by Cyril Cristo
The Timeless Ones
January 7, 2014
There are still places that afford one the great luxury of the verdant world, coherent with the life force before man unkind even appeared. Rain forests still sing with turquoise blue morpho butterflies and rhinoceros-horned crickets and moss-covered insects that seem to have emerged out of Jurassic Park. A turquoise river flows like a celestial dream laden with copper sulfate waters of volcanic origin. Don Quixote would have imagined them as flowing from the mouth of heaven. The cloud forest explodes with torrential rains like a deluge worthy of the one that set Noah’s ark a-sail. Costa Rica is committed to the environment and is one of the few countries on earth without an army.
There is no coincidence there. Can our species continue to build weapons of destruction and at the same time save our life support system? Can we afford a new cold war while the planet heats up? Two thousand fourteen was the hottest year on record!
Lysander, our 9-year-old, saw one of the last dinosaurs on earth, the leatherback turtle, emerging from Pacific waters and the depths of antediluvian time since its emergence 110 million years ago. How it navigates the inner galaxy of the ocean, returns to its place of birth, releases its eggs, and goes back to the fantastic fathoms of its watery universe is one of nature’s great mysteries. It is one of the last leviathans of the planet. To witness this phantasmagoric presence is to see into the eyes of origin.
We saw a mother, but only one, dig its nest, bring 50 of its own into the sand and then depart. A generation ago dozens would crawl out on shore! The full moon cast a silver sheen of miracle over the event. The eggs shone like giant irreplaceable pearls, and those witnessing them could only hold their breaths that they survive far into the future.
To the north of what should be a world heritage site, Nicaragua is planning a canal, a second Panama Canal, with money from a businessman and telecommunications mogul from that country that has brought so much good of late to the world, China. Nicaragua, whose politics do not exude democracy, seized Calero Island, on the border with Costa Rica. Territorial disputes have been the hallmark of both countries for over a century, and the proposed $40 billion project on the San Juan River, which marks the border between the two countries, will not improve the situation. What of the environmental damage? What of the pollution that will run from both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts? How on earth will the leatherbacks be helped? In the Pacific, they are a stone’s throw away from extinction.
In the last 100,000 years our species has emerged to become the renegade desecrator of life. What we actually bring to the life force is anyone’s guess, but it can be gleaned from the look of the irrepressibly silent pathos and patience that the leatherbacks speak. They know what is at stake — the immune system of the planet. The mother that came on shore may not know who we are. She had to tolerate our kind because her species clings to the razor’s edge of existence.
A ranger admitted that he would prefer to do his job without the march of tourists, even if their pilgrimage was sincere. What stress we cause the turtles, even in the dark of night, is hard to measure. For one unique moment we were privy to one of the planet’s most determined creations.
The proposed Nicaragua Canal, even if commercially viable and feasible, exacerbates the oceanic mind. Like so much of what is happening to the blood plasm of the seas, the leatherback is a last magnificent canary in the coal mine of our time. The leatherback and its cousins eat jellyfish, one of the beings that could inherit the oceans a century from now.
We have got to come to terms with the rampage of our species, especially in the next five years. The leatherback is one of our ancestors. Its coherent passage over 100 million years should boggle the imagination. If our minds are so unequivocally sapient, so capable of producing self-knowledge, then we should be able put a brake on ineptitude, corruption, and profligacy. In the hidden corridors of the leatherback’s mind reside
channels of timelessness and ultimate bearing we can only marvel at.
The reckless temperament of individual folly must be curtailed. The scars of potential Nicaragua Canals and the proposed XL Pipeline would only dig into the last reserves of human sanity.
Loren Eiseley proclaimed that “by leaving the timeless land,” we will have “descended into hell.” The leatherbacks and the other timeless ones are our progenitors. Without them we disavow the oceans and part of our souls.
In Oriental and Native American mythologies, turtles upheld the world. Do we really want to tell the children 20 years from now that we were the anti-genesis generation? We will search thirsting for the horizon of our beginnings, look for the pool that gave us birth and find that it has become invisible.
Today, we need a critical readjustment to the waters of life. Shark-finning must be banned worldwide. The few nations that still murder whales must be fined until they change their ways. The turtles, the coral reefs, the whales must survive the onslaught of our kind. They must be allowed to breathe. Without them we won’t have a leg to stand on.