Only those working the water are out this early. The frigate birds overhead, the rays below, the few boatsmen, and me, balancing, all of us, on this thin seam of a morning in Bora Bora. The day is beginning to wake; its promise rides the sun like a cloak over the horizon.
A ray feeds beneath me on the lagoon floor. I consider slipping into the water for a picture, but the words of Walt McLaughlin come to me, gracefully, like the ray itself. Life is hard enough for wild animals as things are, he wrote. Grateful for McLaughlin's observation, I remain on my paddle board and leave the ray to its purpose.
The salty air cools my lungs; the salty water, my toes. A small fish suddenly lands on my board. Its pursuer, a large trevally, swims below confused by the disappearance of its breakfast. I'm pleased to be the little one's refuge; humored that nature lets me return the favor in this way for the many times it has refuged me.
In his book, The Great Chain of Life, Joseph Wood Krutch suggests that very little of the natural world is necessary for our own survival. We don't need the sting ray or the sea bird. The shark nor whale either. Quite simply, they do very little to benefit our insatiable quest for self-preservation and dominion. Krutch writes that the wild will survive "only if man feels the necessity of sharing the earth with at least some of his fellow creatures to be a privilege rather than an irritation."
But it's more than that, isn't it?
I paddle close to a lagoonarium where fish are kept to entertain the guests with fish feedings twice a week. Also close, is a restaurant that has what's called a "shark park," an enclosed area of the lagoon where blacktip reef sharks are kept for show. We are on the path to a world so domestic that it won't be long before the great barracuda is a fish only our grandfathers will recall. The cougar will become a beast of mythic proportions. Our grandmothers will say, "You had an uncle once who was carried away by the big cat." We will laugh in disbelief as we picture the fat mountain lion in the city zoo who sleeps in the sun and gets his food from a big red bucket, the kind your child plays with at the beach. One day, this fat cat will sit high in a tree, the only one in his exhibit, looking out at the world he once ruled. Only the ghosts of his ancestors will roam the street-lined forests, now subdivisions, all phantoms of what once was.
They need us, these wild and beautiful things. They need us to care, to legislate, to think, act, and consume differently. They need us to love more than ourselves. Only we humans, those of us not quite of the air or the sea, but infinitely and intimately connected to both, can decide if existing, if coexisting, with the natural world is something to protect or plunder. There is no longer any in between. We must consider this better. I know I will as I paddle by another ray moving beneath the waves, majestically, like a sacred secret waiting to be told.
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Location:Bora Bora, French Polynesia