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
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
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
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
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.