Of Disasters, Natural and Unnatural
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
All day long I’ve been thinking about the creatures in the Gulf of Mexico who are being buffeted by globs of oil, have no idea what’s happening, and no way to ask. This is not a case of the Bambi syndrome. I don’t ascribe human desires and emotions to animals. (I don’t even ascribe human desires and emotions indiscriminately to all human beings, actually. There are vicious beasts among us, and I’m sure we can all name a few — though not the same ones, necessarily.)
I’m mindful that eleven lives were extinguished when the Deepwater blew up, and I wish there was a way to ease the pain of those left behind. But human beings are not helpless, even in the face of disaster. They may, of course, feel so, but if you watch you see that the life force in them leads them to some kind of self-rescue or resolution.
I’m mindful of the fisherfolk and others along the coast whose lives are bound up in the environment now in its 35th day of undergoing destruction. I won’t claim to feel their pain. How could I? I’m up here in New England, the weather is beyond gorgeous, and I have everything to be thankful for. But I have faith in the people of the Gulf Coast. They will survive, and find doors that open when the ones they’ve been used to have closed.
Animals, too, given a chance can help themselves in important ways. I’m thinking of the summer of 1955, when I was a 19-year-old camp counselor, second in charge, when two successive hurricanes came at us, almost simultaneously, where we were summering in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, on a piece of land between the Delaware River and the Lackawana Creek.
I had my own little cabin on the Delaware side of the spit of land. When I got there the river was so low I could have climbed down the bank and walked across into New York State. I wonder what it would be like if the river came up, I thought. Later that summer I found out and my cabin, with everything I owned including my precious acoustic guitar, broke loose and floated away. If I’d been in it, you wouldn’t be reading this.
There was the counselor staff and about 150 girls. The head counselor, informed of what was coming, shooed us all into the arts and crafts shop — my domain — up a flight of stairs above the horse stable. Usually eight or ten of us were there at a time; there was one toilet. The head counselor sat down in a corner and, literally, stuck her thumb in her mouth and started to cry.
We all lived through it. Up the road, at another camp, a couple of children died.
What I remember most were the horses. They called for help. Some of the men at the adjoining boys’ camp got into rowboats and canoes. In the dark and at significant peril, they made their way in and opened the stalls. Somehow none of the boats got swamped as the horses rushed out.
When dawn came and I looked out the window, I could see the horses on high ground, browsing for stuff they could eat. They, too, all lived.
This comes back to me as I think of the dolphins, the fish, the pelicans and other sea birds who never knew disaster was coming and would have had no way to call for help if they had known. For them there was no way out, no high ground. So many have died. So many are covered with oil and will die. So many that live to breed will bear malformed young because of the hormonal implications of Corexit, the dispersing agent BP bought from one of its subsidiaries to make the oil go away (as if it could.)
The horror of this will be with us for generations — of fish, of birds, and quite likely of human beings. Those birds and fish, even the shrimps, have a will to live, and the right to do so. They have been robbed, plundered, destroyed. The Gulf will not be the same within my lifetime, perhaps never. I think now of the pelicans, just recently removed from the endangered species list.
I cry on happy occasions, at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs and live births. When I’m sad, I write. This is what I’ve been doing all day.
Posted on May 26th, 2010 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Environmental disaster