In San Clemente,
The Fisherman’s Restaurant is busy with tourists
eating fish and oysters and clam chowder
from oceans that may be poisoned.
I eat the fish too, with lemon.
I walk along the beach,
watching gulls and pelicans
and children playing in sand,
looking through the rocks and seaweed
for something interesting.
I find what I believe to be a shark’s tooth,
made smooth by the ocean’s tumbling.
What kind of a shark, I wonder,
a great white?
And out in the water surfers surf
and swimmers swim,
On the horizon,
a whale-watching boat
full of people eager to catch sight
of the great Leviathan.
So far, he remains hidden
beneath the dark waters.
In the 19th century,
sailors from around the world
hunted these waters for seals
until there were no more seals.
Along the Beach Trail,
joggers and hitchhikers
and people walking their dogs:
poodles, dachsunds, labradors,
all descended from
the common gray wolf.
Long ago, dogs gave up
their freedom and wildness
for the security of human companionship
and a regular meal.
Occasionally, I glance back,
away from the ocean,
at the low-roofed Spanish-style
houses and buildings of San Clemente—
a Swede named Ole Hanson’s dream
of a Spanish seaside village,
built long after the Spanish empire
left these lands.
Only place names and roads
El Camino Real,
Calle Cortez, etc.
Richard Nixon used to live here
in a seaside home he called
“Casa Pacifica” (or, The Western White House),
from political scandal.
Last night, my friend Chantal and I
discussed The Origin of Species,
and whether humans will survive long
on this planet. The odds don’t look good.
Something like 90 percent
of every species that has
ever existed has gone extinct.
And no animal, not even the
great white shark or the great Leviathan,
has done so much damage
as we humans have:
nuclear tests, pollution, trash—
all those unpleasant by-products
of our civilization.
I feel entropy setting in,
a slow burning out of embers
that once shone bright.
Chantal is not hopeful for the future.
The general consensus
of my generation seems to be
that we are doomed.
Our parents feared apocalypse
by nuclear war.
We fear apocalypse
by the slow death of
and poisoned oceans.
Not with a bang,
but a whimper.
Meanwhile, those of us
in the “first world” enjoy our
televisions and iced coffees and cars,
while others in the “third world”
suffer the consequences:
drought, pollution, deforestation,
Entire rain forests cleared
for the purpose of Pizza Hut boxes,
discarded without a second thought.
“Are we doomed?” I ask Chantal.
She nods in the affirmative. We are doomed.
Has entropy set in?
Is it too late?
What about Star Trek?
“What about Star Trek?” Chantal asks.
“In the grand mythology of Star Trek
humanity is saved from the brink
of annihilation by a scientist
named Zefram Cochran,
who converts a nuclear missile
into a space craft, invents warp drive,
and in the waning days of the 21st century,
makes 'first contact' with an alien race.
Specifically, the Vulcans.
After that, everything changes.
Realizing that we are not alone
in the universe, humanity
develops a whole new outlook,”
I feel the smoothness of
the shark’s tooth in my pocket,
imagining it sharp and intact
in a living shark’s mouth,
bloody and wild.
Maybe we are doomed.
Maybe we have passed
some sort of “tipping point”
and we are indeed dying
by our own collective hand.
Discussing The Origin of Species,
I understand that we were not created
to subdue and conquer this world,
that we are in fact one tiny twig
on a great blooming tree of life,
no more important than fish or trees
or sharks or flowers or bees.
Oh Mr. Darwin, grant us humility.
Help us to look carefully
at this world,
the way Chantal does
on her regular explorations
of the local flora and fauna
of San Clemente—
those tiny beautiful barnacles,
and the California sea hare,
and all manner of mollusk
and crustacean, and plant.
The way her camera or brush
lovingly captures each tiny
movement of the tiniest creatures
of this doomed world,
the way her projector makes large
what, to us, seems small,
or even invisible—
maybe this awareness is contagious.
It changes something inside me,
like an encounter with
an alien race that, as it turns out,
has been sharing this planet
with me for quite some time.
Hello, tiny barnacle.
Hello, California sea hare.
I’m sorry about those oceans.
I’ll try to do better now that I know you.
So, paint on, Chantal,
and I’ll keep writing.
May each new observation
be like a tiny candle
held up against
the advancing darkness
|"Barnacle Fever" (photograph by Chantal deFelice)|