Get out!

With summer just ‘round the corner, many dream of which hike, lake or campground we’d like to visit first.  Yes, drought-driven forest closures and teetering water levels will be considered.  But ‘into the wild’ we will go — many millions of Americans across the land!

This year, we have additional cause to celebrate those fragrant trails we’ll trod and stunningly starry nights we’ll huddle under.  Last July, Congress overwhelmingly approved The Great American Outdoors Act, granting strong, permanent funding to our long-dieting National Parks, Forests, Wildlife Refuges and other recreation areas.

The funding mechanism is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, freshly ‘endowed’ by this law.  So no more anxious begging for anorexic budgets.  $9.5 billion is dedicated to catching up on maintaining recreational facilities, trails, picnic and camping grounds, roadways and signage.  And a guaranteed $900 million yearly is promised, by mandate of this Act, for preserving Nature herself within our Forests, Refuges and National Parks.

What a lovely piece of legislation!  Now, where’s my tent and rain-fly?

Bedazzled in the Deep

Over forty years ago, Hawaiian Islands marine biologist, Katherine Muzik, first beheld a profoundly beautiful species, previously unseen by humans because it dwells in deep, dark oceans at around 6,500 feet.  What most amazed Dr. Muzik that day of discovery?  These stunning creatures, “octocorals,” were twinkling and sparkling with colorful pulses of bioluminescence (self-generated light).  They seemed to dance, coiling and unfurling as they glittered in the blackness!

Katherine was a researching graduate student then, accompanied by the unsuspecting pilot of a 2-seater submarine.  He turned off the submersible’s headlights at her request and was likewise overcome with awe.  Muzik’s research has since found living colonies of octocorals over 6,000 years old — communities predating the Pyramids!  We now know octocoral ‘forests’ are abundant in very deep waters ‘round the globe.

Diverse, ancient ‘villages’ of dancing, living light festoon ocean ridges, troughs and seamounts worldwide.  These corals have existed here at least since the Ordovician Period (over 400 million years ago).  Thus, they have survived several mass extinction events.

But the splendid octocorals are encountering great threats these days.  BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster left some octos riddled with cankers and rot.  Plus, warming oceans’ acidification challenges the deeper corals, as it concentrates at greater depths.

Disturbingly, Navy ‘testing and training’ exercises are dragging on for seven long years between Hawaii and California.  Concussive sonar explosives are deployed lavishly, disorienting marine life throughout those waters.  (A few years back, Naval sonar fatally beached and stranded nearly 200 melon-headed whales in a Kauai cove during “war games” nearby.)

The Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement before “training” began, estimated ocean species in this zone will suffer 21 million occurrences of “harmful harassment” over seven years.  Hey!  Is it any wonder we’re all gettin’ a little crazy here on planet Earth?  I, for one, ain’t gonna study war no more!

Why Flee Guatemala?

In 1954, the CIA overthrew a popular Guatemalan president, Jacobo Arbenz, who championed agrarian, electoral and labor reforms.  When needy and indigenous Guatemalans again sought farmland, education, healthcare and fair labor two decades later, they met with vicious military repression — U.S.-trained assassins protecting United Fruit’s banana plantations.

Throughout the 1980s, massacres swept the Mayan highlands.  Hundreds of villages were leveled without a trace.  Social activists across Guatemala disappeared in droves: 40,000 of them, including 5,000 children.  Naturally, hundreds of thousands fled north, where they live and work among us today.  My family sponsored two such refugees from ‘the Terror’ who won asylum here.

In 2006, clandestine archives were unearthed at abandoned military outposts in Guatemala, containing millions of meticulous records documenting “the disappeared” — those tortured and murdered by “security forces.”  This stunning evidence has convicted some top brass, while the Forensic Anthropology Association excavates the mass graves.  DNA analysis facilitates returning exhumed remains to their families for sacred burial.

Proof of the survivors’ determined quest for peace, is that those creepy national military parades — traipsed out by numerous overly-armed nations on their Armed Forces day — have morphed in Guatemala into huge civilian parades, featuring gigantic banners depicting the “desaparecidos” — torn from home & ‘disappeared’ by a destabilized government’s counter-insurgency apparatus-on-steroids, stoked by misguided American “anti-communism.”

These days, it’s Canadian mine guards attacking dissident, unconsulted communities nearby.  So the struggle continues.  2021 marks the fourteenth Gran Marcha for life and memory, replete with Guatemala’s bright colors, street theater and song.  Now, that’s a parade!


Environmental Defense Fund, Global Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Network in Solidarity w/People of Guatemala, Rights Action.   




Kathryn Albrecht, El Defensor Chieftain columnist