Friday, May 7, 2010

The Orange Alligator

Yesterday I was the recipient of a surprise offering in the mail from a friend who lives in Black Mountain, NC: a small, orange plastic alligator. "Here is a little friend for Virgil," the message said. "Your blog is the only thing keeping me sane these days." The gift came, so to speak, out of the blue and just in the nick of time, given as how I feel anything but sane, myself, these days.

Witnessing, and then writing incessantly, about the monstrous upheavals and chronic woes of our country and of the planet (which now happen on a daily basis and are irrevocably linked) has all but eclipsed the luminous edge I would much have preferred to live by. But that hardly seems possible now. For a few seconds, it was as if the orange alligator reconstituted that lost edge, serving as a reminder, because in these dark days, my brackish soul is definitely more like that broken oil rig in the Gulf. It just keeps on gushing out raw pessimism. But with this tiny sign, the universe has somehow let me know, that in my moments of acute discouragement, someone is out there listening, and feeling helped by what I write. I can tell you, it's not easy writing about these things, because it means keeping close contact with some pretty deadly stuff.

The sight of the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville sitting in ten feet of river water, diesel fuel, and sewage, was not exactly a world-class cheerer-upper this week either. Nor was my mood improved by reading Jim Moore's blog on Huffington Post about the oil spill. He spoke directly to my greatest fear: we might be powerless this time to stop the oil flowing out from the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, chances are good, he says, that we do not possess the technology, and that humans can't even function at the sea level where the leaks are, to plug them up--so robots have been enlisted to do the job. "If there is no plug placed in the hole," Moore writes, "it is not inconceivable that no part of the planet's oceans will escape harm." Just before writing this, I read breaking news that the said robots had failed in the attempt to close the leaking valve. The orange in the photo seen above is oil, slowly colonizing the sea.

Meanwhile economic reports have just come out again with small signs of positive improvement. The tone is measured as usual, but upbeat. No one mentions the spill's potential to wipe out coastal businesses around the Gulf for years to come--or its far-reaching potential to cancel out all previous, or any further, sputtering increments of the economic recovery we have managed to eke out thus far. The stock market, meanwhile, was inexplicably jittery as a cat on a hot tin roof. Nobody could say exactly why, but a commission has been formed to investigate the cause. So far at least, nobody has asked me. If they do, what I'll tell them is how really great it was to get a blazing orange alligator just as the lights went out.

Next week I will write more about the second half of Bill McKibben's book, "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet."


K said...

yes yes yes...thank goodness you can must the articulate words to say all we are feeling and grieving so deeply for. I've been worried about the Gulf Stream since day one. All the coastal marsh land areas are incredible fragile...just the refineries from the 20th Century have destroyed thousands of acres of them...development I feel like the Australian couple in On The Beach waiting out the cloud of nuclear dust from the atomic bomb that destroyed the rest of the world...they are all who are left. I'm ready for a miracle.

Sam Barnum said...


Like you, I am not immune to the daily existential crisis that comes with the territory of contemporary life. Nothing I do seems like enough. Teaching art to school kids- while I know it means a lot to some of them- seems like a drop in more of an abyss than a bucket.
As I try to think about how to do the most good, promote maximum progress, make the best revolution, I remember that sometimes the smallest gestures can still be powerful. Like sending someone an orange alligator in the mail. It might not stop the Gulf oil leak, but it is inspiring, nonetheless. And so much better than gallows humor.