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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Depth of Heart    ( Posted January 13, 2004 )

I left the Lab today after a particularly hectic meeting where several members of our small and lofty software group had been waving huge ego banners beyond any realistic degree of comfort. I'm off for the rest of the day and decide to take a solo lunch at a place favored amongst my JPL friends. Alas, they're all busy discovering Mars. Good for them. But that left me to my newspaper for entertainment.

Lots of things are happening in the L.A. Times. I could almost feel the paper bustling with enthusiasm when I pulled it out of the rack. I sat and found a lengthy article about the Inuit of Alaska. As I read I found myself comparing the Inuit to folks in rural Baja and wondering.

The Inuit are the world's most polluted people the Times told me, not in those words. They live so remotely that markets and stores are not an option and they treasure their heritage and thrive on the old ways. In the words I read they were catching, slaughtering and then eating raw a Ringed seal and a Narwhal, a small whalelike beast with a long pointed tusk projecting from its forehead, a waterborne Pegasus. No swimming with this dude thank you.

I had no unspoken argument with the taking of these unfortunate beasts as they were food for others. But the point the paper was making was that the sea creatures were filled with toxins and were contaminating other beasts, including humans that consumed them.

I stopped for a minute to think, dropped my glasses and watched an attractive couple walk by, gather and fill plates from the buffet, return to their booth. I just needed a minute to imagine where all the pollutants the Inuit were receiving were coming from.

Perhaps the purest places on our planet are the most elevated. Perhaps they are most free from earth borne contaminants. Perhaps they are the most directly effected by the solar system and our universe, but they are accustomed to that over millennium. Our northernmost sea level earth climes, it seems, end up to be the least pure. I read that a mother's breast milk is not safe for her baby. I read that the human contamination is off the scale of the various labs that measure the Inuit.

And all the while I wonder about Baja California. Particularly the northern segment of the Sea of Cortez.

All the activities we humans participate in, good, bad, and neutral, end up as far south as gravity will take the byproducts: Our world's oceans. What begins with seeding clouds for rain or fuel consumed by a massive airplane hoisting itself into the clear blue sky of morning, rains back to all back to us on earth. In an innocent effort to protect family-feeding crops from insects a first-, second-, or third-world farmer sprays a bug-killing solution on his plants. Industrial nations pump poisons into holding tanks that eventually are absorbed by mother earth and it ends up in the ocean.

How does the Sea of Cortez measure up? Have we or others evaluated the blood and other fluids of folks that live along her shores for the contaminants they may contain? As a place less remote than the North Pole we would naturally assume no problem. But if you look at the Gulf of California in the same geographic sense it has some similarities. Much of the runoff of California and western mainland Mexico is into the Colorado River and the northern Gulf. Much of that is highly agricultural. What are the patterns of the fishes and mammals that come to the Sea of Cortez to feed? Where do they come from? Where are they going?

And why, I ask myself in ignorance, don't the Inuit change? I read the words "lame lettuce," "really old oranges," and "dried up apples." I remember Baja when that was the best of the best; not too many years back when the only fresh fruits and vegetables were delivered to a village once a week in the back of a small truck and it was first come, first served. Fish and mammal were all that was available.

As biological beasts, botanical and zoological, we are born into our first environments, which is where we most likely choose to stay, in some sense at least. If we live in a remote place that is arguably more likely.

And then I think for a quiet moment at my lonely lunch about the quality versus quantity of life. Alaska or Baja California? What difference does it make? The locals there are born into their families, habits, customs with no thought to the length of life, rather the warmth and depth on their social palate.

It's time for me to pay the check and I do, my friend and waiter wishing me well. Adios Amigo, he says.

Walking back to Vaca Blanca I have another moment to reflect on my life. It isn't a contest measured in the years survived. It's measured in the depth of heart.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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