What I See, part 8, by Karen Joy Fowler
I was up and on my walk early this morning, which is the way I like it, though I don’t set the alarm because what’s the point of being a writer if you get up with an alarm? The sun was rising; the sky was pink and the water was silver. And there was a wild tangle of contrails in the sky as if some jet had been buzzing about like a bee. I walked with my back to the sun and my face toward the full moon, which was still falling into the mountains. Incredibly beautiful, even the contrails.
I’ve been seeing the bay as an imperiled system, as it clearly is. But it’s also a system recovered and today I’m happily focused on that. Last night I went to the Capitola Book Café and heard Stephen R. Palumbi talk about his co-authored book, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay. As a result, I now know that the bay was nearly destroyed by pollution and over-fishing, but is currently in its best shape in some 200 years. I can’t tell you how much knowing this improves my walk.
I haven’t been mentioning the sea otters much, though I do usually see some. It turns out my silence concerning them is a local tradition. In the 1800’s the otters were hunted, people thought, to extinction. For many years, the few that survived were protected by residents around Monterey Bay by an informal agreement of secrecy.
Around 1937, the otter population began to rebound. As a direct result, the kelp forests returned. The canneries were idle. The bay began to recover from the period when they weren’t. I learned last night that this happened largely through activism. I learned that I have a great many people to thank for the beautiful bay I walk along and, it’s not important, but pleases me, that so many of them were writers. I’d already known some of their names: Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell. But I hadn’t heard of Julia Platt, arguably among the earliest and most effective of the activists, and she died without seeing the impact she’d eventually have, which saddens me.
I’ve been losing faith in activism—the money and power and greed of the opposition has just seemed so overwhelming—and our elected officials so unreliable. But today as I sit listening to the sea lions and the sea gulls, I’m thinking that really, we only have to be as good, we only have to try as hard and for as long, as the people who came before us. And not mind dying before anything is fixed.
A desalination plant has been proposed and is being tested in Santa Cruz. Meetings have been held regarding its potential impact on marine life. I guess I’m ready to go to some meetings.
PS – my daughter tells me that the bits of brain I saw on the beach earlier this week were probably parts of a sponge from the Monterey Bay canyon.