Deep Sea Canyon Rangers, Guardians of Ocean Realms

Far out on the Atlantic Ocean, about 160 miles southeast of Nantucket, the morning light revealed that the sea had changed from cold gun metal gray to a deep Mediterranean blue.   Looking out through the pilot house window, I saw a sperm whale. The rectangular black portion above the water reminded me of a railroad box car.  The blowhole was forward on the left side of head, on top just behind the perpendicular descent of the whale’s front. The back was flat and smooth no sign of a backbone, no dorsal fin. The expanse of back turned to knuckles that stepped down the tail disappearing into the water.

This was a very different beast than the whales of whale watching, the humpback, fin and minke whales. Their wheeling behaviors had become familiar. Head breaks the surface, followed by paired blow holes, ridged steeply-sided back followed by dorsal fin and sometimes lifted tail.

The sperm whale was still in the water; waves lapped at its square black brow. There was no exhalation of atomized water droplets rising in a diagonal column to fall clear of the whale. This whale was dead.

I turned around in the pilot house to see the captain stripped down to his shorts standing on one foot while maneuvering the other foot into a wet suit held spread by his two hands. The Captain was also a jeweler with an interest in scrimshaw. He was preparing to put on scuba gear to get some whale teeth.

There I stood, the curator of natural history of a Massachusetts museum who had brought a bit more than a dozen patrons on a three-day cruise off the continental shelf on a sperm whale watch. The dead whale was unexpected. And then, the only one who knew how to operate the boat was about to jump ship to take a quixotic swim to pluck teeth from the largest toothed jawbone in the animal kingdom with what looked to me like a Bowie knife. How could things have gone so wrong?  How could this distant ocean realm be better managed so one would no longer find one out of three whales sighted floating dead?

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Solar Eclipse in Somerville Through a Pin Hole Brightly

High cirrus clouds stretched white gauze across the sun leaving patches of blue sky.  I freed my bike from the stand by my office in Harvard Square at about 1:30 pm.  Only the leaves at the top of trees moved slightly to a wisp of a Southeast breeze.  Riding home along Kirkland Street the breeze was only apparent wind striking me face-on. The harder I peddled the faster the wind.  The air was thick with mid-day heat.  Moving down the road had a feeling of swimming to it.

Home in Somerville, I walked my bike to the backyard.  Opening the wooden gate, I heard the “cluck” of a disgruntled black bird moving away from me from dogwood perch to redbud tree branch, and then off across a neighbor’s yard.  Sparrows flitted about in leafy trees and over to evergreens.

I went through the backdoor to the kitchen. On the counter was a pair of solar eclipse viewing glasses that my wife had had the forethought to order weeks ago.  I stepped out onto the back porch, put the glasses on, and looked up at the sun.  With such opaque glasses the blackness was absolute, punctured by a round sphere the size of the sun.  The strange lit circle was broken by a smudge of blackness on the lower right side of the arc, at about 5 o’clock on a clock face.   The solar eclipse had begun before 1:37 pm.

Contrary to the illustrations in today’s Boston Globe, the moon was on the move across the sun from right to left, from west to east, at least according to my earthly perspective in Somerville.  This because the view from my back porch is of the moon moving slower than the sun. It cycles around closer to every 25 hours instead of 24.   The sun is eclipsing the moon’s orbit, passing behind it while the moon in the foreground sets to the west more slowly.

By 2:06 pm the smudge had become an orb covering more than a quarter of the sun, perhaps a third. Finches chirped their normal mid-day chatter.  A white butterfly flew about the yard.  In the neighbor’s large six sparrows sat a willow branch. Their combined weight caused the branch to bow down a bit.  Other sparrows sat other willow branches.  Their attention was on a bird feeder my neighbor keeps filled during the summer.  I could not see the feeder, just sparrow launching off willow wands in one direction out of sight and then returning.

Before the neighbor’s willow is a redbud in my yard.  A gentle gust of wind caused some but all redbud leaves to rustle and the willow to wave. By 2:15 the dogwood and maple had joined in with leaves moving for a moment and going still.  The sun appeared as the wide grin of a Cheshire cat rolled onto its left side.

The wind picked up. Arbor vitae and red cedar juniper branches moved with the leaves of deciduous trees.  A couple of sparrows perched momentarily on our empty bird feeder.  Then moved on.

The sun came out again, blazing through a vale of white.  By 2:30 it looked to me eclipsed with the east horn matching the west horn of light.  From my Somerville porch the eclipse is twisted to the west, not perpendicular with horizon to the southwest. Instead the horns of light, the corners of the open-mouth smile, are pointing to the West.  Wisps of passing cloud give the sun, viewed through my very dark glasses, the look of smoking.  As the world turns, the horns of the occluded sun appear to rotate downwards.

The moon stands before the sun, blocking about a third of light for what seems to me like a wonderfully long time.  Yet it has only been 15 minutes.

I took a piece of paper, about 4 by 4 inches, and with a sewing needle poked a hole in the middle of it.  Sunlight streamed through the window onto the kitchen table.  I held the paper in the sunlight, tipping it to be more perpendicular to the sun.  On table top a tiny bright spot appeared in the middle of the shadow square.  I got out the magnifying lens, the one we keep for reading warning labels not meant to be read. Held the lens above the spot of light on the kitchen table, while in the other hand held the shadow puppet. Through the lens I thought I saw tiny crescent eclipsed sun.  Concerned that perhaps I had made a crescent hole, I rotated the paper to turn the image. The image did not turn because it actually was a projection of the eclipsed sun through a pin hole.

The leaves and branches continued to rustle.  Raucous sparrows continued to seesaw on willow branches while cleaning my neighbor’s bird feeder.  A siren wailed in the distance.  Here a passing cloud, or passing shadow of a sharp-shinned hawk, would have disturbed nature more than did the moon eclipsing the sun.

Another fifteen minutes passed and the moon counter-clocked across the face of the sun.  The horns of the crescent sun tilted from West towards South.  Clouds thickened and the sun faded from view. I took a look without the special glass and could not see because the sun was too bright, despite the cloak of clouds. My passing glance left momentary spots drifting before my eyes.  I retreated to the kitchen table with pin-holed paper and magnifying lens to wait for sufficient clarity of light.

At 3:20 pm, an hour after a cloud hid the sun, the sun and moon continue to mostly hide while I sought glimpses of dark orb moving left across bright orb.  The wind gusted stronger confirming that clouds moving in and fronts on the move were a great influence than was the moon passing before the sun.

The sparrows quieted down either because they had sufficient seed or because they’ve moved on to better pickings.  Sunlight does not fall brightly again on the kitchen table.

3:45 pm, through my special eye protection glasses the clouds were black, they moved like waves of varying thicknesses over the sun, washing from right to the left side, where the black rim of the moon lingered before the sun.  The moon that began at about 5, if the sun’s face were a clock, had swung around to 9.  From there the moon continued to exit off to the left growing smaller in length and width.

By 4 pm, the inverted bite of apple had slipped away. Sun was round, complete once more.  Moon and sun had gone their separate ways across the sky.

NOTE: The photograph was taken on August 22, 2017 by a student of Tom Hallock, Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Florida, St. Petersburg.  Tom and I were colleagues in John Elder’s nonfiction writing workshop at Orion’s Breadloaf Conference.  John distributed what Annie Dillard called her finest essay, Dillard experiencing an eclipse.  Tom distributed the article to his students and here it is in the photograph.  I was most thrilled and envious to see the student had found a tree with pinhole-camera leaves projecting many eclipses onto Dillard’s piece.  During the eclipse I searched the dozen or so small trees around my house for this solar effect without success. With students there are always wonderful discoveries.

Ocean River Institute display to come down and depart Harvard Square.

Last week, while I was sailing on the tall ship Europa from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, I was informed by email to remove the Ocean River Institute’s exhibit in the display window by the Mt Auburn Street Post Office in Cambridge. When I was hauling on halyards, I was directed to clear away the ducks and ocean images from the streets of Cambridge. I was up to date on monthly payments. However, after many years of occupancy, the last display window contract of eighteen months had expired during the winter. And now someone else is interested in the space and likely had agree to pay more rent per month.

   

The Ocean River Institute display window is a Harvard Square amenity. Inside the post office I over hear Dads saying: “after we finish with all this, then we’ll go see the ducks.” Once I found a woman looking intently at the one of the fish sketches by Dina Chapeau. She was France and wanted to know what we called monkfish so she could order it off a menu. The irony is we were all introduced to monkfish by Julia Child, who discovered it in France. I like the monkfish served at Parsnip on Winthrop.

Watercolors by Harper Dangler illustrate three ecotones, the Atlantic Ocean, Estuary and Coldstream River. At the bottom of the ocean may be seen four habitats, muddy, sandy, gravel and boulder reef. Each ocean floor has its own inhabitants who are identified by Dina’s legend on the right.

For me the most poignant image is up high on the wall. A vibrant and clean Boston Harbor with cat boat, tug boat, tall ship and people lolling about on the harbor walk. Across the bottom of the harbor image is written: Together, we are protecting environments not for self but for all.

When we’ve got a harbor of pride with marvelous animals dwelling within, it should be displayed. Must the amenity on Mt Auburn Street by the Post Office be gone because of a lapsed contract?

Stop Florida from Closing the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The South Florida Water Management District has begun a process to revoke the agreement between the State of Florida and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

No surprise, the Refuge was created to stop the sugar industry dumping waste. The U.S. Department of Justice has enforced water quality laws and ordered sugar industries to clean up their spoils.

Join with us in calling on Governor Scott to stop the Florida agency from revoking the license agreement. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has met all aspects of the agreement, except for the eradication of Lygodium, an invasive climbing fern.

osprey-w-fishLoxahatchee comes from the Seminole meaning “River of Turtles.”  The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is a mosaic of wet prairies, sawgrass ridges, sloughs, tree islands, cattail communities, and a 400-acre cypress swamp. The refuge provides essential wildlife habitats for King Rail, Limpkin, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White and Glossy Ibis, Sandhill Crane, threatened Wood Storks, and endangered Everglade Snail Kites – home for 250 species of birds and two turtles, Peninsula Cooter and Florida Softshell.

See what others are saying both in the neighborhood and far, far away about how vital the Loxahatchee is. Add your voice and perspective to the chorus by commenting below.  Please include your name, town and state because the Loxahatchee NWR belongs to all of us.

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“Management in partnership of the Loxahatchee NWR is working and the public is walking the raised trail in the largest remaining remnant of a cypress strand separating the pine flatwoods and Everglade marshes.”    Rob Moir, Ocean River Institute, Executive Director

As a Floridian and one who’s mom and brother live on the Loxahatchee with their home backing to a natural Everglades fed canal. I Desperately Ask you to continue the agreement and management of the Refuge.  All of the species that live and thrive there have been needed and loved by all for so long!!  “Gumbo Limbo” demonstrates all the good and necessary accomplishments they have made for the turtles. They and my family frequent that establishment often. PLEASE STOP SFWMD from from revoking the agreement. YOU can make this VITAL Difference, PLEASE HELP~~~WE NEED YOU~~~ Laurie Hein, Homosassa FL

“[Loxahatchee] turtles are the canaries in the coal mine.  We need to preserve the environment for creatures other than ourselves, or we will end up destroying it for ourselves as well.”    L.M. Holmes, Honolulu HI

“This wildlife refuge is an important means of providing sanctuary for hundreds of birds, plants and other animals living in this protected swamp area, especially turtles! Turtles are my favorite animals, so keeping this area of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge open is very important to me. Please do your part to help save the turtles. Thank you in advance! :)”    Kistin West, Kewanee IL

“Wildlife is diappearing at an alarming rate everywhere.  Do not retreat from your commitment to manage the refuge to preserve the natural habitat for a rich array of wildlife.”    Mrion Tidwell, Merrillville IN

“There aren’t many places you can still enjoy the beauty of an undisturbed place like Loxahatchee. I love turtles and birds and want my granddaughter to be able to go there with me and enjoy the beauty. Please continue to co-manage this beautiful place with USFW for our children and their children. Thank you.”    Lara Beard, Elizabethtown KY

“It was working!”    Maureen Wheeler, Silver Spring MD

“Loxahatchee was part of the January term course . . . I often found wildlife there that students saw nowhere else during the trips.  It was an important educational resource.”    Vinnedge Lawrence, West Baldwin ME

“Hopefully, Florida will make good decisions about its environment and wildlife; and, hopefully, we will continue to visit Florida often to enjoy your natural resources and bring our vacation dollars to you.”    Annie McCombs, Kalamazoo MI

“I know and cherish the Loxahatchee. Please do not let it be degraded.”    Skip Lazell, Jackson MS

“Why would you give this up? Once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back and we need wild areas, desperately! We need to all step up to the plate to try to save our Earth. NASA isn’t going to magically figure out how to colonize somewhere else, you know.”  Susan Harrie, Grand Forks ND

“It includes a critical cypress stand habitat for hundreds of species including two species of rare turtles.”    Terry Forrest, Bristol TN

“It is very important to protect wildlife.  A wildlife refuge is an excellent way to help preserve and protect wildlife. Please support the continuation of the collaborative management of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Thank you.”  Salme Armijo, Blue Diamond NE

“I have been a resident of Florida and still have many family members who live in the state.   Florida has been ravaged by weather, the rising ocean level, and diseases.  CAN WE AT LEAST NOT DELIBERATELY destroy the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge?”  Jeanne Bradbury, Flemington NJ

“Protect Florida wildlife by working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and the wildlife within.  The Refuge is a Florida treasure which you, as governor, should value and protect. Thank you.”  Susan Selbin, Albuquerque NM

“River of the Turtles, River of Promises, of Agreements and Collaborative Management.  Your governorship too was a promise to the people and the people do not exist separate from the land, the water, from Nature.  Neither people nor Nature are objects or abstraction.  Thank you for reflecting on your responsibility and promises and Please honor them.”  Edythe Ann Quinn, Unadilla NY

“Florida has a most unusual climate and ecosystem.  When endangered as it is from invasive flora and fauna extra efforts to contain and eradicate these threats must be taken, or you will lose it all.”  Lam Weisman, Oklahoma City OK

“Florida should not only preserve its unique treasures like this for ethical and moral grounds, it is also a money-maker and the principal reason that many of us visit the state.  We have nice sandy beaches here in New England, too, but we do not have the natural features of Loxahatchee Refuge, the Everglades, and the Keys.”  John Burridge, East Providence RI

“Please help save our National Wildlife areas of Florida. Please help control invasive plants in Loxahatchee , the River of Turtles. Please protect our last areas of wildlife and ecosystems.”  Linda Heagy, Arlington TX

“This is the only way that the natural treasure, the Great Florida Birding Trail of the Loxahatchee NWR, can be preserved!”   James Hadden, Grafton VA

“I visit FL almost once a year and the Loxahatchee Nat’l Wildlife Refuge has been a stop for me several times.  I am asking you to protect this place and all the animals that it contains. It is a jewel that Florida has. Please be strong in its protections and do not waver.”   Diane Clark, Woolwine VA

“We need these precious creatures to continue.”  Jennifer Planeta, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

“The loss of the Loxahatchee National Refuge means the death of the turtles dwelling there, and spells the death of hope for the Turtle River wildlife. Please let our common hope live on.”  Mai Hermann, Mercer Island WA

“We need to save what little land we have left, especially critical habitats such as the Loxahatchee.”  Angela Mayle, Fairview WV

“Please figure out other ways to manage the city’s waste water. Preserve the Loxahatchee for recreation and wildlife!”  Thomas Turiano, Wilson WY

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Please make a $5 donation to help us spread the word, raise more voices and for the Governor and media to hear what we are saying before it is too late.  Click here http://bit.ly/TurtleRiverChampions 

Give for turtles not forgotten.