THIS MAY I LOOKED FORWARD TO A SPECTACULAR MIGRATION in the midst of Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, and Medford (MA). With species in rapid extinction, I had given up on this migration, much as the grey whales disappeared from migrating the 2,000 miles up the Atlantic Ocean. I was wrong.
As humans relearn that we need to let up on the heavy pedal pressed to the floor, a pungent scent of drakes and cattails calls me. Ten weeks ago I was stressed about a stolen bike lock, pacing while waiting for the dentist, or angry at forgetting passwords. My heart stops and accelerates at breakneck speed.
All of this angst and swearing under my breath gets me nowhere. Stress during pandemic makes my hide quiver, stress when police strangle Blacks tightly coils my cougar body. The number of anti-racism zoom meetings leave me sensory dead. And I’m dealing with the fear of loosing my mother. She might die from the Virus, or just plain loneliness.
The migration of the Alewife herring isn’t a distraction from police brutality. Immersion in wonder is not living in denial. Imagine the stampeding of the wildebeest in Tanzania or the skies filled with geese flying south. In the midst of praying over food and the endless washing of hands, I notice the miracles. To notice the animals thriving is part of my well-being. I watch baby wild turkeys, one jumped up a curbstone. The roses tumble over each other. This helps my breath to deepen when echoes of George Floyd– or is it Eric Garner?– say, “I can’t breathe.”The river has less boats. Humans are precious to the universe, and so are the snapping turtles, the dashing hawks, the copper worms. don’t you know that the Garden of Eden isn’t a myth? We are living in beauty now, today. And while I’m aware of reaching 100,000 Covid deaths and some ugly lynching, guess what still amazes me? The herring in our rivers are returning– they’re swarming, bubbling, chasing each other, cavorting in circles.
The Alewife herring spectacular migration runs in May each spring. Last year I joined in efforts to honor and protect the migration. Fish aren’t really my ‘fav’ species–they are slimy and, well, cold-blooded. They are also silver and flashy. I see the dimples and swirling on the surface, with hundreds of metallic bellies. The herring nimbly chase and bend into horseshoe curves. Sharp fins like razors popped on the water’s edge give my spine a primal thrill. With a lot of effort the alewife is no longer a threatened species. I love a great come-back story. Can humans also change their course?
The tenacious alewives use the Quinibecquin to spawn, it’s their birthplace. I also birthed 2 infants safely near the river. Now my children are at higher risk of death. Our weapons-making and fossil fuel consumption has caused havoc throughout the land. In a time of COVID I’m singing more songs of grief. I wonder at life, like looking in the pupil of God.
Look! The herring return…life swirls and foams…the beauty of the land in bloom. Caution! There is disease, murder, the brutish slaughter. I cover my eyes. Where is freedom?
“Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. (Gen. 2). Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both… Heroes are rare.” – James Baldwin