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    Friday
    Sep302016

    On Olympic National Park and the Descent of Man

    We’re Johnny-come-latelies. We live in the cosmic boondocks. We emerged from microbes and muck. Apes are our cousins. Our thoughts and feelings are not fully under our own control. There may be much smarter and very different beings elsewhere. And on top of all this, we’re making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.

                                                                -Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space 

    The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.

                                                                 -Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    Give me silence, water, hope
    Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

                                                                 -Pablo Neruda

    Hey, put the cellphone down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    Can you hear it breathing?
    And hey, put the laptop down for a while
    In the night there is something wild
    I feel it, it's leaving me...

                                                                  -Arcade Fire, Deep Blue

     

                       Preface:  Due to a discombobulation in the time-space continuum I have not been writing, reading, nor drawing as much as I was in my prime.  I yearn for the days of yesteryear, when I would force myself out of bed at 4am (a time that separates the men from the boys), brew some coffee, sit down at my desk, and then write in the room I lived in in the country under the morning stars.  God was it beautiful.  I am determined to return to that physical and mental place in my life, and hopefully do much more to help those in need, but until then, my mornings shall remain as such:  roll out of bed at dawn, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, slap myself in the face and say, “Let’s go,” then I’m out the door, flying away on my motorcycle. 

                The following slideshows present photographs taken in Olympic National Park (ONP) over a week in August, 2016.  Within the contiguous United States, ONP is the 6th largest National Park – after Death Valley, Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Glacier.   Visiting in the summer is worth contending with the crowds, and they can be beaten or altogether avoided if you wake up early, hike beyond the one-mile Visitor Center parking lot loops (at Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rain Forest, for instance), or visit the park on a weekday.  I did all of those things and within an hour of hiking away from the car and into the backcountry there were few people to be seen.  The entrance road on the north side of ONP originates from the town of Port Angeles and leads to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, about a half-hour drive and 5,200 ft. increase in altitude from town.  The Visitors Center resembles an A-frame alpine chalet and offers spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is the aquatic political border separating Washington from British Columbia, and the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding Olympic mountain range.  After driving to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center parking lot from Portland in my aunt’s car (a five-hour drive if you include a detour to get a better look at the incredible Mt. Rainer), I watched the Perseid Meteor Shower peak and then fell asleep in the car in the parking lot.  In the morning I drove along the seven-mile unpaved road (closed in the winter) to Obstruction Point, where the trailhead begins.

              The Olympic Wilderness is an immense landscape of ecological extremes and diverse micro-climates possessing such jaw-dropping beauty that the allusion to the mythological home of the Greek Gods is apt.  The Badger Valley Trail from Obstruction Point to Moose Lake (moose sightings: zero) starts at a trailhead that is surrounded by martian slopes of splintered shale and red tundra harboring endemic plants – geographically isolated flowers and succulents that took root and evolved in the Olympic Mountains after being ferried around the poles during the last ice age (1.8 million to 12,000 years ago and known as the Pleistocene Epoch, a fact that that will be discarded from by brain by the time I finish this sentence).  Patches of snow hug the sides of black basalt ridges and the gradual snowmelt feeds little indigo ponds that have pooled up on the mountainsides.  The trail straddles the spine of a mountain where elfinwood pygmy forests are sporadically perched on various promontories that slope down barren ridges of shattered rock transitioning into dense forest valleys further descending and bottoming out into subalpine meadows and turquoise lakes nourished by cascading streams from melted snowpack.  In the summer a galaxy of colorful wildflowers dot the many meadows humming with bees and other pollinators (butterflies galore) feasting off the nectar of the flowers, which are like dainty ballerinas curtseying toward the sun arching overhead before they close shut as the sun slips beyond the rim of the mountain and the gargantuan moon rises at dusk.   The storybook trail leads through beautiful pine forests of such undisrupted tranquility that had Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, or Snow While and the Seven Dwarves come walking down the path I would have casually stepped aside and made way for them to pass without blinking an eye because I would have thought: yes, naturally, they live around here, that makes sense. And then I would have proceeded with the hike.

              The hike from the Hoh Rainforest Visitor’s Center to Hoh Lake is fifteen miles long.  You can break this up into a two-night camping trip and walk away with having seen some of the most gorgeous serotinal flora and mountain ranges in North America.  One of my goals this trip was to see bears, and after having pitched my tent at Hoh Lake I went on a hike to find them.  Admittedly I was intermittently scared hiking alone on the ridges above the lake because I knew I was in bear country for their shit was everywhere (I would lean down to touch it to ascertain its warmth; I have never touched so much bear shit in my life) and, even though there are only black bears there, I didn’t want them to get the jump on me.  I walked for hours across pristine and sacred hills, ridges, and streams of hitherto unimaginable beauty (the descriptor words I wrote done in my notepad were: Edenic, Elysian, heavenly paradise, followed for some reason by the words Pokemon, pressure washer, weedwacker) but as I wandered around an unrecognizable mountainside far from my tent and the sun began to set I decided to call it a day and return to base camp.  On the way back I saw a bear foraging along a nearby slope.  I was happy because not only had I accomplished my goal, but I did so from a very safe distance.  I pulled out my camera and then there was another bear, this one about a hundred feet away – another safe accomplishment.  Then, I heard a rustling in the trees before me, and a black bear appeared about fifteen feet away.   Like the other two bears, he didn’t pay any attention to me and was strictly focused on what he had been doing the entire day: eating one berry after another.  I backed away as I watched him eat and felt an extreme degree of appreciation toward him.  Ever since this bear was a cub, all he wanted to do was eat berries all the live-long day and then go to sleep under the endless stars strewn about the night sky.  Of course intermittent mating, hibernation, aggression, territorial defense, and injuries were natural parts of his life, but for the most part he was harmless and he just wanted to eat berries all day every day.  I thought about him as a little cub growing up and playing in the mountains, and here he was now, asking simply to be left in peace so he could eat as many berries as possible for the rest of his life.  I imagined him continuing to eat berries until he becomes old and frail, and one day, perhaps under a night sky filled with the stars of cosmic galaxies and solar systems harboring other forms of life, the old bear, having lived his life, will slump down on the grass and breathe out the ectoplasm of his last bear breath beneath the stars, and everything he knew and understood would disappear into a dark and unknown realm of utter mystery and nonexistence. 

                  Instead of attempting to describe the fantastic beauty of the Hoh Rainforest and the mountains surrounding Hoh Lake, I will take the easy way out by drastically switching gears in order to generalize millions of individuals in urban populations and rail against the negative impacts that advanced and digital technology is having on modern man.  While the following commentary about the detrimental effects of phones and computers on the majority of people in the first-world is by no means novel, such thoughts did occupy a substantial portion of my thinking as I hiked backed to the car on the final day of the trip.
               Computers, cell phones, and the internet are primary forces leading to the devolution of mankind.  As of result of our addiction to these devices we have become more obsequious, complacent, absent- and narrow-minded, distracted, clumsy, sheltered, and apathetic. Our sense of gratification has shifted from accomplishing physical and tangible tasks to virtual ones and depends on the availability of a computer and the internet.  Our sense of purpose requires social media affirmation via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube “likes” and views.  Our dopamine levels spike when we receive text messages in our phones and emails in our inbox.  We feel comforted when we see familiar contacts logged-on to internet chat forums or Skype.  We feel a sense of accomplishment and conquest after we have made an online purchase such as a movie, concert, or airplane ticket – purchases which are shared on social media in order to draw attention to something that we’ve done, are doing, or may do.  Social media posts are often mundane or inane, or are motivated not by a genuine desire to share unique experiences with family and friends but to make the members of your social media network (sometimes comprised largely of people whom you do not know nor are truly friends with) envious of your seemingly productive and fulfilling lifestyles.   In truth we are all too often not living productive and meaningful lives partially due to our time-consuming internet technology addiction, yet nonetheless attempt to present an illusion that our lives are grand and to persuade others of such by using the same time-consuming social media and internet technology platforms that have contributed to the problem of being unproductive and feeling unfulfilled in the first place.  
                  The digital technology addiction epidemic has afflicted hundreds of millions of individuals in society, and has shifted so much of our attention to the screenworld that we lack the time and interest to focus on our immediate physical surroundings or think about something without looking at a screen.  The negative effects of this over-dependency on digital technology are multi-faceted, complex, and profound.  Our efficiency and ostensible happiness has become dependent on the functionality of computers, mobile phones and the internet, and as a result of this dependency the schism between man and nature has rapidly expanded to unprecedented extents.  Once primates, it is as though we have been plucked from the wild and inserted into an air-conditioned world of florescent lights and liquid crystal displays, the pixels of which we gaze into with our monkey-eyes, lost in an epileptic hypnosis and mind-numbing cyber-trance.  We have evolved from ape-man to app-man, into anthropocentric philistines suckling our mobile phones like electronic nipples – compulsive and frenetic like pond-life paramecium under a microscope that can feel the deadly heat of the microscope light but lack the faculties and perspective to comprehend the reason for their demise, yet understand that it is coming for they know they are out of their element – drifting about aimlessly like globular amoebas or single-cell bacterial microbes in a petri dish.  An entire sub-species of incompetent microcephalics, gormless cyborg imbeciles wandering around, plundering the environment and populating the planet, bitching and moaning pathetically about stupid-ass shit and at the expense of natural world – a bunch of crybabies in space.   Our addiction to digital technology and neglect of nature is leading to an increase in cognitive dissonance that is made evident in the following ways:  we cannot read, write, articulate, navigate, or think critically.  Less and less does our satisfaction derive from things like creating a piece of art, reading a book, spending time outdoors, or learning a new subject, skill, or trade, but is based on the materialistic consumption of products and outsourced services - our satisfaction is based on gluttony.  We are gorging ourselves to death, and the realization that happiness does not derive from excessive consumption is being outstripped by the destructive effects of this selfsame insane craze and the forces behind it.  By the time we realize that we were misguided (if we come to that realization at all) it will be too late, and after we have consumed all the earth beneath our very feet humanity itself will auto-cannibalize, and all that shall remain will be a lurid graveyard of fried circuit boards and dead iPhones.    

    Thursday
    Aug252016

    Mollusk Graveyard

             Call me queer or old fashioned, but I am seldom happier than when crawling on my hands and knees on my favorite beach (its specific location shall remain a secret) along the Sonoma Coast collecting seashells and the calcified exoskeletons of bygone mollusks that I may or may not use in a sculpture one day.   I feel guilty doing this because not only should be at work assiduously addressing more pressing matters, but also because I am a grown man crawling on the beach like a little kid scrutinizing beautiful shells and the fragmented remnants of dead sea creatures.  At the very least I should be at home writing.  I wonder to myself when I will stop this behavior.  If I live long enough to be an old man, will I still be looking for shells on the beach (assuming the ecology of the seas remains stable) when I need a cane to walk?  I hope so, for between now and then I’d like to see some of these sculptures and other projects into fruition. But ultimately, even if it doesn’t work out, I’m grateful that I’ve had such an extraordinary run.  Thanks to all the flora and fauna that have and continue to enrich add meaning to our lives, and without which we'd all be dead, like these seashells and mollusks (scroll over to right or left click):

     

     

     

    Sunday
    Jul172016

    The Fauna Exodus and Flora Holocaust in Stanislaus National Forest

            One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.  Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen.  An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of since are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who see the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

                                                                                                                                                             -Aldo Leopold

           One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.  Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure.  It is not enough to fight for the land, it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much, I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

                                                                                                                                                              -Edward Abbey

     

                Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend my friend, his two friends (whom I now consider my friends), and I went car camping at River Ranch campground on the outskirts of the Stanislaus National Forest in California.  Although the camping itself was more like tailgating at a football game due to the surplus of amenities (cots, chairs, three coolers, a standup grill, cheerleaders) and beer, the experience was valuable for many reasons, one of which is that through visiting a new place one gains familiarity with the surrounding environment, thus determining where to go when returning in the future (assuming it is a place worth returning to).  Therefore, I now know that when I return to Stanislaus I shall venture far beyond the azure lakes that flank Route 108 and journey as far as time, resources, and energy permit into the Carson-Iceberg and Emigrant Wilderness.  But that remains the subject for another blog post.  Until then, what follows are pictures taken on the trip to Pinecrest and Beardsley Lake, as well to God’s Bath (aka God’s Glory Hole/God’s Bukkake). 

                Above the Central Valley and below the High Sierras of Tuolumne County lies a subalpine wonderland of rivers, canyons, forests, valleys, and lakes.  Drive east from Twain Harte on the winding State Route 108 toward the Sonora Pass and enter Stanislaus National Forest.  Just off the 108, Pinecrest Lake (elevation 5,600 ft.) is a popular summer holiday destination for hundreds of families who come from the out woodworks to enjoy the refreshing mountain air and water.   If you seek peace and quiet, you’ll have to venture up from the lakeshore into the rocky pine slopes above the drone of motorboats and cackling crowds who should not be blamed for visiting the same lake at the same time.  (California is the most populous state in the nation, and it’s wrong to scorn the similarly or like-minded minorities whom have successfully escaped their concrete and drywall cells and the technological torture of urban monotony to seek reprieve at a lake in the mountains, unless they came here to watch or participate in jet ski races, wet T-shirt contests, or hot dog eating competitions.)

               In the cliffs and forests above the lake you will come across myriad animals that have fled the lake seeking refugee from the people and sound pollution. (In addition to the boat motors, the lake dissonance is augmented by car speakers blasting music and robotic female voices providing GPS directions for departing visitors.)  The ospreys, flickers, and tanagers will nest farther from the lake as the human activity at the lake increases, but for how long they will able to continue their resettling and survival efforts is unknown, for the arboreal ecosystem upon which these birds rely is in a state of terminal downfall.  When you go to Stanislaus National Forest, you can see dead and dying trees everywhere. They are dying by the millions.  It is a frightening sight: desiccated pine trees, dried and brittle, ready to light-up like matchsticks, spreading across the forest like a rust-colored cancer.  The implications are grave, and the reasons (drought, deforestation, pollution, development) for this massive die-off should be thoroughly contemplated and reflected upon by all Californians who care to act if we are to arrest this descent into an environmental holocaust.   While walking through the forest above the lake, I wondered what it was like a there century ago, and what it will be like in a century from now.


                 In the streams trickling down the mountain ravines to Beardsley Lake in the summer live colonies of plants and insects such as spiders and ladybugs and water striders.  On the upstream hike to God’s Bath dozens of butterflies were observed marching on the sand and fluttering above the riverbank.  The lifespan of ladybugs and butterflies is less than a year, yet these insects have existed as respective species on Earth for over 50 million years.  While the lifespan of individual spiders and butterflies may be considered short, as a species they have collectively stood the test of time.  While there may be no purpose to life nor explanation for the existence of life, I tend to lean toward the school of thought which advocates that our species should follow in the path of the insects and try to make this game last as long as possible via achieving a homeostasis with the natural world.  The reason for this may be as simple as the deduction that by embracing a healthy and balanced lifestyle, the greater the chances that humans and our posterity will live longer and enjoy the universe.  But if we check out now that too is fine, for we’re not obligated to be here for any given length of time.  What is disturbing about the current mode of operations is that our species seems to be taking many other species out in our march toward the precipice.  The trees, insects, and birds (among myriad other creatures) have done nothing to deserve their participation in the diabolical demise of their habitat and the implosion of the natural world, but nonetheless have been thrust to edge of existence, threatened with extinction, and forcibly endowed with front-row seats to the grand finale of the greatest show on Earth.  They are the victims of a worldwide ecocide, and it is our responsibility to do more to prevent their annihilation, for we the cause of it, and by saving them we would be saving ourselves.  Indeed, saving them is the only way to save ourselves.


    Wind turbines and freeways west of Livermore. 

     

    Friday
    May272016

    Wildcat Canyon Park at Dusk and History Eclipsed

    If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.   

                                                                                                     -Jean-Paul Sartre

    We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

                                                                                                     -Oscar Wilde

     

              Here are a few pictures taken on a solitaire sundown stroll through Wildcat Canyon Park near Berkeley, CA.   Despite the park’s proximity to the populous metropolitan hives and suburban hubs in the Bay Area, the only other animals I saw on this hike were cows, vultures, wild turkeys, and quail.   The park trails are lined by magenta thistle and the slopes of the chocolate hills are covered in tall grasses and dotted by yellow and red wildflowers.  Looking west from a hilltop one can see the distant Golden Gate Bridge which spans the mouth of the San Francisco Bay and connects that electric city to the North Bay where the prevailing rising landscape feature there is the formidable Mount Tamalpias.   Mount Tamalpias is situated on the Pacific Plate side of the San Andreas Fault, the tectonic boundary of which divides the Pacific and the North American continental plates, the latter of which Wildcat Canyon is located upon.  The North Bay is linked by the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay which, at dusk, is sprawled out before you like a giant circuit board glowing with artificial lights beaming beneath the setting sun.  The most noticeable manmade feature observable in the immediate East Bay is associated with the steam rising up from the cooling towers of the Chevron Richmond Refinery, which is probably located a little too close to the San Andreas Fault Line. 

     

             At the bottom of Wildcat Canyon lie freeways, streets, and parking lots overflowing with cars driven by people whom, like myself, are buzzing across the surface of Earth like frenzied and bloated microbes in a globulous petri dish that becomes ever more polluted and populated with each passing day.  The East Bay cities and towns have swallowed up much of the marshland of the bay, and obscene housing tracts are stacked throughout the hills and valleys.  Further east, in the dry hills of Contra Costa County, bulldozers are tearing apart the grasslands to make way for monstrous suburban housing developments and soulless strip malls, further guaranteeing an intensified stress on water resources in a state that has just experienced it’s most severe drought in 500 years.   These houses will be filled with people whom, not unlike myself, unnecessarily consume vast amounts of resources and energy for mindless purposes.  These houses will be tiled and carpeted, air-conditioned and insulated, furnished with smart refrigerators and freshwater toilets, and connected 24/7 to the worldwide web thereby in effect eliminating the need for residents to ever leave the comfort of their sterile homes to enjoy the natural world, which they may instead experience through virtual reality.  They will read few books and watch copious amounts television.  They will take fewer walks at dusk to view the bloodred sun and glorious bay, the lenticular clouds and evening stars, the ancient mountains and full moons tugging at the ocean – incredible geologic and astronomical events which eclipse our lives, civilization, and history itself.   We think we are unstoppable.  We take more than we need  (unlike all other animals which are born and die naked) and feel that we are entitled to it all, and because of this insatiable greed we are doomed.  And perhaps rightly so.  As much as I want us (me, my family, and posterity)  to stay, I look around and see the way we are mistreating this planet, at the way we disrespect all forms of life (ourselves included) inhabiting Earth, and I can't help but wonder: wouldn't the natural world be better off humans closed-up shop (shutting down the nuclear power plants, dismantling nuclear weapons) and died?  I don't want that happen, but sometimes I wonder...

     

    Saturday
    May212016

    The Belize Barrier Reef - Part II

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree:
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.

                                                                                                                                 -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan


              The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.

                                                                                                                                  -George Orwell, 1984

               In the course of our mosquito studies we had found that each different species had its characteristic flight habits. Some kinds were found only near the ground, others only high in the trees; some that were most common high in the trees in the morning or afternoon would come down near the ground during the midday hours, showing a sort of daily vertical migration.  While I was explaining this to my friend, it struck me, that this is just the way animals act in the sea.  Most life is near the top, because that is where the sunlight strikes and everything below depends on this surface. Life in both the forest and the sea is distributed in horizontal layers.

                                                                                                                                 -Marston Bates, The Forest and the Sea

     

     

                It is my pleasure to share with you the following pictures that I have had the privilege of taking while diving in Belize last month, but first, a glimpse into my writing process, or lack thereof.   I often fail to live up to the writing responsibilities I have bestowed upon myself because, as my mom says, I lack discipline and courage, and this is a tragedy of the highest order of magnitude and biblical proportions for I am depriving humanity and posterity of my ingenious insights, exceptional writing capabilities, superlative stories, and the potential game-changing impact they would have on the fate the Earth, not to mention the literary world which is currently suffering for want of good writers who have important things to say.  (That was a sarcastic remark, for I have read and can list myriad books authored by living geniuses whose writing accomplishments I shall never hold a candle to, The Invention of Nature, about the stupendous naturalist, scientist, and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt, being one of them).  The initial part of my writing process is writing notes in the notepad that I keep in my pocket or accessible whenever possible.  Because it is not waterproof, I didn’t bring it diving with me, but once I got back onto the boat I would saunter over to my backpack, take out my notepad, and jot down the things I had shelved in my brain while diving.  Thus, I had recorded the thoughts (which, in the case of my diving experiences, are just a few descriptive words of what the things I saw reminded me of or how they made me feel) for later transcription which doesn’t always happen as demonstrated by the conniving pile of sneering notepads that are stacked on my desk conspiring against and derisively mocking me for not transcribing the snide little bastards.  In the rare event that I actually transcribe onto my computer the notes pertaining to something I want to write about, I can then proceed to write about it, which is precisely what is going to happen right now.  One more thing: I would like to express the guilt I have about my journal entries and how I spend my time and resources in life in general.  I come to the altar as a sinner (mea culpa, or whatever).  I am painfully aware of and readily admit the hypocrisy inherent in my decisions and actions.  I incessantly rail against the way the elite are satanically ravaging the natural world and are oppressing or killing, at this very moment, innocent, defenseless, and voiceless civilians whom weep in agony in a world of rubble, and then I spend two thousand dollars on a ten-day vacation in Belize and a much greater amount of resources sustaining my luxurious and decadent lifestyle in heavenly Northern California.  I realize the contradiction here, and for this I am sorry to all those I am hurting as an American taxpayer not revolting against the despicable policies of my own government.  If there is justice in universe, unless I change my ways, then I will have hell to pay in some form or another, in this life or the next, and fully accept the retribution awaiting me.  Now on with the writing…

     

              What follows are slideshows of photographs taken on my second trip in as many years to the magnificent Belize Barrier Reef.  I feel no immediate need go back (although I hope to do so one day), because I have seen all that I wanted to of the reef for now, and would like to explore other reef systems on Earth while they and I still exist.  Rather than lament the grim prospects of survival that coral reefs are facing worldwide (that comes later), this blog entry will celebrate the uncanny and surreal beauty of these breathing underwater ecosystems that are teeming with life.  The first slideshow features wide-shots of various parts of the Belize Barrier Reef (Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef, and Turneffe Atoll).    In these photos I have tried to capture the scale of the reef and present a panorama of the diverse coral formations that comprise it.   Coral reefs are like forests in that they are conglomerations of interconnected organisms (in this case coral colonies) which support an abundance of other wonderful creatures and are dependent on sunlight for survival.  They are highly active marine environments that are pumping and reverberating with observable lifeforms as miniscule as the tiny polyps of branching sea whip corals that close shut upon the brush of your fingers, and larger than the blacktip reef sharks and giant groupers that drift along the wall of the living reef.  The wall gradually descends into an indigo and sunless abyss where very few coral species can live because the planktonic zooxanthellae (algae) which grows in symbiosis within most coral species cannot photosynthesize due to the lack or absence of sunlight in the fathoms of these deeper realms.  (P.S – I have no idea what I’m talking about.) 

     

              One reason why I love coral such much is because of how strange they appear.  Different coral species compete for space and sometimes merge in such a way as to give the impression that they’re the giant faces of grotesque, muppet-like sea creatures that, while benign, seem humorously startled by your presence.  Whilst diving one is surrounded by these bizarre coral formations that are reminiscent of Gary Larson animal caricatures or a SpongeBob SqaurePants cartoon backdrop.  Swimming though these aquatic dreamscapes is like swimming through a Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, or Yves Tanguy oil painting – rich in color and fantastical in shape so as to induce the feeling of a flying dream or mild hallucination.  Some coral species are florescent and glow bright blue, red, or yellow.  Upon closer inspection of one can see thousands of tiny coral polyps extending their tentacles to catch floating zooplankton.  Nature expresses itself in replicative patterns, and many coral species resemble mushrooms, moss, and lichen (which is a combination of fungi and algae) found in forests, while other coral resembles anatomical features such as the cortex of the brain or the ventricles of a heart.  Isolated colonies of sea rod coral rise from the sandy seafloor like cacti in an underwater desert, the skeleton structure of sea fans parallel the vein patterns of leaves, tube and basket sponges are filter feeders that look like carnivorous pitcher plants, and lengthy sea whips hang from coral walls in great tangles resembling willowy liana vines. In other words: things look like other things.

                While coral reefs and the behavior of their animal inhabitants exhibit many similar characteristics to the flora and fauna of tropical forests, they also remind me of ancient temples, medieval castles, European fortresses and cathedrals – an encastellated kingdom where singing mermaids collect human artifacts and mermen kings are armed with golden tridents that can magically fire destructive energy bolts.  Although they are natural and free-forming, coral patchworks are like organized underwater cities, bustling with caravans of blue tangs commuting through coral highways as though they had some important fish meeting to attend on the other end of the reef.  Spotted-eagle rays and alien-eyed loggerhead turtles shuttle themselves over the reef with flat-headed remora hitchhiker fish in tow.  Moray eels weave lithely through coral crevasses where armored spiny lobsters and Caribbean-accented channel crabs filter sand through their mouths in a relentless sift for food.    In this phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of life where sunlight shimmers though the prismatic water like sequins, rainbow parrotfish dart from coral to coral, pecking at the polyps with their beaks like birds.  The incredible flying fish soars above the surface of the water, gliding further than any dolphin can ever dream of jumping.  There are camouflaged fish that have evolved to disguise themselves in the small coral colonies or seaweed patches in which they ride out the entirety of their beautiful and seemingly simple lives.

             Coral reefs are extremely delicate ecosystems, their survival is dependent on innumerable variables remaining constant in order to maintain the conditions necessary for life in a healthy reef.  Occupying a slim echelon in ocean, these vast organisms, magnificent unto themselves, harbor forms of life that are so remarkably stunning and unique that they take the breath away.  The beauty and wonder possessed by coral reefs and the diversity of creatures they support lies almost beyond the realm of comprehension.  As they continue to decline worldwide, their future is not promising.  Time is running out to save the coral reefs and arrest the ecocide humankind is perpetuating against the seas.  If they disappear into extinction, this planet will have lost one of the greatest and most fascinating jewels to have ever graced the solar system.  Alas, the sad truth is that as with the death of a family member or friend whose presence we failed to cherish in life, humanity will not realize how vital the coral reefs are nor understand how much we love them until they’re gone forever.  May they rest in peace.