A STORY WITH NO END
The songbird's trill filtered almost visibly through the branches and gently dancing greenery of the tall forest pines, as if he were staking out his territory against possible intruders. His song moved as the wind moves, in and out of the branches, tickling the leaves, and changing force and tune every few minutes. After a few more echoing notes, his wings suddenly lifted and he was gone, as quickly and quietly as he had come. Except for the whispering breezes that moved the highest leaves in the twinkling sunlight, the tallest reaches of the forest was silent again.
At the base of the trees the short, sparse wild grass, unable to grow thick stalks because of the unreliability of enough sunlight reaching through the thickness of the trees, lay flat under the feet of the small animal that rummaged through the sticks and leaves searching for food. The grass sprang back up, alert as a sentry, as the animal passed by. The swift running current of a narrow rocky stream wound its way around jagged rocks covered with green algae, bubbling and caressing the edges of the rocks as if they were the lips of passing lovers soon to be gone around the next curve. The moist ground along the banks of the stream was cool, clean, unravaged by disaster and turmoil, as yet untouched by man.
Several hundred miles to the west, in a place where man had already been, a thin, almost shadow of a man stood on a narrow strip of salt and pepper sand. As his light colored hair blew in little whirlwinds, his blue eyes squinted out over the vast expanse of water, watching the sun begin to lower itself onto the distant horizon. The water lapped against the shore near his feet and the cloudless sky overhead darkened as if a giant theater light was being slowly turned down in stages. Fading streaks of orange and pink and deepest blue lay across the distant sky. The man was dressed in light colored trousers and a loose fitting shirt, both of which moved against his body as the wind shifted around his slight form, like laundry hanging on a clothesline on a breezy day. His narrow face was weathered, older than his years, telling of long hours and much passing time working outdoors in the sun. Barefoot, he carried his simple sandals in one hand. His friends called him Jack, and he was a man of few words.
As he stood there in the back end of the day, Jack thought of when he was a boy of about ten, nearly twenty years ago now. He lived near this beach then, and it was much wider and pristine white. He remembered it was so white the sun made the tiny sand particles glisten as if they were mixed with diamond dust. He stood there recalling his joy building sand castles, running and jumping on the skimboard, surf fishing with his dad. Doing the stingray shuffle (he did get stung once), riding his bike home before it got too dark. This had been his playground, his back yard. He now had a little difficulty letting his mind wrap around the fact that twenty years had gone by! Jack turned his back to the water and let his eyes skim over the land behind him. He remembered the marshy grasses with brown pelicans nesting. He thought of all the gulls he had chased relentlessly as boys do, delighting in their swift escape. His mind wandered over the crabs he carefully caught, picking them up just right so as not to get his fingers pinched, taking them home to his mom's boil pot. He stood there letting his memory savor the taste of the tender white crabmeat, the sweetness of the memory causing his salivary glands to activate, reminding him he was a little hungry. Life was good then. They were not a rich family, for they lived off the waters that his dad's fishing boat traveled, and fishermen never get rich. But life was good.
And then the oil came.
It crept up onto the beach and into the marshes like a silent, stealthy plague, wreaking havoc in its path. Jack remembered the acrid smell, brought to his nostrils on the ever-present ocean breeze. He didn't know what it was the first time he smelled it. But it was not long before he was told of the horror of the leaking underwater pipeline gushing the thick black crude into the pristine waters. In his mind's eye, he could still see the sweet meaty crabs covered with black scum, slowly dying on the beach. All kinds of fish washed ashore, along with air-breathing dolphins that had come to the surface to breathe, and sucked killing oil into their blowholes. Sharks moved in and out of the shallows, seeking fresh water and clean prey. Jellyfish, transparent filter feeders black with ingested oil, washed up and lay in the sun dying. The people of the area were shocked and devastated, and cried out to the world for help. Marsh grasses died, their roots unable to get the sun and oxygen needed for growth, for life. Frogs, alligators, even the tiniest of grass snails were covered in black slime, the life smothered out of them. Seabirds floundered and died, their feathers stuck together, unable to fly out of the danger. Covered in oil, they floated in the surf in the sun and high temperatures, the oil becoming hotter and hotter until they suffocated from the additional heat. And still the oil came.
Jack's beach had been inundated with news people, and at ten years old he could just begin to understand the domino effect the oil would have on the fishing and other industries. He had been just a boy, after all, and boys don't think about much except being boys. Then, his own father, after months and months of not being able to fish, not being able to provide for his family, became a broken, sad man. People said it would take decades to repair the damage. As he looked around now at his once beautiful beach, he thought to himself that decades had been an understatement. It has already been two decades, and still there is only death and loneliness here. It had not helped that a hurricane came and pushed the oil even further into the marshes and into the freshwater rivers, spraying it over the land so that everything it touched had a slick, shiny rainbow appearance. No more could Jack find the tiny, bio luminescent micro organisms that would flash in the dark, delighting the boys that splashed in the surf at night. They should have said never, he thought. Never would it be repaired!
And the oil continued to flow. It flowed south to more beaches. The thick underwater plumes followed the currents all the way to the beautiful, endangered coral reefs, and sank over them, smothering and killing their beauty and the life that teemed among them. Over the years, the migratory fish that survived changed their route and no longer inhabited these waters. The blue fin tuna, for centuries using these waters as their breeding grounds, had not been seen in many years. Loggerheads no longer laid their eggs in sandy nests along these beaches. Businesses failed and closed, tourists stayed away. Life as Jack knew it as a boy no longer existed. And he stood now, looking at his boyhood love, his own backyard, and silently wept.
Many hours later, and several hundred miles toward the east, the songbird returned to his branch in the tallest of the forest pines. The sun began to rise, bringing its life and warmth to the land, and slivers of light ran like quicksilver through the spaces between the leaves and branches, gradually bringing light to the forest floor. The delicate leaves and pine needles moved with the gentle breeze, tiny ballerina dancers practicing for a recital to be performed for the forest creatures. The songbird began his prelude, and his soft feathered chest swelled with a symphony of happy song. On the ground near the rocky stream, a small animal foraged for his breakfast. Suddenly, he stood quietly alert, his little ears pushing forward to listen intently. The songbird became silent. The wind ceased to dance the leaves, as they lowered themselves to hug the branches. In the distance a loud buzzing noise broke into the peace of nature. Voices shouted, and suddenly a loud, crashing sound as something hit the ground, hard, the noise reverberating through the forest, causing the ground to tremble and shake. The songbird took flight, the small foraging animal scattered, his tiny heart beating with fear as he looked for a place to hide. In the distance, the buzzing started again, the voices, followed by another earth-shaking crash, as the loggers worked their way toward the forest sanctuary, laying the ground bare behind them. Man had come to the forest.