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Chasing Down The Muse: Spinning the blue marble

The shrill of the lanky bird startled me. I was sitting on the edge of a cliff face on the southern coast of Baja’s west side. Waves washed in and around the rocks, pulled by the latest full moon into extreme highs and lows. Not unlike Laguna, sand had been stripped from the beach by recent storms, and normally submerged black volcanic tufts sparkled in the sunlight, wrapped in a surge of frothy foam.

Heron, I thought, but the birds, gathered to the south, were shorter than I expected. Patiently, I tried to discern their species, but they were backlit by a just-risen sun and I could see only their silhouettes.

The flock, finally spooked by my presence, lifted in flight over the water and winged toward another rocky point. They squawked as they passed before me, long legs drawn behind them like the trailing tails of a kite. Their elongated bodies and raised chest plates confirmed their heritage. Heron. But what kind?

Certainly these were not the gray heron I was used to seeing in Laguna Beach. Those stately birds ply the tide pools and the edges of the canyon’s riparian areas in search of crustaceans and tiny bugs. One local pair has a rhythmic “migration,” and daily passes in front of my Wendt Terrace home on their way to or from some feeding ground.

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A Google search, a bird book and the archives of the Audubon yielded the name: yellow-crowned night heron. Smaller, with gray body and yellowish legs, the birds carry an unmistakably marked head with a black and white face and a long top plume of yellow and white feathers.

But what had drawn me to that cliff in the first place? I’d come for a quiet meditation but had been rattled by the birds.

A few days before I’d been a guest at the home of Tony and Linda Kinninger and their environmental organization, Eco Alianzia. Each year they host a pre-conference dinner for Grupo Tortugera, a network of individuals, communities, organizations and institutions from around the world who are dedicated to sea turtle conservation. The annual meeting provides the opportunity to share research, information and ideas for enhanced conservation efforts, and plan future projects.

One of the original founders, Wallace J. Nichols, was at the dinner. He spoke of the successes of the group during the year, and of the passion and commitment that are required to create change.

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Before dinner, Nichols had dropped into the hand of each individual guest a tiny blue marble, and whispered, “Hold on to this. I will explain later.”

During his speech, he explained that for him, the marble was symbolic of our blue planet. As we held our tiny blue sphere, he asked us to think about our planet, ways to safeguard it for our children and ourselves.

Then — game on — he asked us to pass our marbles to others, to share the idea and the story.

It was the spinning blue orb that had my attention when the birds startled me. I rolled the turquoise-colored glass around in my hands until it was warm to the touch. Held up to the light, shades of blue traveled through and past the rounded surface.

I had traded mine with Mark Spaulding, president of the Ocean Foundation. This was a start. Erik Cutter of Laguna Beach had gifted me four more that he had collected. How could I pay those forward? Was there something I could do that would expand the idea?

And so it was born — the Travels of the Blue Marble, a blog that I’ve started to chronicle the journey of my own small blue sphere. I’m not sure where it will lead, but I’m kind of hooked on the idea of drawing my world together in the same breath as its expansion. I hope to incorporate planet-saving ideas, errant ramblings on the beauty that I constantly encounter, and evidence of our collective desire to make our world better. You can follow my journey at mybluemarble.wordpress.com.

We are such a bright species. We have taught ourselves to fly — just like the yellow-crowned night herons — and beyond. Orbiting satellites have shown us where we live, and once we’ve had that taste, there has been no turning back. Once we thought the world was flat. But now we know our shape, and our place in our own solar system and our own galaxy. There are worlds we have yet to discover, and a task to protect the one we call home: a spinning blue planet known to its inhabitants as Earth.


CATHARINE COOPER loves wild places … and now travels with a blue marble to remind her of her real home. She can be reached at catharinecooper@mac.com

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