An elegy

Reference Number

Brunswick Point, Roberts Bank - February 13, 2022

We put the battered rowboat in the Fraswer, down a bank of sand piles thick with the debris of dead and broken reed grass, slipping it off of the muddy hummocks that soften the hardened edge of the river. It is a flood tide, but barely, and the downstream current adds to our rowing. The ripple on the water nearer to the mouth of the river proves to be nothing, but puts a chill in the air that wasn't there on the sunny roadside where we launched.

It is difficult to know where the land ends and the ocean begins; we are in the long stretch of intertidal wetland that forms Roberts Bank. Ahead, a narrow passage open as we approach, between two muddy drying flats. The oars dig into the mud below the water every so often, but there is still enough to keep afloat and keep moving.

The air shimmers with the calls of birds, teeming as if in the first days of exultant creation off the muddy banks of flattened marsh grasses in teh shallows of the bank. Our approach, oarlocks clanking, startles a distant flock of snow geese further out off shore, whose wings slap the water, their unsettled calls rising into the air with the mass of their merged bodies. Perched on a log in the mud clser to the mouth of the river are two bald eagles, and they remain there the whole time we are out on the bank, motionless but for their heads turning slowly from time to time. 

We approach the opening of the channel onto open water, the whole of the southern Strait of Georgia stretching out north, west and south, a full half-circle of the compass. To our left, a flock of Western sandpipers stand still on an archipelago of muddy tufts, their beaks turned back into their wings; one or two needle the water and the mud. We bump against the opposite mud bank, and take out our snacks. A group of sandpipers awakens and rises into the air, skimming low over the water down the coastline, and then inshore above the marshy grasses. We see them join another flock, and in one body they twist back and forth above the shoreline, the sun catching the white of their underside and wings in flashes of light.

As we pack up to go, a soft whistling noise emerges suddenly, and rises in a crescendo. We look up. A cloud of Western sandpipers are shooting the air feet above us northward towards the mouth of the river, hundreds of feathered wings beating--and then they are gone. 

What happens exactly when the conditions of an area can no longer sustain a living species? Does our knowledge emcompass that? Pack your bags, kids, we're moving to the mudflats up the coast. Will these birds desparately try to find another spot nearby before their long migratory flight north? Will they do what they can here with the meagre and waning sources of life and energy, while they can? And if it is not enough, do they drop from the sky somewhere over the trackless waves on the coastal waters? No human will be there to witness their passing. There will likely be just a declining count by a birdwatching club, perhaps a shrill press release from a poorly funded not-for-profit, a sad but professional paper drafted by a government scientist, and shrug on the part of the rest of the human world--our kind, "noise for a voice/and noise for a home, for whom all places are alike" (Karen Solie, "Wild Horses"). 

When and how will we pay for the cost we are to others--who have no choice, no voice, but whose life is as vibrant and pulsing as ours? 

I wish there were another way. 

Submitted by
Jeremy Schmidt
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Date Submitted
2022-03-16 - 1:48 AM
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