October 25, 2021
The perch hangs motionless in the murky water, its dark frozen eyes open wide to the sky. Its pectoral fins motionless. It died here on the South Fork of the Guadalupe River on a crisp fall day with a yellow nylon cord threaded through its gills. A man-made rope not intended for this purpose but just as deadly. Almost everything humans create spells unintended death to other species. Whether pesticides that are killing the bees and soil microorganisms; tall skyscrapers that become magnets of light for migrating birds; or highways, cars and trucks that can lay a deer flat against its fate. Even the tiny ant is at the mercy of our careless feet. Today it’s the little perch strangled and dangling in the dark murky waters of the Guadalupe. Looking up at us with no hope in its wide-open eyes.
As a child I attended summer camp on the Guadalupe not far from here. On one of our field trips, we were taken to see the footprints of a dinosaur. Our excitement was effervescent as we bent down to press our small hands against solid creek bed, touching ancient history—so old we pre-teens couldn’t grasp it intellectually. Yet we knew it, smelled it, experienced it all the same. The footprints—I think there were two—were embedded in the limestone creek bottom. Maybe it was a drought year. The creek bed was dry and chalky. We talked about those tracks for years.
Who knows if it was a made-up story or real dinosaur tracks? I do know we wanted desperately to believe the tracks were real. We wanted to believe that we were somehow connected to this ancient past—to the mystery of the universe, to these enormous prints of a terrifying creature that lived eons ago. We wanted to touch the faraway with hands and hearts in the present. We wanted to believe in the Mystery.
We wanted to believe in deep time and the connections of one thing to every other thing. Science has proven at the most basic level that we are connected to everything that ever existed. We are connected to the dinosaurs. We are connected to the birds. We are connected to the fish. Even more profoundly, everything is connected all the way back to the beginning times through the DNA of stardust. Indeed, we are made of stardust. Luminous, sparkling effervescence. We are made of each other. We are midlines wrapped in never-ending spirals connecting the Great Emergence event with endless tangles of lives lived and died, each one bequeathing its starry radiance to the evolving body of the whole.
We launch the old silver canoe, named Mon Ark, and glide along the river of light, content with life despite clear evidence that death awaits every one of us—and all too soon. We humans have laid a trap with unintended consequences with our materialistic lifestyle. The gills of civilization are choking on our man-made and unbiodegradable waste—the yellow nylon cords are everywhere. Will we wake up before we meet the perch’s fate? Fins evolved into limbs. Lungs evolved to replace gills. Will we protect our lungs and the lungs of the planet—promising the continuation of life on Earth far into the future?
I am a being of hope. The river connects us to the past and can lead us into the future if we will only get in the canoe and paddle forward together. We are journeying toward the ocean—toward a grand reunion with our source. There are rapids ahead and we may have to get out and carry the canoe in places, helping each other, but unless the river dries up, we will arrive at the sea. A river is an alive being, a companion, a way forward. A river runs through all our lives, leading us to a better future.
Humans seem inclined to live only in the present, detached from the past and anything we might have learned about how to live in reciprocity with each other and with nature, including the more than human world. Living only in the present is not the same as living in the present moment which means living with awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. Living only in the present keeps us landlocked and isolated. And therefore, we seem unable to move toward the future we all long for—a true and beautiful life. The life we were meant to have. The life that was entrusted to us.
At dusk, I sit on the green, grassy lawn which rolls down to the water’s edge. I am experiencing a deep peace. In the distance I hear a gunshot just as a monarch butterfly flits silently past. My body shivers at the piercing sound yet, somehow, I hold these two realities tenderly, allowing them to co-exist. The shadows lengthen. A day well-spent reveling in the natural world nourishing our dry hearts which now can feed the world with our fine-tuned attention. J. Krishnamurti said attention is love. Yes. It is love—our gift to give.
I walk down to the river to say goodbye to the perch. I’ve been thinking about this fish all day and wondering about its curious fate. I look down into the dark water. The fish is no longer hanging near the surface. No empty, wide-open eyes staring upward. Confused, I pull the yellow nylon cord out of the water. There is no fish attached and no sign of fish. Gone! I was so sure she was dead. She must have been. How is it possible? I can feel my heart beating as I search for understanding.
It is dark now. As I walk up to the cottage, bedding-down birds lurch from the trees in a sudden rush. A flurry of flapping feathers caused by our passing presence. We are surrounded by trees filled with birds, preparing to sleep. There’s something comforting about knowing we are surrounded by tiny heartbeats. All night we sleep together–dreaming river dreams. The Guadalupe flows on…
Last night I dreamed a new-born baby was tossed in the water. Instantly, she turned into a fish—a little perch—and began to swim. I was worried and dived down to ‘rescue’ her. She jumped from my hands back into the water and continued her joyful explorations of a much bigger world beyond the womb. Perhaps future humans will develop gills so we can return to the waters—to learn lessons we have forgotten. To experience the freedom and joy that is our birthright.