after, with an experienced stylist. Most noticeably, as she held strands of my hair away from my head to cut, I could feel her hands tremble, the vibration making its way to my scalp.

Oddly, I was thankful. My hair had her complete attention. Each snip was considered and purposeful, not routine and automatic.

When I jumped at the $5 haircut, I knew I was receiving a gift. I didn’t realize until Cat held my hair in her nervous hands that I was offering a gift—90 minutes of my time, the opportunity for her to learn and experiment, to be offered affirmation by her instructor who said, “you did a great job,” and by me who said, “I love it.”

The Veil from the back

My snowshoeing Florida friend is an interfaith director on a college campus. Every day she’s shaping and being shaped by the students around her, companioning them as they discover their voices and passions. I might suggest to her, and others, that the mentoring process isn’t complete until you walk away with a bouncy new hairdo.

The Veil from the front