Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Dispatches Continued.....

June 9, 2010

River Teeth, Salmon Runs, One with Nature
The Anadromous Journey from Inland Northwest

Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

Special to Down to Earth NW

The river analogies are obvious as Marc explains his morning in the Grand Tetons on Jackson Lake, juxtaposing his personal and professional journey to and from the Gulf Coast; what he’s learned about his own mettle, the battle lines created by corporations and consumers against nature, and what it means to be human in the 21st century.

There are no two ways around what we can learn from the Gulf oil disaster and our addiction to burning hydrocarbons – this century is sure to challenge all humanity’s ideas about our role in community when the world is iceless, when weather changes permanently, and when we ourselves become the next species in the Sixth Mass extinction.
These three gems about the power of the river, of life, seem apropos for Marc taking self, camera and kayak to the bottom of the world, so to speak.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” — Norman Maclean

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

"All rivers, even the most dazzling, those that catch the sun in their course, all rivers go down to the ocean and drown. And life awaits man as the sea awaits the river." — Simone Schwarz-Bart

Marc’s thinking fluidity, water, and rivers, even after tangling with the heat and oil deception of the Gulf, where 40 gallons of fossil liquid are spewing a second from a well called Deepwater Horizon. The horizon for Marc has been water, marshes, out-flowing river beaches, island, and tides.

He started a month ago, camping along the Jefferson River, in Montana, and imagined the Gulf of his dreams, full of heat, marshes and pelicans. That morning he watched seven white pelicans shake off frost. The water was clear. The water, like Schwarz-Bart says above, eventually courses to the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico awaited Marc’s passage, his spiritual return to the sea.

That river three weeks later, on Memorial Day, was the Yellowstone River, on the Continental Divide, the river that feeds into other drainages and tributaries that become the Mississippi. The flux of waters mixing becomes the merging of all things, and as Maclean says, “all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

Those “things” are the journey, the filmmaking, the man, the bearing witness. The river is the film about to hatch from Marc’s interface with ocean and oil. Finally, we, the people following his journey, are the merging of one – bearing witness to a passage.

He needed a kayak interlude in some pristine place like the Tetons, “just to shake off the Gulf Coast for a day or two. “ However, the irony was never far away – the price we are willing to pay for several hundred million gallons of oil in a once vibrant ecosystem.

“I talked the guy at the park entrance to let me in free, to waive the 20 bucks,” Marc said as he relayed to us his Memorial Day trip through the Tetons. When he arrived at Jackson Lake, the irony hit him; what teachers call a teachable moment became a filmable moment. “They wanted $20 more just to put in at the lake. Here I am with my kayak, looking at all these power boats. Man, the lengths the government goes to in order to make someone like me pay, when I am leaving no carbon footprint, and yet … BP … no limits.”

He continued describing setting up the camera, almost egging on a confrontation with a park official, as he began putting in without paying. The light bulb went off, of course, since Marc’s helping to contextualize the power of BP and its collusion with the federal government to lie, steal, cheat, and get away with bloody – oily – murder.

The full circle analogy came to him – Jackson Lake and the Tetons are where the Snake River originates, another project Marc’s been tossing around – those damned dams on the lower Snake River and their negative effects on wild salmon. He was thinking about the plight of salmon, our disconnect with activities like barging and irrigating desert for crops, vs. the evocative power of wild salmon runs and free-flowing river rapids and falls coming from Montana through Idaho and Washington into the Pacific.

Why not an integrated approach to the oil clean-up, came to his mind. Or an integrated approach to getting off dirty coal and fossil fuel. Integrated agriculture. That’s the full-circle analogy in its clearest form for Marc, a former Michigan farmer and organic farm manager.

I saw it in Vietnam – farms that have animals like cows, goats and rabbits, ducks and fishponds. This integrated-full circle system looks to reduce expenses and increase productivity by creating multiple uses for everything — fields, crops, animals, waste, water — and then putting all organic matter back into the farm. This integrated approach works for small and large farms, and it’s a closed system, capable of continuing indefinitely with little outside input and little or no waste.

That loop, for Marc, is closed in the sense that he left a man with x-amount of knowledge and verve for the Gulf Coast oil debacle and returned the same man, but reinvented intellectually. He found what he wanted to find, and that which he did not seek.

Editing and more interviewing continue on Dispatches from a Disaster, and I will proceed to follow Marc, write, and get to the bottom of some of the issues, technical and holistic. The eventual goal of Dispatches from a Disaster is to follow Marc to the completion of the film, and beyond.

This project is far from complete because that closed loop isn’t really closed until that Gulf of Mexico story is the river that changes us all, as Heraclitus says – step in the river many times, but each step is a new river, a new time, and new formation of the giver and taker of life, so we aren’t the same each time we enter.

The philosophical tone might be a stretch, but this series has provided me, the writer, the somewhat unique tools to be reporter, protagonist’s narrator, and new journalism practitioner. I’ve listened to Marc, and within that reportage, I’ve listened to the journeys I’ve taken to places like Belize, Baja, Thailand, the Red Sea, Northwest Territories, Caribbean islands, VietNam. The universality can only be accepted if the reader believes I know Marc and Marc knows me, so that interchange and interplay allow for some creative force fueling these Dispatches outside our narrative biases.

The immediacy of Marc’s travelogue and transcending into the belly of the beast – the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, yet still with relatively little action by the American people or the so-called authorities – will now be transferred to the filmmaking process, and final interviews with biologists and oil people on camera.

Marc, back in the naturally air-conditioned Inland Northwest, has a newfound appreciation for the relative purity of air and land.

That last paddle before heading back to Spokane, that last breath from the Tetons’ undulating air, was what he wanted. But the camera was still his appendage, and he saw an older guy with an American flag cap fishing on. A bite, then a strike, and soon the man was laughing and giggling like a child.

“Sir, one thing we all have in common is when we fish, we all have that same connection, that little boy excitement.” Marc was again bobbing and weaving to get him on camera.

The shot of a lake, a full-blooded American fishing, a pretty clean place, in a national park set up by a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, in contrast to what he had just left – roiling toxic waters and die-off perpetuated by incompetence, greed and human self-centeredness. This guy, in Montana, had plenty of experience with the oil industry. So did a younger guy Marc ran into at Yellowstone. They all have nice theories about bottom kills and that a well’s flow rate is measured with a simple tool-regulator oil companies put down its gullet, and should be known to the last cupful how much is coming out.

“But they just won’t say it on camera,” Marc said. “I’ve had plenty of people, rich ones, tell me we should open up Alaska to drilling, or how bad Obama is, but they are gutless, really, because they aren’t willing to hold their position on camera.”

Simple logic, simple wisdom. “If you believe in something, then you should be willing to talk to anyone about. I do. I don’t care if it’s a camera or a group of people.”

Leaving Yellowstone for the last leg of the trip to Spokane, Marc sees the value of putting the precious stones of our lives into perspective against the huge environmental loss and those 11 workers killed on the Deepwater Horizon well.

Memorial Day in Yellowstone National Park, and a couple were frantic, phoning in a 911 call, because a tuber got turned sideways and then slapped upside down. His young body floated head-down down the Yellowstone River as Marc and others watched.

“It’s so important to not take each moment for granted,” Marc said as he arrived at home. “Each day we have, up here, in this incredible place, is so important. We can’t forget how much beauty there is in each life.”

For those lives, for an entire Gulf Coast he captured on film, Marc will be forever mixed in. Like the river turning leaf litter, stones, dead fish, sun, the entire biotic exchange of life back to carbon, Marc’s film will be the river that runs through us all.

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