Sunday, December 16, 2012

Let's Dance




With the weekly back and forth contention over the fate of Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, splashed into our local papers, my wife Judith and I motored out to Drake’s Bay to see for ourselves. The parking lot was full—we counted 41 SUV’s & Trucks each with at least two gizmos for carrying kayaks and canoes to launch an armada of convivial paddlers. We surmised most were probably from the half dozen commercial outfitters making a living by getting people out on the water. It was a windless day on the estuary. We were glad to be away from the meager world of our glowing screens and out to the unbounded world of our Seashore. The tinny drift of Mexican music from radio speakers washed over a quartet of workers dressed up in rubber waders and safety gear. The four sat smoking, laughing, at a picnic table preparing for a day of tending the bivalves, and happy to have work. I ate my first west-coast oysters here when it was Johnson’s. That’d be 1974 when the place looked like a hillbilly junkyard. Today, since Lunny’s taken it over, it’s orderly—like a tidy, efficient working farm. The Estero, a blue sky-mirror, the autumn hills soft suede, is a place where hikers and boaters are drawn to the calm and oyster fishers are drawn to the fecundity of a pristine estuary—the meeting of two worlds, two worlds making a living from a beautiful place.

In the debate over the DBOC we’ve heard a lot from the rational realms of science and law, and while I can’t minimize the necessity for rational thought—really now, how much fun has all this been? On David Brower’s memorial website, Isaiah 9:3 is quoted—Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy. It was David Brower’s idea to instigate advocacy through the joy of beauty with the creation of the many Sierra Club Exhibit Format Books—books on the Point Reyes National Seashore, on Big Sur, the Redwoods—art books that became the benchmark for mass-market color reproduction, picture books that changed our world for the better.

Going back to cloudy recollections of Philosophy 101, I’m remembering that in The Republic, Plato famously proposed a banning of poetry—that the rational mind was the only way to run a society. But, David Brower knew it is pleasure that moves the body to action. In all of the contention over the DBOC, I feel it’s time for a bit of news from the arts, from the circus of the imagination. Putting things together that maybe don’t belong together; creating a little cognitive dissonance to reframe the story. The artist’s voice seems to have been missing from the arguments and this voice, while it has no answers, asks a lot of questions. What side am I on?

As I drifted into sleep after our DBOC sojourn, I was reading David Brower’s essay from the 1965 Sierra Club book Not Man Apart and in that hypnagogic space charged by Brower’s ideals I had this preposterous vision of two Harbor Seals hauled out and laying on a beach of Drake’s Estero talking like Samuel Becket’s Vladimir and Estragon …

—Bart? Bart, (I think of all seals being named Bart—so easy for them to say). Bart? You up?
—Am now, Bart, what’s up?
—Well, you’re the history buff around here, what happened to the people? I mean they used to come here in all kinds of boats. ‘Bout to give me a heart attack with all that sneakin’ around in kayaks, and the motorboats with that ruckus…
—You know kayaks were invented way up north just to sneak up on seals, (freakish things for a Pinneped). Where’d the people go?…? Paper killed ‘em.
—Paper?
—Yep, they started out murdering each other with sticks and rocks, then swords, then guns and finally paper. Yep, it was legal briefs and EIR reports finally did ‘em in. They just strangled each other with paper. All that paper was expensive. Kept a lot of legal eagles in business and the report churners crankin’ it out, —but finally, they just choked on all the paper…

Then as I continued my reverie in the dark, I thought about the seals—and some lines came through from Things Floating in Air a poem I wrote years ago, September 11th 2001, on a walk to Abbotts Lagoon.

The thing that terrorized me most,
Wasn’t the trauma of barbarous airliners.
It was the confetti of papers
Papers flying around the towers before they fell,
A glittery storm, a million million pages
Swirling in a slow-waltz
Through the smoke and updraft
Dancing the banality of daily life,
Blown to a snowstorm inside
The crystal souvenir ball
Of our TV sets.

It seems the either-or options of getting rid of DBOC or establishing a wilderness is a zero-sum game. I’ve been refreshed and inspired by the wilderness of Point Reyes and I’m happy that over 20% of our food eaten in Marin County, comes from Marin County—a lot from the pastoral lands of the Seashore. My wife Judith and I think of the PRNSS as our backyard and as such have been tidying up Kehoe Beach, picking up plastic debris, going on to fourteen years now and making artwork with what we collect. We’ve collected tons of it and from just 1000 yards trying to make a graspable metric. We’ve shown our artwork all over the US and from Singapore to Zürich. Most recently we’ve been commissioned by the Oakland Museum to make a permanent exhibit on plastic pollution for the new Cordell Bank section. Last summer we were the cover story in National Parks magazine. We feel humbled and gratified by the attention. Lucky us, to have found a way to make an impact about this important issue. And as artists, we like the idea of sneaking up on people with visual good humor without the stridency and polemic we find so abundant in what passes for discourse these days. We’re having fun, big time.

I’ve been on both sides of the issue. Wilderness, yes! Good food, yes! A couple of years ago, for an art installation in San Francisco about plastic pollution we got help from Larkin Street Youth Services—kids at risk, homeless—street kids. They were focused and added a lot of great ideas to the project. As a reward we took a couple of vans and a couple of cars and loaded them out to Kehoe Beach. On the way one kid said, “Wow that’s a real cow. THEY MILK THEM? I thought that stuff came from the store…!” On the way back, quiet, worn-out and reflective, another kid said,  “I love this, I never knew the world was beautiful.”

As I drift toward sleep, I think of my Waiting for Godot seals, Bart says to Bart:

—You know what I miss?
—What, Bart?
—I miss that music they played at Lunny’s. I was crazy about that Latin sound, ‘specially corridos, so sad, so cheesy, but those songs always got to me especially on a Sunday.

So let’s start with a fresh slant. Lets stop using the pure rationality of Law and Science as a cudgel, let’s start writing a heartfelt corrido of loss and gain, of heroic action and human stumbles. Let’s stop thinking of winners and losers. Let’s Dance!  Yes, we can-can.

Letter to the editor published in the West Marin Citizen 11/15/12

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