If only we were all this playful. This joyful. This unselfconscious. This thankful for the Ocean.
We lug heavy bags of birdseed
from store to car to garage
steel storage can to feeders.
We keep squirrels away.
We watch the birds feast.
We fertilize and water and prune
the young fruit trees in the orchard
and see blossoms, then growing fruit.
Cherries are loved by birds and us.
Let birds eat seeds–nets mean pies.
“‘Come to Louisiana. Everything is fine’ say the BP ads. Well, they’re not fine. There are no oysters. There are no shrimp,” said Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw during a recent three hour conversation in Chaska, Minnesota.
Chief Naquin and Kristina Peterson were on route to Duluth for a consultation of American indigenous people focusing on the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana, the site of the vanishing traditional home of the Isle de Jean Charles tribe.
Kristina is a professional community disaster recovery specialist who splits her time between the University of New Orleans Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology (CHART) and the Blue Bayou Presbyterian Church in Gray, LA, where she is the Pastor. Kristina had come to Chaska, MN two years ago as speaker for First Tuesday Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally, a community forum of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church.
For three hours we discussed what was happening three years after the ecological tragedy America has almost forgotten.
ABOUT ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES
The people of Isle de Jean Charles have been there since 1830. They re-settled there after fleeing the U.S. government’s forced re-settlement program, leaving their native lands in search of a place where they could continue their culture and live together in hiding.
The place that became home was a piece of solid land hidden deep in the freshwater marshlands of the Louisiana Delta. When they settled there, the island measured 10 miles long by five miles wide.
From there they fished the coastal waters abundant in oysters, crabs, shrimp, and fish. They grew their own vegetables and fruit trees, and used its green pasture for horses and cows. The members of the tribe in hiding shared their seafood, dairy products, chickens, and produce with each other in a barter economy.
“My mother told me every time I went out to play, ‘If you see a stranger, hide.”’
THE 1940s: OIL CANALS
As Chief Albert tells the story, the accelerated erosion of the Gulf coastlands dates to the early 1940s. Big oil received a license from federal, state, and local authorities to dig canals through the Delta marshlands in search of oil. The new canals cut every which way, often crisscrossing, in search of liquid gold. And as they did, the marsh began to disappear. The salt water of the Gulf of Mexico seeped further and further into the Delta.
Chief Naquin and his people do not forget. They have long attention spans. They remember that oil canals were created by licensed permission under specified conditions. They remember that the licenses had time limits The time limits have long since passed. They remember what others have ignored or conveniently forgotten: the terms of the licenses required the oil companies to remediate the land at the conclusion of the license period.
The reclamation never took place. The Chief remembers. Click HERE for BP’s online promotion of its work to restore the Gulf of Mexico since Deep Water Horizon. There’s nothing about the canals or the licenses that required reclamation of the Delta.
ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES TODAY
The island that once measured 10 miles by five miles has shrunk to two miles long and one-quarter mile wide. The island will not survive.
Chief Naquin has been working to negotiate a suitable substitute for their ancestral home. The Army Corp of Engineers offered an alternative site that would have kept the tribe together, preserved their way of life, and helped bring income to the tribe by means of a visitor center for tourists.
A condition of occupying the new land, however, was that 100% of the tribe’s members vote Yes on the proposal. The vote was 85%. The 15% minority are mostly older people who have lived their entire lives on Isle de Jean Charles and insist they will go down with the island.
“When’s the last time any city, any nation, any group, any organization was asked for a vote of 100%?” asks Chief Naquin. “It’s impossible. We had 85% but it wasn’t enough.”
There is no hiding place. There is no lasting hiding place.
CHASING DOWN THE STRANGER: SURVIVAL BEYOND HIDING
Perhaps survival beyond hiddenness is the lesson of Isle de Jean Charles. Not just the Chief’s people who once hid from hostile powers in the Louisiana Delta, but all of us who hide from the harsh reality of the crony capitalism that grants a permit to oil companies to cut their canals through our fragile ecosystems and then allows those same companies to disappear into hiding from the initial terms of the licenses.
They call the oil rigs “rigs” for a reason. The whole thing is rigged.
If we see a stranger on what used to be Isle de Jean Charles; if we see canals still crisscrossing through the marsh; if we’ve seen the fires of Deep Water Horizon light up the Gulf of Mexico and slick the waters and estuaries with black gold; if we’ve seen the evidence of breaking-and-entering in the house of the Gulf Coast waters, if we see empty oyster shells where once there were oysters; if we’ve heard about the oil companies hiding without anyone playing seek, we can ignore the game or we can seek and find for the sake of survival.
There is a stranger on our island. The fire of Deep Water Horizon lit up the horizon to expose his hideout. The blazing fire in the Gulf of Mexico three years lit up the world with a previously hidden truth that called us to embrace the more transparent future we share with the shorebirds, shrimp, crabs, and oysters.
The oysters can’t hide. Will we, who can make moral choices, hide, or will we seek and call to account the strangers on our island?
by Gordon C. Stewart, written five weeks ago in flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles…before we learned that Kay’s ankle was broken.
“Pay attention. Live in the moment. Don’t rush to be where you aren’t. Be right where you are.”
If, for instance, you’re on the stairs… well, watch your step!
This morning Kay and I rose early to catch a flight for a much-needed vacation on the coast of California. We’re excited about this trip, planned at the last moment in the aftermath of losing the dog companions who have been with us for all but the first month of our 14+ year marriage.
Lonely at home without Maggie and Sebastian, I called Kay last Thursday. “Let’s get out of here. The house is empty without them…but we now have freedom to travel. Let’s go somewhere fun.”
Fred, Kay’s colleague at work, said he knew just the place: Cambria, California, a four hour drive north of LA, one his favorite places on the California coast just south of Big Sur.
Within 24 hours we had booked the flights, found a beautiful home in Cambria through VRBO (“Vacation Rental by Owner”), and looked forward to flying out of Minnesota on Monday (today).
Yesterday, Susan Lince, a local artist who moved to Chaska two years ago after teaching Eskimo children in northern Alaska, led us through exercises to become more aware of the senses. Most important is being where you are….touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing.
So…this morning…with Maggie and Sebastian gone, we packed our bags and headed downstairs to the garage.
I had gone first, packed most of the bags in the car, and was waiting for Kay. I assumed she had gone back to get something or to turn something off in the kitchen. I was wrong.
She had fallen down the steps – nine of them – carrying a suitcase I had missed. She came into my sight in the garage limping badly on the ankle that is severely sprained, at best, pulling the suitcase behind.
We iced the ankle and left home for the airport.
Right now we’re on Sun Country Airlines Flight 421 to Los Angeles. Kay has been treated royally since we arrived at the terminal. A wheelchair. Special privileges in getting through security without a line. A Sun Country Airlines attendant pushing her wheelchair and taking care of her needs while the husband who had forgotten the suitcase that contributed to her fall took care of his own bodily needs. The people at Gate 3 arranged for us to change seats so that Kay could have her own row of seats to keep her leg up during the flight.
So…Live in the moment. Touch, see, smell, hear, and taste where you are. And if you’re on your way to California, watch your step when you’re still in Minnesota. You could end up feeling the cold of an ice-pack on your ankle.
The visitor took exception to the off-hand way he had been treated. “Young man, do you know who I am?” he demanded, and recited a list of his many titles and appointments.
The lowly attaché listened, paused and said, “Well then take two chairs.”
Pride, vanity, greed, self-deception, and illusions of grandiosity are part of the human condition.
We are creatures of the wilderness, wanderers and sojourners in time who have here no lasting city to dwell in. And so, as in the legend of the Tower of Babel in The Book of Genesis (chapter 11), we (humankind) come upon the Plain of Shinar . . . or some other version of it. . . and settle down to rid ourselves of anxiety . . . and we settle there as though we could build something permanent that would be a fortress against the uncertainties of the wilderness and the knowledge of ultimate vulnerability and ultimate dependence. We build our own societies and towers of Babel.
Yet there is something about us that still loves a wilderness. Something in us that knows that refusing the nomadic wilderness – “and as they journeyed, they came upon the Plain of Shinar, and settled there” – is fraught with greater danger and social peril. Something in us knows better than to settle down on the Plain of Shinar to build something impervious to the dangers of the wilderness and time. Something in us knows that the brick and mortar will crumble, that the projects of pride, vanity, and greed will fall of their own weight, and that the high towers we build with the little boxes at the top that presume to house and control Ultimate Reality (G-d) are little more than signs of a vast illusion, the vain act of species grandiosity. For in the Hebrew tale of the tower of Babel with its “top in the heavens,” the joke’s on us. The narrator speaks truth with humor: God has to come down to see this high tower.
Every society and culture has its own version of the city and the tower of Babel. Equally so, in every society there is at least the memory of the wilderness, a sense of call to recover our deeper selves as mortals whose destiny is only found by traveling beyond the politics and religiosity of pride, vanity, greed, self-deception, and grandiose illusions.
Perhaps that is why John the Baptist heads out to the wilderness – “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” – away from delusions and distractions of the city of Babel. Perhaps that is also why, as scripture tells it, the masses also went out to the wilderness and the Jordan River to go under the muddy Jordan waters to rise to the hope of a fresh beginning on the other side of the formative influences of Babel-ing nonsense.
After the authorities imprison John, Jesus asks the crowds what had drawn them to John in the wilderness. “What did you go out to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man clothed in soft raiment? No. Those who wear soft clothing live in kings’ houses. What then, did you go out to see?”
Jesus begins his ministry in the wilderness. He partakes of John’s baptism, and when he did, the Spirit grasped him and called him further into the wilderness, “drove him into the wilderness” – away and apart from all distractions and illusion – back to the place where humankind lives before it “settles” to build the political-economic-religious tower, the impervious fortress and monuments to itself in the Plain of Shinar.
Those who would learn from the Genesis legend and those who wish to follow Jesus are called into the wilderness to restart the long spiritual journey that stopped too early.
For the fact we deny is that underneath all our steel, glass, and technology, we are still animals – mortals subject to the most primitive yearnings, vulnerable creatures who possess nothing.
In his poem “The Wilderness” American poet laureate Carl Sandberg realized a great truth long before it came into vogue.
There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.
There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.
There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians call The Christ, walked in our wilderness to live authentically and faithfully as a human being among all the beasts of the menagerie that were part of his nature and are part of our nature. Immediately after he had gone down into the waters to die to the worlds that would fool and twist him, and just as quickly as the voice from heaven declared him “my beloved Son in whom I take pleasure,” the spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. As the Gospel of Mark narrates the story, he was there for forty days among the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.
By God’s grace and power, may it be so also with us.
- Sermon preached by Gordon C. Stewart, Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN.
This conversation about BP, the oil companies, coastal erosion, and the distribution of the BP Settlement Fund took place at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska one week before the 3rd Anniversary of the Deep Water Horizon explosion.
Albert Naquin is Chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, a subsistence fishing community whose traditional land and way of life are vanishing quickly.
Kristina Peterson is Pastor of the Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church in Gray, LA and a disaster recovery professional and researcher with the University of New Orleans Center for Hazard Assessment, Response, and Technology. Kristina was a speaker at First Tuesday Dialogues in Chaska, MN one year after the explosion of Deep Water Horizon. She returned with Chief Albert for this conversation on their way to a conference in Duluth, MN of indigenous people who live along the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in the Louisiana Delta of the Gulf Coast.
The off-camera voice later in the conversation is the editor of Views from the Edge and Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill.
“Something is very wrong with a system that puts corporations above people.” – Kristina Peterson
A sermon three years after Deep Water Horizon on love, freedom, and caring for each other, the oysters and the crabs in the Gulf of Mexico.
that birds love.
Transplanted small trees
around our home
are now large,
and at first light, noisy.
Springtime is the loudest.
Breeding has begun.
The travelers have returned:
finches, swallows, robins,
Our dead end rural road
has little traffic even later
in the day–none at 5 am in May.
No sound but bird song:
Coos, chirps, whistles,
call and response.
The choir has no conductor
that we see.
- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, May 9, 2013
Pete Seeger is an American legend. But it wasn’t always so. Pete just turned 94.
Spadecaller posted the video on YouTube. He also wrote the following history behind “Where have all the flowers gone?”
On July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they failed to cooperate with House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists. Pete Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955.
In one of Pete’s darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy, a flash of inspiration ignited this song. The song was stirred by a passage from Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quie Flows the Don”. Around the world the song traveled and in 1962 at a UNICEF concert in Germany, Marlene Dietrich, Academy Award-nominated German-born American actress, first performed the song in French, as “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” Shortly after she sang it in German. The song’s impact in Germany just after WWII was shattering. It’s universal message, “let there be peace in the world” did not get lost in its translation. To the contrary, the combination of the language, the setting, and the great lyrics has had a profound effect on people all around the world. May it have the same effect today and bring renewed awareness to all that hear it.
Click HERE for the transcript of Pete’s testimony before a sub-committee of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Pete is an American patriot. He stands for the very best of the American character. He has never been intimidated by the likes of Senator Joseph McCarthy whose accusations turn people of courage into quivering jelly. He wrote and sang the songs that still stand up to the bullies who assassinate the character of others by means of innuendo and association. His joyful resilience exposes the demonic (the twisting of the good) character of public manipulation, mass hysteria, scapegoating, and the misplaced patriotism that marches to the drumbeats if war.
Happy birthday, good Sir! Your voice still echoes around the world.