Every few months, there’s a minor oil spill on Seattle’s Lake Union – a boat’s bilge pump goes haywire, or a fuel line leaks. I wake with a headache, the houseboat full of fumes. Outside, the water around my raft is an iridescent swirl of red and green and yellow and purple, glinting maliciously in the sunlight.
As little as ten gallons will do it. Unless it’s far more and they can lay down booms, the Coast Guard can’t do much but leave it to evaporate. Even in full sun, that takes time. We worry about the ducklings, the cormorants, the salmon, the eagles that swoop down to catch the salmon. And we hit the Advil.
Compared to the million-plus gallons a week pouring into the Gulf of Florida right now, ten gallons is less than a blip — one hundred-thousandth, to be precise, or .00001%. But it’s still an insult, every time. An insult obviously to the environment, but equally to ourselves.
Whether it’s a matter of corporate greed (big oil), or politics (deregulation), or sheer obliviousness (drunken boaters), these aren’t accidents. They’re inevitabilities. They’re what happens when you take a crassly utilitarian approach to life.
Categorize something as essential as water as a “resource” and you basically categorize life itself as a “resource,” because water is life. Without water, we die. Yet we are killing the water. Think of those oxygen-starved “dead zones” where no fish can live, or the gigantic gyres of plastic garbage in the Pacific, or the murky stream that used to be the Jordan River.
When we foul the world, we foul ourselves. It’s a direct biological line of cause and effect. Yet science — reason, that is — clearly doesn’t cut through the obliviousness. So we may need to get religious about this. After all, where reason fails, religion steps in. Specifically, pantheism.
Attributing divinity to natural phenomena was once the only explanation that made sense. Sun worship was not about tanning; it seemed miraculous that the sun rose every day. (My favorite ancient Egyptian mural: the sky goddess Nut bent over the world, with a little round sun entering her mouth each evening, traveling through her body, then being reborn through her vagina each morning.) Water was the gift of the sky gods Baal and Yahweh and Zeus, all brandishing the lightning bolts that signify rain.
Those “primitive” ancients had the grace to acknowledge their dependence on the environment. Intimately acquainted with the fragility of life — with drought and death — they had a true sense of the sacredness of it, by which I mean respect for it. So perhaps we need to revive the spirit of pantheism in order to regain that respect for ourselves and our world. Ourselves, that is, in our world.
I suspect every agnostic is something of a pantheist at heart — knows that atavistic sense of awe in the face of sunrise or of huge thunderclouds. That may be why I sometimes do sun salutations at dawn at the end of our houseboat dock.
Unless there’s an oil spill. Yoga doesn’t cut it when all you can breathe is fumes.