Saturday, August 7, 2010

Oil Spills, Plumes and Dead Zones: The Mayan Calendar

nasa bp oil spill photo
Image: NASA, public domain. oil spill as seen from space May 17, 2010

Here is my new Huffington Post, which I hope will help balance all the denial and overly optimistic federal and BP announcements that the oil spill is “gone.” Please read and pass around. I was gratified that the Post accepted a piece that included environmental fiction as a commentary on the oil spill’s Dead zone. It’s from Animal Heart – a novel that is even more timely now!

Brenda Peterson: Gulf Oil Spill Meets Dead Zone: What Lies Beneath

Aug 5, 2010 ... Facts can be filed away and forgotten. But a story is often vividly remembered. So here's a story about the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone -- what ...

Adding to what I’ve written about oil plumes and increasing dead zones in our oceans in the Huffington Post, here is a dream that I had the day before I first saw these NASA images from space. It was one of those dreams that are so vivid and haunting that it is difficult to awaken into this reality and carry on as if nothing had happened.

In the dream I am on the beach in what I recognize as Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico from a visit there in the 1990s. Several of my friends and people who are quite graceful and in indigenous clothes are gathered around a squat box.

“Is it a seal?” someone cries out and calls me over. As a long-time wildlife advocate and founder of Seal Sitters, I often spend time sitting with seal pups on our Salish Sea beaches, protecting them from dogs and overly curious people.

So it was familiar for me to be asked to look over this seal. What was not familiar was the very ornate box, carved with all sorts of mythic creatures in a dark cherry wood. It seemed alive.

Pandora-style, I open the box, and inside is a gigantic sea snake. Cobra-like, the serpent begins to sway and rise up to an immense height.

“This is a very dangerous and powerful snake!” I tell the villagers and they scatter.

Suddenly I am all alone with the creature. Transfixed, I feel my feet sinking in the beach sand, but I cannot move. The paralysis of dreamtime binds my limbs as I watch this serpent rise up and up until she is towering over me. Those black, obsidian eyes do not blink, but hold mine as if we are in communion. But I do not yet understand.

[Any of you who have read my new memoir will remember that as a child a rattlesnake coiled and slept on my chest so I have a long history with snakes. I see them not as evil, but as divine messengers. Think of the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ancient Greece, the sacred snake goddesses of Crete, and the wisdom of Egypt’s cobras. In chapter 1 of I Want to Be Left Behind, there is a story of a Snake School that teaches compassion and forgiveness. So my relationship with serpents is one of respect and reverence.]

So as I gaze up at this massive sea snake on the Yucatan beach, I am more mesmerized than frightened. She is very powerful and as I try to fathom what she is teaching me in that slow dance as she spirals up into the sky, the sea serpent transforms.

First the head opens into a plume of brilliantly colored feathers – yellow and scarlet. A beak sprouts from the serpent’s tongue and then the dancing body metamorphoses into a beautiful bird. Body long and elegant, still swaying. Immediately I recognize the creature: the plumed serpent, the Mayan bird-snake called Quetzalcoatl.

The plumed serpent spreads her translucent wings, but is no flight. I wonder, does she ever fly? Instead, she dances on the sand until the sea and surf open to her like a watery portal. She looks at me only once and then disappears under the sea. I plunge into the waves and can still barely make out her shadow far beneath the surface of the sea.

I could barely awaken from the dream and images of the brightly colored bird-serpent kept interrupting my daily routine. It was only two days later, when I was writing a blog and posting a NASA satellite image of the Gulf oil spill that I recognized: the oil spill was the plumed serpent of my dream and the Gulf of Mexico, once revered by Mayans, was now shadowed by a spill that looked eerily like Quetzalcoatl.

Look for yourself. I’m not making any end-of-the-world predictions about 2012 and the Mayan calendar. My mind doesn’t go there with this. Where my thoughts always go is to the symbolic and mythic, the play and weave imagination and the so-called real.

It’s worth noting our dreams and our realities and how they intersect in that littoral zone and light – the meeting place.

The oil spill is still a shadowy plume at the bottom of our Gulf of Mexico. At one point, even as British Petroleum still denies its existence, U. of Southern Florida scientists measured the plume as 22 miles long, six miles wide, and 1,000 ft. deep. We have ample documentation on the Dead Zones in the Gulf and our world. For those of us who live and look under the surface of things, who listen to our dreams, we must stay awake. Even if it means paying more attention to our dreams.

We must try to fathom what we cannot see. That’s what science and dreams both ask of us. 
As W.B. Yeats wrote, “In dreams begin responsibility.”

Both scientists and dreams are telling us, the spill is now a plume underwater. It only awaits a hurricane to be revealed. 

"Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent" by William A. Clayton: see original at this link:

And here is a world map of well documented Dead Zones. Notice the Gulf's saturation with Dead Zones. And now BP wants to drill another exploratory well like the one that just spilled, in the same waters.

nasa ocean dead zones image