Winter Solstice 2016
I'm heading to AWP in February, where I'll be on two panels:
Should be energizing. Especially since this year the conference is in Washington, D.C. There will be rallies, and I will go see my Congress people on the following Monday.
Never before has Adrienne Rich's line rung more true: "The personal is political." Everything seems so now. I feel as if everything I've fought for my entire life is now at risk.
May we all join hands, and stand firm in our vision for a better world.
Spring Equinox 2016
Next month I'm heading to San Diego for an author's exchange. Four Alaska authors will stay with four San Diego authors, and we'll do a series of events, coordinated by Susan McBeth with Adventures by the Book. I'm staying with Kathi Diamant, author of the illuminating Kafka's Last Love and director of The Kafka Project. Here's the calendar of events:
April 4: Among Wolves Presentation and Signing, OLLI at SDSU: Wilderness Wolf Edventure, California Wolf Center, Julian, CA. 1:30 pm.
April 5: Panel event with fellow Alaska authors Kaylene Johnson, Debbie Moderow, and Deb Vanasse. Coronado City Library. 7:00 pm.
April 7: Panel event with fellow Alaska authors Kaylene Johnson, Debbie Moderow, and Deb Vanasse. Carlsbad City Library. 7:00 pm.
May the rising energy of springtime, magnified by the lunar eclipse and the full moon, bring you renewed inspiration.
Fall Equinox 2015
I write this on the cusp of a harvest supermoon eclipse - quite a celestial event, and I hope many of you get to see it.
I write this as Pope Francis finishes his trip to the United States, where his speeches continue to emphasize climate change and environmental justice. He very clearly links social and economic injustices with environmental degradation in ways that give me hope that we may wake up in time. If you haven't yet, read the encyclical he released last May, Laudato Si'. It just about makes me want to return to the Catholic church!
I also want to share an incredible website on Climate Change resources, "100 Views of Climate Change."
Happy Golden Leaves -
Winter Solstice 2014
Among Wolves events were all very successful, and I'm thankful for all those who sponsored me, especially Wolf Haven International and the Wolf Conservation Center . So good to reach beyond Alaska with Haber's insights about wolves, especially given the continuing hardships of wolf populations in the lower 48.
In other news, I have a piece of art in the Voices of the Wilderness Traveling Exhibit, which celebrates artwork inspired by Alaskan wilderness. This show has been traveling throughout Alaska and ends its run at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. It's there until February 6th, and well worth a visit. (Yes! My piece is visual art composed from excerpts of my essay, "What Is Wilderness For?")
Here in Alaska, we're deep in the dark of winter. But this year there's a dearth of snow. We've had record high temperatures and rain instead. It makes me uneasy about what this forebodes.
So, here's to dreams of snow.
Fall Equinox 2014
Among Wolves goes to New York!
Happy Falling Leaves,
Spring Equinox 2014
Among Wolves events continue; here's the schedule of what's to come:
April 2: Presentation and signing, sponsored by River City Books and Kenai Peninsula College, KPC Commons, Soldotna, AK. 7:00 pm. Joining me will be Ted Bailey, retired biologist, to talk about the history of Kenai Peninsula Wolves.
April 3: Presentation and signing, Islands and Oceans Center, Homer, AK. 6pm.
July 7: Presentation and signing, Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali National Park, AK.
July 9: Presentation and signing, Summer Speaker Series, University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK. 7pm.
And on April 15, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act, I'll be participating in a panel of artists speaking about the importance of wilderness on our art. Find out more about this event here.
In other news, I was featured in an article in Poets and Writers about Wild Writing Residencies.
Finally, click here to read a post on Brevity, about "What Was Is," one of the panels I was on at AWP 2014. Another great conference!
Winter Solstice 2013
I'm thrilled to have many more events for Among Wolves coming up this spring. Here they are:
February 7: Signing, Blue.Hollomon Gallery, Anchorage. Evening - a First Friday event.
February 16: Presentation and Signing, Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Anchorage, AK. 9am.
March 2: Presentation, Wolf Haven International, Doubletree Hotel, Olympia, WA. 2pm.
March 3: Presentation, Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA. 6pm.
March 20: Presentation and signing, Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association annual conference, Anchorage, AK.
April 2: Presentation, Kenai Peninsula College, Soldotna, AK. 6:30pm.
April 3: Presentation, Islands and Oceans Center, Homer, AK. 6pm.
July 7: Presentation, Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali National Park, AK.
July 9: Presentation, Summer Speaker Series, University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, AK. 7pm.
Also this February, I'll be at the Associated Writing Program's annual conference, this year in Seattle, where I'll be on two great panels:
"What Was Is: The Use of Present Tense in Creative Nonfiction" on Thursday, February 27th at 9am.
"Rounding the Human Corners: Writing Truth about the Changing World" on Saturday, March 1st at 4:30pm.
Check out the full conference schedule here.
And in March, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, I'll be joining Mei Mei Evans with her new novel Oil and Water to do two signing of my book The Heart of the Sound:
March 8: Signing, Fireside Books, Palmer, AK.
March 22: Signing, Barnes and Noble, Anchorage, AK. 1-4pm.
The days are slowly getting longer now, though it's hard to tell yet. I have to go on faith in the cycles of the natural world, and that brings its own sweet solace.
Fall Equinox 2013
AMONG WOLVES is out!
And the timing is somewhat surreal, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be taking comments through October 28 on their decision to delist gray wolves in the rest of the country.
If there's anything we can learn from Gordon Haber's 43 years of wolf research, it's that a decision based on population numbers alone is seriously flawed. For wolves, it's not about numbers; it's about family.
To help launch the book into the world, I've got several events scheduled and more to come. Here they are:
October 8: Guest on Alaska Public Radio's Talk of Alaska with Steve Heimel, 10am
October 20: Book Launch and Presentation, Wilda Marston Theater, Loussac Library, Anchorage, AK. 3:30-5:30pm.
December 14: Book signing, Fireside Books, Palmer, AK. 4:00pm.
December 15: Presentation, Eagle River Nature Center, Eagle River, AK.
February, date TBD: Presentation, Wolf Haven International, Seattle, WA.
April 3: Presentation, Islands and Oceans Center, Homer, AK.
July, date TBD: Murie Science and Learning Center, Denali National Park, AK.
July, date TBD: Fairbanks, AK.
Reviews are starting to come in - one from Booklist, and another from the Wolf Conservation Center. You can find them on the Among Wolves page.
In other news, two of my poems have been selected for the poetry anthology Reckless II. And my essay, "Thin Line Between," is included in a new anthology, Facing the Change.
As hectic as the book launch events are keeping me, my dogs still make sure I get out for a walk or bike ride every day. It's a lovely time of year; yellow leaves puddle around my birch trees, like so many gold coins.
Happy Fall Equinox -
Summer Solstice 2013
I write this late, having been on a kayak trip to Shuyak Island in the Kodiak Archipelago. I spent days upon days in wilderness waters, and each morning arose, took my cup of tea and my seat pad and notebook, and sat on the beach to write, sat as the tide slowly rose and crows cawed above me and a curious harbor seal watched. Now home, the fireweed starting to flame up its stalk, a reminder that summer's reached the halfway mark, I glean my journal for words to make meaning from Shuyak time. Look for more on this on my blog, Art and Nature.
May the light continue to shine strong on all your days -
Spring Equinox 2013
AWP was overwhelming: 12,000 writers all gathered in one large building, up to 15 concurrent sessions. Overwhelming, and inspiring. It's good to be with one's tribe. See my post on Art and Nature for more about the "Wild Writing Residencies" panel and my post on She Writes for more about the "My Son is Perfect" panel.
On my reading table I feel blessed to have three new books of poetry, all by Alaska poets, all published by Boreal Books of Red Hen Press. They are Pause, Traveler by Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Toucan Nest by Peggy Shumaker, and Many Ways to Say It by Eva Saulitis. Beautiful books, beautiful poems, all.
From Erin's poem, "In Love with the Garbage Men," these lines:
The strong and silent type, garbage
men cross through the town, taking
the things we have no use for, giving
us all a clean slate.
Ah. May springtime be a time of clean slates for you as well.
Winter Solstice 2012
This coming March I'll be at the Associated Writing Program's annual conference, chairing two sessions. In the first, "Wild Writing Residencies," four of us from around the country will share how artist residencies in national parks and other public lands has affected our writing. For my part, I'll talk about my residencies at Denali National Park in 2012 and in the Tracy Arm Ford's Terror Wilderness in 2011. In the second panel, "My Son is Perfect: How to write (honestly) about your own kids," I'll be joined by three other mothers and writers, some of whom are also teachers and editors, to talk about the techniques we employ to write about mothering and children - in ways that both respects their privacy and avoids romanticizing about our (perfect) kids.
In other news, Among Wolves is in production and scheduled for release next Fall 2013, and I'm back at work on two other book projects, one about (yep) parenting and nature; another a collection of essays based on my far-flung adventures in Alaska over the last 25 years.
I've recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Dolls Behaving Badly by my friend Alaska writer Cinthia Ritchie, and am just starting Lit by Mary Karr, as well as two classice, The Outermost House by Henry Beston and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
There's snow, there's skiing, there's a rapid return of light. May you be well -
Fall Equinox 2012
At Alaska Quarterly Review’s 30th Anniversary poetry reading, I had the pleasure of reading “Juneau Spring” by Dorianne Laux. It’s a wonderful poem, and the allusion to climate change at the end especially poignant as we continue to have strange weather patterns here in Alaska: big windstorms which have downed massive trees and cut power to thousands for days. The storms are being created by the lowest sea ice level in recorded history, a massive release of energy that is changing wind and current patterns globally.
One of my essays about climate change, “350 Pounds,” was first published in AQR. It was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, was selected as a finalist for aWOLFoundation award, and was made into a radio show by Vashon Allied Arts.
As storms rage, I am finishing up the revision of Among Wolves, frustrated by the archaic wildlife management in Alaska, and hoping that this book—full of Gordon Haber’s incredible insights about wild wolves—may help affect change.
Nearly all the leaves are off the birch and cottonwood and willow, and a thin layer of snow covers the mountains. May the deep inward time of the coming winter bring new inspiration and wonder to you –
Summer Solstice 2012
I've sent AMONG WOLVES off to the publisher and am enjoying summer's long days. That record snowfall has made for rushing and roiling streams and rivers, higher than I've ever seen.
This month's Canoe and Kayak magazine includes my article on the kayaking rangers of the Tracy Arm Ford's Terror wilderness, complete with photos by Irene Owsley.
Last week I visited Katmai for the first time, but not the last. What an astonishing place, full of big brown bears and a healthy salmon run - how fortunate that it is a protected National Park wilderness.
Spring Equinox 2012
Happy, happy spring. Here in Alaska we set a new record for total amount of snowfall - breaking the 1954-55 record by a few inches (so far). And so spring is a time of melting, thawing, dripping, rivuleting... Birch trees and lilac bushes are showing a hint of green even as piles of dirty white linger at their feet.
And it's also nearly Earth Day as I write this, so am remembering the first Earth Day. Where were you? And how are you spending this one? Outside, I hope, with bare feet on the ground.
Winter Solstice 2011
I watched a clip of the movie 2012 and it got me thinking about the end of the world predictions for this year. It’s my hope that what ends this year are some of humanity’s old, tired, and downright dangerous ways of living on this earth. What if this is the year we toss out old paradigms about such things as war and consumerism and our attitudes toward non-human life and this home planet of ours? What if we end our fear-based us-or-them mentality?
One thing I’d love to see end is Alaska’s war on predators. When I moved here in 1986, I watched the end of aerial wolf hunting, and thought, progress will slowly come here, as we learn the lessons from the rest of the country, where wolves were being reestablished, at great cost, to some areas of the west. But now, along with wolf hunting occuring in those same western states, Alaska’s wolf killing is larger in both geographic area and methodology than it has been since pre-statehood, when wildlife killings were a free-for-all and there were bounties for everything, including the feet of bald eagles.
Our Board of Game now uses state funds for aerial hunting by helicopter, snaring, gassing pups in dens, baiting sows with cubs, lighting to hunt bears in their winter dens. All this in over 70,000 acres of mostly federally-managed lands. Public lands, land that belongs to every single American equally. All to satisfy the needs of less than 15 percent of Alaskans who hunt caribou and moose. And all this against any reasonable scientific argument that wolves and bears are not the problem, that predator control has not and never will work.
Could 2012 be the year we come to our senses?
As I work on my next book AMONG WOLVES: THE WORK AND TIMES OF DR. GORDON HABER, about a wolf biologist who spent more than 35 years closely researching the wolves of Denali National Park, I’m learning just how much we humans lose when we wholesale slaughter another society—and how much we have to gain by learning from and living with other species.
I’ll get some intimate time with Denali’s wildlife myself next summer, I've been chosen for an artist residency at Denali National Park. I'll stay in the Murie cabin near the Toklat River, right where Adolph Murie and Gordon Haber stayed while doing some of their groundbreaking research on Denali's wild life.
Here’s to the return of light, in all its forms –
Fall Equinox 2011
Dear Readers, Happy Fall Equinox. Happy golden birch and emerald spruce and cerulean sky. Last night’s clear skies gave me the first view of the Big Dipper and Casseopia since spring. A welcome sight, and a reminder of the expansiveness of our universe even as we enter this season of turning inward. As we turn toward the darker months, I offer a selection of new works for you to read online. An essay: "Going Down to the Water" A blogpost: “Writer as Wilderness Ranger” An article: “The Puppy at Om Beach” I’ll spend much of October in residency at the Mesa Refuge, working on two book projects. When I return, I’ll read at theAQR November First Friday at Jitters. In gratitude for this spinning planet, two opportunities for direct action with the power of the pen: The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain could at long last receive the protection it deserves – please ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend Alternative E, recommending wilderness protection to all the refuge?. Comments due November 15. And if you’re an Alaskan, speak out to protect the wilderness values of Chugach State Park. And finally, in gratitude, a poem, published in Cirque Vol. 2 No. 2 The Fantastic Skies of Orphan Stars I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time. -Helen Keller Perhaps I’ve been searching too close to ground. Perhaps I’m blind to think every answer lies beneath my feet. Giving life should be enough to ask of one blue sphere spinning in the dark. Oh, to be an orphan star, to see my birthplace from the outside, the blue-white brilliance encircled by yellow spirals, the whole spinning parent galaxy, and then to move slowly away into the safety of the void. Marybeth
August, and chinook winds have knocked down my peas and beans and lavateria, soft pink petals bruised and torn. Hard on my gardens to get such fierce winds this time of year, when they're so tall and heavy with flowers and fruit.
My friend Michelle tells me this is Lammas, the time exactly between summer solstice and fall equinox, a time to give thanks for abundance. Abundant wind, as well.
I've got an abundance of work forthcoming, a veritable garden medley of different pieces: a short essay on climate change in AQR, an article on India's dogs in ActionLine, an essay on mothering in Literary Mama, a book review in Western American Literature, a poem in Ice Floe 11. I'll post links as they become available.
What's out now is the current issue of Cirque, in which I have two poems. Read it online athttp://www.cirquejournal.com/index.php.
And I'm writing now about my wilderness adventure in the Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest. I was there on the most unusual artist residency I've ever experienced; I'll post the link for my blogpost on the residency, "Writer as Wilderness Ranger," when it appears on 49 Writers.
May your August be filled with the abundance of the season -
Spring Equinox 2011
OK, I'm jumping ahead here; spring equinox is a few weeks away. But since I'll be traveling all next month in India, I'll wish you a happy spring in advance.
The winter readings for The Heart of the Sound went very well. Interesting events and good crowds. At the event in Homer, Rika Mouw, a visual artist, made a compelling comment: using the word "environmental" or "environment" seems to immediately shut off a large percentage of the population. For most it denotes something "out there," some "other" that we can choose to engage in or ignore, something that doesn't affect our individual lives. She asked that we come up with new language.
Indeed, environmental causes seem to be on the sidelines of political discussions, whereas in truth environmental issues like climate change and biodiversity sit at the very center of the web of our lives. So, what can we as writers do about that? How can we use language differently?
In The Heart of the Sound, there's a scene of a planning session for the 10th anniversary of the oil spill. A Native woman in the back of the room stands up and says, "Can't we use another word besides 'anniversary?' That word connotes something good, and there's nothing good about this."
So think about language. See my blogpost on the responsibility of language:http://49writers.blogspot.com/2011/01/holleman-one-nation-divisble-under.html
In other news, a few upcoming events:
April 2 and 9: I'll lead a writing course called "Beginnings" at the 49 Writing Center (http://49writingcenter.org/.)
April 4: I'll do a reading, craft talk, and writing instruction at Anchorage Adventurers monthly potluck.
June 22-26: I'll be part of a panel presentation on climate change and metaphor at the biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.(http://www.asle.org/site/conferences/biennial/)
Relish the returning light -
Winter Equinox 2010
Dear Readers, Joyous winter equinox, merry christmas, happy new year, and glorious full moon eclipse. The Heart of the Sound is now out in paperback. It’s available at your local bookseller or online at Amazon.com. Note that many of these events are being co-presented with Nancy Lord,whose new book Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North, will also be released in January. We'll be reading together and speaking about environmental writing and writing as activists. January 22, 4-6 p.m. -- Book signing at Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks, Alaska, with Nancy Lord. January 23 -- noon. Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Fairbanks after-service program. Nancy Lord and I will be presenting some of our environmental writing in a conversation moderated by Robert Hannon. January 24 -- 7pm. Fairbanks. Northern Voices series sponsored by Northern Alaska Environmental Center, library. Nancy Lord and I will read, show some slides, and answer questions about environmental writing.January 25 – Out North Theatre, 7pm. Nancy Lord and I in a reading and conversation moderated by Charles Wohlforth and sponsored by 49 Alaska Writing Center . January 28 -- Homer, Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College, 7 p.m. Nancy Lord and I in a reading and conversation moderated by Mike Hawfield. February 4 -- Anchorage. First Friday Signing, sponsored by 49 Alaska Writing Center , at International Gallery of Contemporary Art, 427 D St., 5:30 – 7:30pm. February 7 -- Anchorage. Talk, read, sign, and some writing instruction, after a potluck dinner. Anchorage Adventurers.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I wrote an opinion piece on the way to permanently protect it: Opening ANWR only feeds oil addiction If the BP Gulf of Mexico and Exxon Valdez oil spills teach us anything, it's that precious ecosystems can be forever damaged by oil. Half a century ago this week, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for its "unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values." Expanded and renamed, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains the largest and only intact Arctic ecosystem in the United States. Its ecological values are unparalleled, especially in the coastal plain, the biological heart of the refuge. Like the Statue of Liberty, California's Giant Sequoias and the Everglades, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge stands as an American icon. Read the full story online And finally, for the month of January I’m participating in a small contemplative practice called A River of Stones. Here are my stones thus far: January 1: Driving to a new song on the radio, I pull over to write down the lyrics: “Those were the days, but so are these.” January 2: In front of me, three dogs bounding down a freshly-groomed trail through spruce woods. I ski on clouds. January 3: A high soft yelp from downstairs: my dog Lilly dreaming of summer romps across tundra. January 4: Cool gray skies and the steady drip of snow melting from my roof remind me that today is longer than yesterday. The chickadees and nuthatches flitting through willow confirm it. Become a Facebook fan and read more of my small stones.
Warmest wishes, Marybeth
Dear Readers, It's important to take stock, every now and then, of what we have to be thankful for. The Volunteer Coordinator at Providence Hospital, where I volunteer holding babies in the NICU, sent this quote: Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest woman it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow. ~~ Edward Sandford Martin In less than two months, The Heart of the Sound will reappear in paperback. Below are the events I'm lined up for so far. Note that many of these events are being co-presented with Nancy Lord,whose new book Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North, will also be released in January. We'll be reading together and speaking about environmental writing and writing as activists. January, 2011 -- official release date of paperback edition of The Heart of the Sound. January 22, 4-6 p.m. -- Book signing at Gulliver's Books in Fairbanks, Alaska, with Nancy Lord. January 23 -- Unitarian Universalists Fellowship of Fairbanks after-service program, noon. Nancy Lord and I will be presenting some of our environmental writing in a conversation moderated by Robert Hannon. January 24 -- Fairbanks. Northern Voices series sponsored by Northern Alaska Environmental Center, library, time TBA. Nancy Lord and I will read, show some slides, and answer questions about environmental writing. January 25 -- Anchorage. Cyrano's Off-Center Playhouse, time TBA. Nancy Lord and I will read and speak in a conversation moderated by Charles Wohlforth, sponsored by 49 Alaska Writing Center . January 28 -- Homer, Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College, 7 p.m. Nancy Lord and I in a reading and moderated conversation about our environmental writing. February 4 -- Anchorage. First Friday Signing, sponsored by 49 Alaska Writing Center, at International Gallery of Contemporary Art, 427 D St., 5:30 – 7:30pm. With thanks for all who share this lovely blue planet with me - Marybeth
Fall Equinox 2010
Outside the golden birch leaves dance to the ground, and last night's frost gives way to today's sunshine. Inside, my windowsills are lined with green tomatoes. So I enjoy falltime in Alaska while my husband Rick Steiner endures upper 90's weather in the Gulf states to work with the Gulf Restoration Network on how to mop up BP's mess and ensure it never happens again. Meanwhile, my book The Heart of the Sound, a cautionary tale about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, will hit the shelves in paperback this January, 2011, from University of Nebraska Press. I'll be posting events to celebrate its release later this fall. In a few weeks, I'll be on the road as well, presenting at the Under Western Skies conference in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The conference is an interdisciplinary examination of the effects of and solutions to global warming in Northwestern America. It's my belief that it will take great creative vision and bravery from every part of the world and every trade and discipline to tackle this issue. As Barack Obama said when he was running for office, global warming requires all hands on deck. Books I'm reading and rereading: Dwellings by Linda Hogan, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, and A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency, edited by John Stanley, David R. Loy, and Gyurme Dorje. Enjoy Fall, and remember to vote! Marybeth
The Gulf Spill
Dear Readers, Like many of you, I've been in astonishment and grief over the ongoing gusher of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Though in many ways this spill (if we can even call it that) is so different than the Exxon Valdez oil spill 21 years ago, the story of it seems hauntingly familiar. Early on, I wrote an op-ed for the South Mississipi papers - I've pasted it below this letter. And this past week, my friend Michelle Wilson Nordhoff and I hosted an oil spill vigil on the Coastal Trail. See photos and writeups here:http://www.themudflats.net/2010/06/09/voices-from-the-flats-a-vigil-for-the-gulf/, http://www.ktuu.com/Global/story.asp?S=12618847,http://www.adn.com/2010/06/08/1313973/gulf-oil-spill-vigil.html. My husband, Rick Steiner, has been there at ground zero for much of the past 6 weeks, and what he reports back is even more dire than what we're reading in the national media. So - what then can we do? We can continue to take steps in our own lives toward lessening our carbon footprint. But this won't be enough unless the vast majority of people do so. And that's unlikely. We need government to either lead or get out of the way. We can demand that our government hold BP accountable, and disentangle us from the stranglehold that corporations have on our economies, communities, and lives. We can demand that our government turn its full attention toward clean energy - energy efficiency, energy conservation, and alternative energy sources - and away from our oil addiction. We can continue to speak up, and speak out, for what we know to be true: our life on this planet depends upon our courage, our voices, our actions. Nothing less. Marybeth
The BP Gulf Oil Spill: All Too Familiar The image of the first oiled bird pulled my heart strings. It brought that sinking feeling, like my heart just dropped into my gut. That old pain. That anger. That question: will this one do it?
I see the fishermen filing their lawsuits, angrily saying they’ll make BP pay. Do they know it took 20 years for Exxon to finally pay Alaska Natives and fishermen, and that then it was just one-tenth of the initial 1994 jury verdict? Do they know thousands of those people had died before ever seeing one red cent from Exxon?
I see the beach cleanup efforts, the booms and boats and skimmers. It’s impressive, how many are out there so quickly. But do they know that after two years of cleanup efforts on the water and on the beaches, after $2 billion spent by Exxon alone, less than ten percent of the crude from the Exxon Valdez was recovered? The rest stayed in the environment—sunk into the water column, buried into sediment, washed deep between rocks, and continues to poison the fish and marine mammals of Prince William Sound.
I see the workers standing ready to rescue oiled birds, the volunteers arriving to help however they can. Thousands of volunteers came here, too. I was among them. I stood beside a woman from Connecticut, cleaning oiled sea otters. I was on a boat in Kachemak Bay, trying to capture oiled murres. I camped with volunteers from New York, working on beach cleanup efforts. Do they know, these thousands of brave and compassionate volunteers in Louisiana, how low the survival rate was here in Alaska? How we spent an average of $80,000 for every sea otter—and that’s with all the time volunteered and many materials contributed—and even then the survival rate was discouraging?
I hate to sound fatalistic. I remember all too well that feeling that there must be something I could do to stave off this disaster, to fix what we’d broken. I hear of the volunteer who is waiting to be given something to do, and sits watching images on T.V. that shows the oil spreading to all the places she loves, and I remember doing the same thing. I remember that feeling of needing to do something.
But I also remember what I concluded, after all the herculean volunteer efforts: once the oil is in the water, it’s all over. There’s very little that can be done to clean it up.
It’s all over—except for bearing witness. So my advice to our friends in Louisiana is to do that well. Whether you’re cleaning oiled birds or running a skimmer or sitting in a diner talking to fishermen, bear witness and record all the death and destruction, all the horror and heartbreak. Record it well.
And then let us use it, use the lessons from the Santa Barbara spill, the Exxon Valdez spill, and now the BP Gulf spill, to finally bring about real change, to finally end our addiction to fossil fuels and the stranglehold of mega-corporations on our seats of justice and reason, on our civil society and our environment.
We’ve known since the 1970s that this energy path was neither sustainable nor safe. We’re reaping the consequences of our failure to change course then. Just look at the toll of human lives in the last month: 29 coal miners in West Virginia, 11 rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico, 2 coal miners in Kentucky. And now the toll of fish and wildlife mounts. How many more sacrifices to the gods of fossil fuels will it take before we wake up, before our leaders create real, substantial change in our energy policy?
Let us use this disaster to usher in a new clean, green day of energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy. That’s what we can do, all of us, no matter where we stand today. We can demand a safe, sustainable energy future, without oil spills.
Dear Readers, Spring. My garden is under four feet of snow. Hard to believe the changes I’ll witness in the coming month. Change is the only constant, but it still throws us for a loop. Last October, my friend and Alaska wolf biologist Dr. Gordon Haber died when his plane crashed into Denali’s mountains during a research flight. Gordon was a tireless scientist and advocate for Alaska’s wolves, in the face of incredible resistance from Alaska’s Board of Game and Department of Fish and Game. His website, www.alaskawolves.org, is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing the truth about the lives of wild wolves. Several of us, from across Alaska, banded together and tried to get the Board of Game to create a buffer adjacent to Denali National Park – the buffer Gordon first proposed in 1972 – to protect those wolf families most often seen by the hundreds of thousands of park tourists from being trapped and shot when they forayed outside park boundaries in winter. We failed. Worse, the Board removed the sliver of existing buffer, so the wolves are now more at risk than ever. Seemy opinion piece about this buffer at the Anchorage Daily News online. We have our work cut out for us. If you’re interested in learning more, email me. Balancing activism—the urge to do something direct now—and writing—the creative work that will, in the long haul, foster change—is always a challenge for me. But it’s a challenge I love. My essay, “From the Ground,” first published in Alaska Quarterly Review Spring/Summer 2007, is included in the new anthology To Everything on Earth: New Writing on Fate, Community, and Nature (http://www.ttup.ttu.edu/Book%20Pages/9780896726550.html). Some books I’m reading and re-reading: The Gangster We Are All Looking For by le thi diem thuy, Approaching Ice by Elizabeth Bradfield, and The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. Enjoy the returning light - Marybeth