If Only We Might Build an Ark

The Buddhists have a belief that all of life is intertwined, that all phenomena are intimately connected from the smallest insect hidden in the tall grasses to the metallic gold of a butterfly’s chrysalis. Every living thing, big and small, is united in a kind of universal cohesion, intricately woven like the fine weave of a spider’s web.

The Chaos theory suggests the same interdependence: A butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, a hurricane results thousands of miles away.

It is these thoughts that have taken root in my mind of late. For the last days and weeks, there has been a sense of anguish that won’t leave me. Lodged in my heart space, like a sickness or malaise that won’t lift, it finds its way into my days, intrudes itself into my sleepless, troubled nights, gnawing, taunting, prodding me to do something, anything to lessen the disquiet.

As some may know, I walk in a beautiful bird sanctuary that rims the waters of the San Francisco bay. It is almost too idyllic to imagine, such is its beauty, and each time I’m there, I feel blessed. And the birds with their heavenward choruses remind me that I am, and that if there isn’t a deity responsible for this heart-crushing beauty, then most assuredly, there is something or someone approaching divinity, who in their benevolence extended this gift of unsurpassed beauty, this masterpiece of a planet we call home.

The spiritual references are intentional since it has now been a little more than a month to the day, that an oil rig exploded forty one miles off the coast of Louisiana, killing eleven people, and launching an unfathomable surge of oil into the pristine sea surrounding it. For days, as I looked out at the sea surrounding me on my walks in the sanctuary of the wetlands, I couldn’t help but notice the birds, listen to their melodious warble, and imagine the horror of how it would feel to be sheathed in feathers suddenly mottled with oil, leaving these precious creatures helpless, vulnerable, unable to move, breath, sing or fly.

My imagination has taken me from thoughts on the writings of the Scrolls of the Dead Sea to the biblical story of the ark constructed by Noah at God’s instruction to save the last remaining souls of this earth from the ravages of the great flood. Oh, I wished fervently to myself, if only we might build an ark like Noah’s to save everything in the wake of this destruction.

With each passing day, and no success in sight at containing the foul and invasive spill, I waited, along with the rest of the world, knowing it would come. Inevitably, it did. This past weekend.

Saturday, May 22, 2010.

Reporting from Grand Isle, LA. This seven-mile squiggle of homey rentals and streets with names like Redfish and Speckled Trout had wrung hope for weeks from a single belief: Oil would land somewhere else.

But on Friday, oil the color and consistency of brownie batter began tarnishing the shore of Grand Isle, a tourist town of 1,500 that draws its livelihood from thousands of weekend visitors.

The dark ooze — the first direct hit from the massive gulf oil spill on a populated, popular shoreline — deepened anger and anxiety on the Louisiana coast as the slick swirled offshore with no containment in sight.

This appeared the following day, Sunday, in the Washington Post:

Already the slick has polluted some of the biologically richest waters in America. Even worse damage could take place this week as oil soaks the beaches and passes through the feeble barrier islands to the inland bays, marshes and estuaries — the nurseries for shrimp, oysters crabs. The names of these places will be in the news in the days ahead: Terrebonne Bay, Timbalier Bay, Caminada Bay and Barataria Bay. “All the diversions are wide open,” Myron Fischer, director of a research lab for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Grand Isle, said of the river. “Just trying to push.”

But a prevailing current near the mouth of the Mississippi flows east to west toward Texas, and it has caught the oil. An eddy appears to be forcing it directly toward Port Fourchon and Grand Isle.

What is poised to be a major disaster for fecund ecosystems ranging from brackish marsh to deep coral reefs in the darkness of the continental slope comes on top of decades of man-made stress: The gulf coast fisheries have long been threatened by the slow-motion crisis of coastal erosion.

The result is that Louisiana is vanishing. The state has lost 2,300 square miles of land since the 1930s.

According to the distinguished oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, “Just about everyone on the planet will be affected, one way or another, by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Addressing the U.S. Congress last week in investigating what went wrong, (full text here) Ms. Earle’s testimony was cited as “positively lyrical” by Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, Democrat-Minnesota, calling it reminiscent of Lord Byron’s poetry. “I am enthralled by your love of the ocean,” he said.

This remarkable woman, at the start of her testimony, said “I really come to speak for the ocean.”


“I really
to speak
for the

~Sylvia Earle


“The Gulf of Mexico is not, as some believe, an industrial wasteland, valuable primarily as a source of petrochemicals and a few species of ocean wildlife that humans exploit for food, commodities, and recreational fishing. These are assets worth protecting as if our lives depend on them, because in no small measure, they do,” she said.

“The Gulf of Mexico is a living laboratory, America’s Mediterranean, a tri-national treasure better known for yielding hurricanes, petrochemicals, shrimp and, in recent years, notorious ‘dead zones,’ than for its vital role in generating oxygen, taking and holding carbon, distributing nutrients, stabilizing temperature, yielding freshwater to the skies that returns as rain–contributing to the ocean’s planetary role as Earth’s life support system.”


“While yielding
to the pressure
to extract
golden eggs
from the
golden Gulf,
we have
to take care
of the Gulf

~Sylvia Earle


A Requiem or Requiem Mass, also known as a Mass for the Dead (Latin: Missa pro defunctis) is a service, said or sung, for the repose of the souls of the dead. A more secular interpretation would be an act or token of remembrance. This small tribute of, unbearably, little consequence, was all I could do to lessen the hurt in my heart.



2nd century B.C., Germany, Berlin, Pergamonmuseum (Archaeological Museum), Hellenistic art, Turkey, Bergama. Detail of the frieze from Pergamon altar representing Auge and the building of the ark. De Agostini Picture Library

The Dove Returns to Noah, painting by James Tissot
Caption: USA, New York State, New York City, Jewish Museum, circa 19th century

Noah’s Sacrifice, 1847-53 (oil on canvas),
Leeds Museums and Galleries (City Art Gallery) U.K., The Bridgeman Art Library

Winter, or The Flood, 1660-64 (oil on canvas), Louvre, Paris, France, The Bridgeman Art Library

NASA’s Aqua Satellite captured this image of the Gulf oil slick on May 18, 2010.

The Rains Came-Beginning of the Flood, by Vittorio Bianchini

Leaving the Ark, 1356-67 (fresco), Collegiata, San Gimignano, Italy, The Bridgeman Art Library




~ by eaesthete on 05/24/10.

16 Responses to “If Only We Might Build an Ark”

  1. Well said. This is a tragedy of unspeakable dimensions, and we have only just begun to experience the impacts. It is a blot on our nation and on our species… a token of our lack of respect for our mother earth that made and nourishes us.

  2. Yes, this has raised great concern and feelings of loss in me as well and the fact that much time has been lost over those who are responsible trying to pass the buck amongst themselves and a lack of a back-up plan from the beginning is simply unacceptable. Once again, proving the fact that the world functions on a fine line which easily blurs when ‘needed’. Some things are not EVER acceptable – and this is one of them.

  3. Thank you, thank you. I will pass on this post link to friends from Louisiana and beyond.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bumble Ward, Bumble Ward, Mary Sullivan, Jim Mathews, Irene Nelson and others. Irene Nelson said: RT @bumbleward: Beautiful, poignant, timely post from @errantaesthete http://bit.ly/diqbko […]

  5. i blame bush.

  6. Beautifully spoken for the earth and its waters. I live in the middle of America, land-locked except for man-made lakes. In this university city, the liberal oasis in a conservative world, I see a profusion of Hummers, big trucks, and other gas guzzling vehicles and no one caring much that a delicate eco-system and a fishing industry has been battered and destroyed. There is no outrage that is proportionate to the crime. And, yes, it is a crime. Our illustrious senators can’t even gather up any spine to raise the liability cap for BP. We are addicted to oil. And with many addictions, I fear that it will be our death. Our arrogance and greed is killing our world.

    As for chaos theory, I think perhaps its name has given it a terrible misunderstanding. In chaos, we are truly all together.

  7. […] If Only We Might Build an Ark « The Errant Æsthete […]

  8. Thanks for taking the time to use your eloquent expression and the graphics to make this topic more palpable than it really is.

  9. So very sad… I am speachless… but thank God you are not. I loved this post, the chain of events is devastating and we all need to help raise awareness.

  10. I think the Original Sin is Man fouling his nest. It will be the end of us.

  11. I grew up on the Gulf coast, so this tragedy has a deep resonance. It’s not a glamorous sea like the Caribbean, nor strong like the Atlantic, nor vast and exotic like the Pacific. It’s warm like a bathtub in late summer, and its odd green color has always stuck with me since childhood. And its decided lack of strong waves is always a frustration to surfers who try to ride them. But its languid, sultry, tropical smells evoke my childhood like almost nothing else does. What will happen now to this beloved body of water? I don’t know, but I shudder to think.

    • John,

      Thank you for those beautiful and wonderfully evocative memories. I’ve not spent nearly enough time there, and yet, somehow, it feels intimately familiar.

  12. Beautiful post for such a tragic disaster.

  13. In that we are all connected…all but the most hidden away peoples of deep jungle or high mountains- or deep caves in the remote areas of our world….have had input to this most recent crisis spewing darkness into our Gulf and oceans, onto our land, and into our air, our nightmares, our illness. All of mankind’s striving to HAVE more- make it BETTER and BIGGER than what we perceive as natural -HAS TAKEN US DOWN the road of self destruction. NOT CEO”S or Democrats, or Republicans or aliens of this planet or others. The big WE have approved of what “serves” us, we have enjoyed it, craved for it, worked for it till we drop, neglected our children, voted for the one who could protect it. We have not tired to do it ourselves within our own capabilities.

    Big, Bigger BIGGEST has ruled and we are the losers. UNLESS the WE gets it -and in our last breath begin to live under one belief that we must take care of one another and that totally begins with our small earth upon which we have been given life to live.

  14. Here here. And the above comment also applies to a lot of other things as well. I only hope we can do it.

  15. I enjoyed the post, it’s really good, very useful :D Thank you.

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