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The orca’s mourning

A mother whale bearing its dead child plies the local waters.  Why does the image get to us so?

It is surely a poignant one but its impact on us is something more than maudlin.  It is a tragic image of Shakespearean proportions. It is also disturbing.  Like the homeless person on the street corner that stares mumbling at you through the glass of your car.  The image can haunt the rest of your day with a voice somewhere uttering, ‘is there something really wrong happening here?’

The ghosts that wander our urban region plagued by madness and drugs, in numbers that seem no longer controllable, only add to our gnawing sense of unease.  It is a sense of foreboding that we may have entered a new time here, finally spoiled the Eden we sought ever since we pointed our wagons west.

We are now crowded in great number on the edge of a body of water.  Puget Sound (or as some  have attempted to more lovingly rename it, The Salish Sea) sits like a mirror before us.  Reflecting not only the sky and mountains but also ourselves.  With brutal honesty its condition shows us who we have become as its body worsens.

The Sound is not only a sea but a huge estuary, America’s second largest.  As such, it is a hardworking but complex engine for health in our regional ecosystem.  To let it go to ruin would be grave folly.  We feel no doubt our collective heart is in the right place as it aches for the plight of the Orca.  We are, after all, the more thoughtful and progressive side of the country, running a solid blue all down our coast.  We took the challenge of cleaning up our beloved Sound seriously when we created a whole new agency, “The Puget Sound Partnership.”  This cabinet- level agency was akin to a state version of the Department of Homeland security, created in response to a serious threat in our backyard.

That was over a decade ago and we no longer hear much from or about this agency, probably because the news is never good and it pains us to hear it.  We gave ourselves until 2020 to reach important recovery milestones but even the Partnership’s website has a hard time spinning positive when all the stats keep showing progress that is slow and tortured.  The watery heart and soul of our regional home is sick and slowly expiring from a thousand wounds inflicted daily; worst of all, we cannot seem to turn the tide. ‘Too little, too late’ is a hard pill to swallow.

So what do we make of this Orca mom, an image that we struggle to not turn away from because its message seems too hard to bear?  If we cannot – or will not – process the bad news about the sea we are so tied to, then one of its creatures need only breach its waters from time to time and offer up the truth to us with a grim poetic gesture that cannot be ignored.  As we sit huddled underneath eerily smoke-laden skies, suffering the fourth hottest year on record, we begin to feel it deep within us: the thought that we too might be carrying a burden on our backs.  As the mother whale eventually disappears beneath the waves for good we cannot help but ask ourselves, has something else also slipped past the point of no return?

Trent Kelly is a local writer who comments on local and regional topics.  His work can be found at

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