We have just completed our sixth annual “Nature Grannies Camp—“ our version of spring break. Since our grandson, Jaden, now twelve, was six years old we have brought him up to Whidbey for two weeks of island life—a big contrast to his usual city routines living in an apartment in Culver City, CA, part of the megalopolis of Los Angeles.
What a brave boy he was that first time, getting on a plane with two jet-lagged grandmothers picking him up on our way home from Australia. We had him for a magical week, followed by his mother and sister Sasha, then a baby, now a kindergartener with no front teeth. So this is the pattern, though now he flies solo: school out, he comes up for his special time… then his mother and little sister (not yet ready to solo) join in, we have family time, and everyone goes home. Ann and I sag onto the sofa, releasing the intensity, and hungering already for their hugs and kisses and voices calling through the house.
This year, we all went over to Orcas Island to North Beach Inn and spent five days unplugged from devices and attached to nature and one another. As part of our dance around the relentless rain that has characterized this slowly arriving springtime, we took a day trip by ferry to San Juan Island, the town of Friday Harbor, and visited The Whale Museum dedicated to educating people about the Orcas and Grays that swim these waters. The museum is a mixture of celebration and concern—you really understand how truly amazing these creatures are, followed by truly understanding how vulnerable their survival is.
There is a new documentary showing in the back room, “Sonic Sea,” (here is the trailer, along with a huge plea to see it yourself!). It was raining outside. The kids were chasing each other around the displays wearing Orca capes. The movie started and we all sat down, mesmerized for the next 60 minutes as we absorbed one of the most heartbreaking tales of the modern age: human impact on the oceans, on the quality of life for Cetaceans. These intelligent beings who used to be able to hear each other sing through a thousand miles of water, are now subject to the engine noise of 60,000 cargo ships, seismic testing for oil and gas exploration, and sonar submarine detection by the military. The living conditions of sea creatures are nearly unbearable and there is no place to escape.
It stops raining. I can’t stop crying. We head into the muted greens and greys of the afternoon and over to Lime Kiln State Park. We are nearly alone, walking trails along the island’s edge where summer tourists often glimpse Orca pods. Miraculously, as we peer into the choppy waters below us, one Orca swims by, magnificent, living, on its way somewhere—to its pod or toward extinction, we are not sure. In the distance a cargo ship threads its way through the Salish Sea.
He’s just read, The Giver. He watches movies about defending the universe, variations of the battle between good and evil. I tell him. “There are millions of incredible, ordinary people who are trying to do good with our lives and make the world a safe and sustainable place for ourselves, other people, and for all creation. And we are caught inside a huge system that provides us the modern world, but does not care about the things we care about; a system focused on profit that takes from the earth without regard to the consequences. These are the conditions. Your job is to do the best you can to live what you believe is right, and to push the system to represent your values. As you get to be an adult, you choose what you love most—and then you dedicate your life to protecting that.”
He is listening. “All that travel and teaching Maga and I have done was because we chose to help people remember the circle, remember how to talk and listen and make wise decisions instead of fighting, violence, wars. We haven’t been able to stop wars, but we know that we have contributed to thousands of people having experiences that make them more powerful in their own lives, more able to be leaders, to slow things down to listening and speaking first, and that this helps.
“And now, we are asking, what do we love most now—besides you and Sasha and your family—what will we love and protect with the rest of our lives? We are doing our part and we will keep doing it as long as we live.”
He stares out over the water. “Got it,” he says. And then Sasha comes by and the two of them race along the path in exuberant sibling tag.
Several seals and sea lions regard us, with their sleek helmet heads. An eagle swoops over us, just 15 feet above our heads… Awaken! Are you awake now? We are breathing at you, watching you, anointing you. Grandmother. Mother. Children.