Pollution in the ocean, and then fish eat it and then we eat the fish.
What kind of pollution?
Plastics, because they’re so small it’s hard to collect them, and that worries me. Wildlife in general. You read about whales or something washing up on shore and they choked on plastic, choked on fishing nets.
(Friend: And the turtle thing.)
Yeah, the turtle thing! It’s very unnecessary. As a nation, or in the world–we’re so advanced that we’re so ignorant. We’ve forgotten the basic rules of life.
Do you give people a hard time when they throw trash around?
Yeah, and my daughter does too. She’s always holding people accountable. She’s five! and she’s like, Mommy, how come that person just littered? Her dad isn’t like that so she’s always holding her dad accountable when she’s with him.
Because we live in the same world, everything finds its way to us.
Neither Z nor R, her mom, nor JR, her dad, have ever seen a sea turtle in real life–its real life or theirs. The next day, JR used his break at work to look up Mystic Aquarium–they released a healed sea turtle in 2014 and didn’t have any turtle guests at present–and Mass Audubon’s turtle rescue.
Assist a sea turtle and you give aid and comfort to a jellyfish eater, a long-range traveler, a potential elder, an animal that can live without a human story. This caught Z’s imagination. “They shouldn’t need us, but they do need us, mommy,” she said. She drew pictures for her friends. She got them into the spirit of it.
That winter, R’s and JR’s bosses gladly gave them the week off from work when they explained their plans. They bundled Z into so many layers that the outermost coat was a grownup’s parka with the sleeves rolled up, and braided her hair to fit under a tight wool hat. Because they were first-time turtle rescuers, they took the day shift, walking until they were too cold to think. While they walked, they filled their backpacks with washed-up garbage, and R and JR tried not to fight.
All week they didn’t see a single turtle. “Are you disappointed, baby?” R asked Z on their last day.
Z squinted into the bitter wind. “No,” she said finally. “Well, kinda. But no, because that means they’re not in trouble, they didn’t need us this time. That’s good, right?”
Or it means there aren’t any more, R thought but didn’t say. How can we be sure? Intimacy takes time, it takes so much time. We would need to watch for years, through seasons. We would need to go out on boats, and maybe that would stress the turtles out, or cut them up, or scare their food. How can we know enough to know how anything is supposed to live? What can we learn about the possible power of our hands in the water?
As the ocean got closer and closer, Z and her classmates learned more and more about it. They spent day after day alongside it and, when they could, in it, using their phones to monitor changes, weeping and praying together the week of the big bird kill, dragging a landfill’s worth of trash inland to dry out its stink in the sun before figuring out what to do with it. They drew national attention.
The rise of the water all along the east coast was so sharp that year, the storm damage so severe, that even Florida set zero-emissions goals and then, the following year, moved them up, and then, two years later, met them ahead of schedule. Hundreds of sea-turtle hatching sites there had already been washed away.
We know a little about what happens far away from us, and think we know a lot. Intimacy takes time, but if we don’t have time, we may be able to make do with concentration. We may learn to know what we are seeing; we may learn to know without seeing.
Doctor’s note: This climate anxiety is from a conversation at the Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there again today, 3-6:30 pm. Please come and talk with me.