An Inside View of Seattle’s Kayak Protest

The scene at West Seattle’s Alki Beach was chaotic in a friendly sort of way. Hundreds of kayakers were moving their multi-colored boats across the cobble shore for launching. Someone yelled out, “Everyone please gather over here.”

A young woman explained the flow of the morning. “We will follow the Native canoes into the water. A Salish long boat will come by to let us know it’s time to launch.” For me, the announcement that the crowd of “kayactivists” would follow the Native boats was a sign that there would be a spiritual holding in this protest. About 45 minutes later the canoe arrived to great cheers from all of us on the shore.

Native canoe signaling us off the beach

Native canoe signaling us off the beach

Like so many of my companion kayakers, I was here to participate in a powerful citizen statement that Shell Oil should not be allowed to send another drilling rig to the Arctic after their catastrophic failure in 2012.( I didn’t exactly know what was going to happen this morning: just knew I needed to be here taking a stand for the Arctic and its fragile ecosystem.

One by one we helped each other launch our boats and head toward the skyline of Seattle.

Kayaks heading out toward Seattle's skyline

Kayaks heading out toward Seattle’s skyline

For the next hour we bobbed about in the waters of Elliot Bay surrounded by the usual backdrop of ferry, cruise boat, and pleasure craft on a cool, cloudy Saturday May afternoon. Most of us protestors were not quite sure how this was all organized, but we were alert and ready for something. A man in a kayak with a red flag on the back paddled through the milling boats with a hand megaphone asking us all to get in one line. “Really, I said to my companion. How are several hundred of us going to get in a straight line?!” But we maneuvered our tiny, bouncy crafts and created one giant squiggly line.

Kayaks all lined up

Kayaks all lined up

Preordained carriers of gigantic signs hoisted them above our heads— a photo op for the watching world.

Climate Justice Now banner raised

Climate Justice Now banner raised

The Shell Oil Polar Pioneer rig loomed in the distance a few blocks away. At 400 feet long and 300 feet high it looked like the proverbial “Goliath” towering above our flotilla of tiny 17-feet long boats. Sitting in my boat, my head was just three feet above the water, but I did not feel small or powerless. And when the five Native canoes turned and led us directly toward the oil drilling rig, we were an armada of inspired citizens determined to change the flow of history.

Native canoes and kayakers gathered beside the Shell drilling rig

Native canoes and kayakers gathered beside the Shell drilling rig

We drummed on the sides of our boats. Native leaders rhythmically pounded the ends of their paddles on the bottoms of their wooden canoes. We chanted, “Shell No, Shell No.” Songs were sung in several Salish languages. Someone with a megaphone, perhaps one of the Seattle city councilors I knew to be present, shouted toward the rig, “You are not welcome here. The Port of Seattle does not support what you are doing!”

High above us on the rig, workers in orange suits and white hardhats watched. If we’d wanted to say hello, to be in dialogue: we couldn’t have crossed the gap. Between us and the rig, four Coast Guard boats, one Seattle City police boat, and one Seattle City fire boat kept us within the designated “First Amendment Zone”. Everyone remained calm. TV helicopters buzzed overhead.

The paddle in Seattle was picked up by news media around the world. It is my greatest prayer that the movement to stop drilling in the Arctic made a giant step towards success that day. I am so glad to be part of this moment. I remain determined to help my two dear grandchildren and all children inherit a healthy planet.

For an excellent summary of the protest, including native interviews, and photographs see:

War & Peace

Six feet from the kitchen door, my neighbors spend the glorious days of spring squabbling from dawn to dusk—

If they were human, maybe we could negotiate the terms of living side-by-side…but these squabblers are hummingbirds. Particularly the rufous male guards the round of sugared water. Anna’s hummingbirds of both genders, and even female rufous, swoop and dive trying to get to the essential sweetness that sustains them in the early spring weeks of courting, nesting, laying eggs. But no—this feeder has become the property of the male rufous. Dancing in the air above the plastic red flower with the 8 little holes for their tongues he is lord of the ring.

Thinking we are St. Francis, creating a little haven for birds in our yard, we recite to him. There is enough for all. We put up another feeder.

But no—not while the little warrior is on duty.

All day long he fights for territory. Other hummers get past him from time to time—sip and dart away. Not enough for all—mine. Mine. MINE. He conveys such fierce claiming— I think it must be exhausting. He dips and sips and fights. I cannot tell if even his mate is allowed to drink.

You know this scene: how the tiny flying jewels, wings a whirring blur, come to drink at the feeder. How they swirl over the offering bowls put out by human tenders. You know this fight: guarding nectar as though there is not enough to go around… and yet, every day we make sure there is plenty. Abundance. Replenished by the giant unseen hands of “gods.”

I stand at the kitchen window: Learn! Learn!—I want to shout at him: There is enough for all. You could be doing something else besides defending what is already gifted. Stop fighting in the presence of abundance.

It doesn’t take me long to realize I am talking to myself: that this territorial behavior is mimicked in human behavior—only theirs in instinctual, and ours is driven by the mind and market.

Costco. WalMart. Too many sugar feeders: too much stuff! We act out a certain madness fueled by this rapacious belief that it is our God-given right and economic imperative to destroy the garden of Gaia (or the whole system will collapse and there will be no work, no jobs, no way to sustain ourselves). Panic all day long. Fighting at the feeder. Plundering the ecosystem. Posturing for control. And fighting, fighting, fighting—most of it a lot more harmful than the buzz-bombing of the 3-inch rufous.

And then the scene changes when the light changes… slant of sun in western sky, that yellow look, as though the day is infused with honey just before night comes. I am back at the kitchen window clearing dinner dishes, look up, and now there’s a dozen hummers—rufous and Anna’s sipping together, some of them even sharing the tiny bore hole into sweetened water. World peace in the world of the hummingbirds.

Cooperation at last!

Cooperation at last!

They know: night is coming. It will be cold. They need to return to the nest, to tiny babes, to their mates, to the twig at the center of the tree. They need to calm down (their heart rate in full day-flight can reach 1200+ beats per minute).

So, all the fighting stops. They share. They sit down with their differences and suck sweetness together as the day turns dusky.

What time is it in the human world?

The long day of defense and avarice, of territorial ridiculousness (hello—Congress!!! Really!), of so much busyness and distraction is coming to an end. The light is turning to honey. Can we just settle down now, please(!) and all sip from the gifted sweetness of life and notice that there is enough? Is it time yet?

This is my daily prayer.

This is my daily work.