From Sea to Poisoned Sea

Image: High Contrast

Image: High Contrast

Growing up, I learned in school about the natural wonders of our great land—the deep forests, crystalline rivers, wide and sweeping plans, and pristine deserts. This was probably reinforced by various Disney nature films depicting animals in the wild, with not a telephone line in sight.

Imagine my surprise when I got a little older and found out about “dead” lakes so polluted that nothing much could live in them. Rivers that caught on fire from time to time. Sweeping landscapes of gray factories belching dirty smoke into the air, surrounded by heaps of toxic slag. And because I lived a mere 100 miles from Los Angeles, that mother of all urban blight, the pall of grayish-brown smog that obscured the nearby 8,000-foot-plus-high mountains on many days.

I know it sounds as if I were a complete naïf, but I was stunned. The people who were dumping toxins and garbage into the water had to live here, too. Their children were being exposed to poison in the air and water. They had to look at the blight of human ingenuity, right along with the rest of us. So what could they possibly be thinking?

Many decades later, I am still wondering. It has never made sense to me that people would crap all over their own dinner tables. And it has never made sense to me that governments allow them to do this. Every time I read about some scheme to defang the EPA, or lower air and water quality standards, or build another nuclear power plant even after the disasters at Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima, I am newly gob-stopped. Why would anyone knowingly and deliberately destroy the only home we possess?

That’s one reason I wrote “The Obsidian Mirror.” In it, the ancient and evil Necocyaotl devises a new way to entice people to “look into the obsidian mirror,” after which they become so focused on their personal wants and desires that they are willing to despoil the earth to obtain them. He does this by spreading his evil essence in a fiendishly clever way, using modern technology.

To be honest, it’s the only explanation I can understand. Nothing else makes any sense at all. Profit motive, you say? That’s like burning down your own house to warm your hands for a bit. Until I get a better explanation, I’m sticking with the Necocyaotl Theory.

My Interview with Ryan Attard (aka “the bad boy of AEC Stellar Publishing”)

Ryan Attard, the author of the “Legacy” fantasy series (“Birthright” is the latest in the series and can be found on Amazon at interviewed me, and you can hear the podcast at Warning: it’s long.

Ryan Attard

Ryan Attard

If you enjoy urban fantasy and you’re especially intrigued by anime, Eastern traditions and martial arts, Attard is just the man for you. His protagonist in the series, Erik, is a wizard with genetically inherited magic–who can’t use his magic. He has a snarky cat-demon as a familiar, his current apprentice is a flame-haired succubus, and he fights with a magical sword called Djinn. What more could you want?

I’ll be interviewing Ryan in the near future. I found out that he owns swords himself, and will run through fight scenes with a similarly-equipped friend to assure verisimilitude in his fight scenes. He’s also a martial arts practitioner and he lives on the island republic of Malta. Ryan should be a fascinating interview, and I’m looking forward to persuading him to stop writing long enough to talk with me.

A Walk on the Beach. With Sooty Shearwaters and the Cement Boat.

Our son-in-law, Mike, went camping overnight with Lilah (our granddaughter) and some family friends. This is a traditional trip for the dads and girls, and they camp at New Brighton Beach, which is quite close to us. Tom and I decided to walk down the beach to say hello, but found they were tired and packing up to come home.

But we saw some amazing things on the walk. We have, against all logic, a cement boat here. That is, it once was a boat. Now it is a wrecked remnant of a boat, used by pelicans and other seabirds as a roost and nesting area above deck, and the interior (broken open long ago by waves and storms) has been populated by a rich array of sea life.

The cement boat has a history (and yes, it once did float on the water, despite being made of concrete). It was built as a tanker toward the end of WWI, and christened “S.S. Palo Alto,” but never saw service. It was purchased by an entertainment company and towed to Seacliff Beach in 1929. It was grounded a few yards offshore, and they built a pier out to it. For a brief time, it was a tourist amusement with a swimming pool, dances, refreshments, and all the other accoutrements of a seaside tourist trap. After two years, the entertainment company went bankrupt and the boat was abandoned. She cracked open amidships, but was used by the locals as a fishing pier.

Today, the pier still runs out to the boat, but there is a wide gap between the end of the pier and the boat. There is a barrier at the end of the pier, apparently to prevent people from attempting to leap the gap. The pier is still used for fishing, but the S.S. Palo Alto is basically a tiny manmade island, a bird refuge, and a synthetic reef.

Cement Boat1

The black fuzzy-looking stuff beyond the boat is thousands of birds.

And, lest this sound romantic, it stinks to high heaven of bird shit. It is one of the most highly-polluted beaches in Northern California, thanks to the birds, but this doesn’t seem to deter campers and picnickers one bit, even though I personally find the stench gagulous.

But we had to walk past the concrete boat today, and as we headed down the beach, tens of thousands of sooty shearwaters appeared and began to settle on the water to feed. Sooty shearwaters, which look like dirty seagulls, are migratory. They nest in New Zealand, but migrate around the Pacific, spending much of the summer in Northern California. In New Zealand, they are often referred to as “muttonbirds,” which is indicative of what the NZ settlers did with them. The Maori still harvest about 250,000 sooty shearwaters every year for food, oils, and fat. Yet many thousands (of shearwaters, not Maori) still wind up in Northern California every summer, where the natives prefer virtually anything over fricaseed seabird.

The shearwaters were joined by the pelicans, gulls, dolphins and seals, all of which followed the unseen school of fish back and forth along the coast, gobbling as fast as possible. All in all, it wasn’t a good day to be an anchovie.