You don’t have to be a superhero to be an effective defender of the planet. In Take Heart: Encouragement for Earth’s Weary Lovers, the inimitable Kathleen Dean Moore has penned a series of essays to nourish and inspire the environmental activist in each of us. This is not a gloom-and-doom accounting of disasters yet to come, but a collection of hopeful reflections with practical advice on how to better care for ourselves, and in so doing, care for our earthly home. Paired with whimsical artwork by Bob Haverluck, the essays in Take Heart are a much-needed antidote to the existential exhaustion and anxiety that climate change engenders. Preorder a copy today from our website and enter the promo code ED22 at checkout for free shipping and 25% off the cover price.
And now, as our Earth Day gift to you, we’re delighted to present this excerpt from Chapter 17: “Be Earth’s Ally.”
* * * * *
Look, five white egrets are lined up on the dike, waiting. Five yellow bills slowly swivel, following the tide as the last of it slides off the mudflat. Strands of eelgrass point to where the tide has gone. At the near edge of the slough, sedges stick up like candles waiting for the match, and salt-marsh bullrushes shine with salt. A northern harrier soars over the shore.
Since dawn, an eagle has perched in the beach pine at Lone Rock. Finally, he unfolds his wings and drops onto rising air. As if the movement were a maestro’s downbeat, all the marsh sings out. A flock of mallards and as many wigeons thunder into the air, and hidden herons flush, croaking. A salmon, or maybe it’s a flounder, smacks into deeper water. Then there is no hushing the birds. Maybe spring arrived at that exact moment, or maybe it was sun that warmed the mud to awakening, or maybe the final falling of the tide in one splendid moment melted the frozen music of the tussocks and mud-shrimp towers. Whatever it is, the varied thrushes will not stop whistling. A red-winged blackbird yodels from his perch on a surveyor’s stake. The air above the mud begins to shiver, whether in warmth or fear, I am not sure.
I have come to a special viewpoint to watch this morning tide. An architectural installation sited at the edge of the water, “The Portal” is a wide, wooden pipe constructed of circular trusses and thatched with sedges harvested in the marsh. Tall enough to stand in, with a bench fitted nicely to my knees, the tunnel is maybe four paces long. Part bird blind, part protest, it focuses my vision like a spyglass.
See this, the viewpoint demands. You may not turn your eyes away. These birds, these beings, these small lives that cannot keep from singing?— these stand in the way of the terminus of a planned 280-mile natural gas pipeline. A $10 billion project, it’s designed to bring fracked gas from Canada and the Rockies to a shiny new export terminal, where the gas will be liquified and exported to Asia. Just across the shoreland, the morning sun shines on pink flagging that marks the course of the pipeline. Blueprints detail a huge tank of explosive gas to be built on dredging spoil a few miles downriver. The project bulges with inconceivable amounts of cash, federal government subsidies, a fleet of white F-350 diesel trucks, abundant lies, and the threat of Oregon’s largest greenhouse gases emissions ever.
See these birds. See their glory and the sins plotted against them. Nature thunders to man the laws of right and wrong, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. It is right when a marsh at daybreak shimmers and sings; that is as it should be. Whatever destroys its joy, its beauty, the ancient urgency of its lives—that is wrong.
* * * * *
But the birds don’t stand alone. Another tide is rising. It’s a swelling affirmation of the worth of this coastal shoreland—not as a dumping ground for dredging spoils, but as an ancient community of slippery, shining lives. Not as a promise of temporary and poorly paying jobs, but as a vision of lasting livelihoods based on a thriving ecological and cultural community. The people stand with the birds and the salmon. They stand with what is lasting and life-graced.
The pipeline company doesn’t have to speak, to reveal its threats. We will stage public hearings in which only company representatives can be heard. We will spend fifty times as much as you can raise, to defeat a ballot measure against us. We will seize your land to serve the “public purpose” of bulldozing a ninety-five-foot wide clear-cut for the passage of the pipeline. We will dredge the shipping canal and pile tailings the equivalent of twenty-seven football fields one hundred feet high. We will, of course, not harm clams, spawning salmon, the livelihoods of fishing families, the schoolchildren watching as ships loaded with thirty-nine million gallons of explosive gas pass by, or the sixteen thousand people living in the hazardous blast zone.
A flock of crows flaps in low over the newly exposed tideflats. They hop to a landing, settle their shimmering wings, and begin to mutter among themselves. People—Jody, Sandy, Thomas, Allie, Don, Stacey, Hannah, and scores more—pick up their phones, also muttering as the tide reaches its lowest point and stalls.
“My husband and I have lived on our ranch for the past twenty-nine years,” Sandy says, “working extremely hard to create and live our dream. For fifteen of those years, we have been fighting the proposed gas line.” The pipeline company has plans for Sandy’s pasture: a gravel parking lot for company trucks, bulldozed into the hillside and surrounded by chain-link fence. As for the stream where Sandy has painstakingly recreated a salmon run, the industry will dam it, rip out its vegetative cover, dig a trench for the pipeline, and then “restore” the salmon. At this time of year, migrating flocks of sandpipers, dowitchers, stilts —the delicate, twitching shorebirds—scurry across the flats on little legs, pulling shrimp and worms from the sand. Many people also are on the move.
Some make phone calls to officials. Some paint dead salmon on parade signs. Some set up a website. Some begin organizations: Southern Oregon Rising Tide. Some write letters. Some raise money for lawyers. Some testify at hearings, citing international hazard experts. Some work to create new tourism and renewable energy jobs. Some document the larval crabs and salmon fry in the eelgrass. Some create alliances— tribes, nonprofit environmental justice organizations, parents, fisherfolk. Some carry petitions door to door. Some come to the edge of the water to sing and pray; there is no hushing them. Some might pull out the surveyor’s stakes, but this is not widely known.
Look: two hundred people are lined up on the Oregon State Capitol steps, here to talk to the governor. One hundred state troopers stand beside them, hands on their belts, waiting too. The people carry handpainted signs and cell phones. The police have two-way radios attached to their shoulders. They punch buttons and lean over to talk out the sides of their mouths. Finally, half the people walk peacefully into the public space of the governor’s reception hall. They sit on the floor to wait. Somebody calls out for pizza. They sing and will not be hushed: Like my great-granddaughter watching over me. Eight hours later, the governor stops by to say that she will not take a position on the pipeline and terminal; she will wait for the official approval process to play out. Troopers move in to arrest twenty-one people. Sandy is one of them. By now, the struggle over the terminal is national news. Reporters bear witness to the damage the terminal will do to the estuary, to the town, to the global future. The slack tide gathers itself and begins to rise. Over the years, state and federal agencies, one after another, have denied permits for the project. Now, citing “external obstacles,” the pipeline company announces it will not move forward with its plans.
* * * * *
The tide turns. It really does: when things are at their lowest point—that’s exactly when the tide turns. Water rises in the tracks of the deer and bubbles up the tunnels left by the siphons of crabs. Pushing lips of foam, rising water fills the depressions where ducks had dabbled for periwinkles. An egret lifts one foot, another, then spreads magnificent white wings and flaps away. The eelgrass turns with the tide, pointing now upstream. The tide carries what it finds: dry beach grass, a crow’s feather, a scrap of pink flagging.
copyright 2022 by Kathleen Dean Moore. Art by Bob Haverluck.