Copper River Record December 2016
By Robin Mayo
It’s a picture perfect day as we motor across Prince William Sound on the MV Aurora. The sun is sparkling on pristine water, gulls wheel overhead, and in the distance fishing boats cluster. Some are already pulling their nets, and through our binoculars we see the wriggling masses of glistening salmon rise up then spill onto the decks. On the bow of the ferry, travelers are enjoying the warm sunshine and passing scenery, sharing sightings of whales, otters, and sea lions. They lean over the rails eagerly, craning for a glimpse of Dahl’s porpoises cavorting at the waterline.
But in the ship’s lobby, the mood is more somber. A small group of high school students is gathered around a map of Prince William Sound, reliving the night over 25 years ago when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. We are transported to a cold night in March when a combination of events sent the tanker out of the shipping lanes, bleeding crude oil into the water. There is no easy answer to the question of “Why?” It is easy to blame the captain of the ship, but hearing the entire story, we learn that he was just one factor in a whole system that failed that night.
Once the stage is set, the students are given first-person narratives from Exxon Valdez oil spill responders from the book “The Spill” by Sharon Bushell and Stan Jones. They are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the men and women who were there, then create a piece of artwork or writing to symbolize the experience. Individually or in small groups, they find quiet places on the busy ship to absorb the poignant stories. With the beautiful scenery as a backdrop, they read the pieces quietly to one another.
Several hours later, we gather again by the map, with pastel drawings and poems in hand. One by one, the students introduce the narrators, summarize their stories, and share projects. Using their particular talents with words and pictures, the students expressed sadness at the lives and beauty lost, outrage at the injustices, pain at the futile waste.
The crew was asleep.
Content to place their fate, and the fate of their cargo
In the hands of another.
Their minds were at rest
As they dreamt of the meaningless things
That would never again occupy their thoughts.
Little did they know that the meandering of their minds
Would be rent apart by the sound of unforgiving, crushing rock
Wreaking havoc on the hull.
Little did they know this sound would forever haunt them,
That their dreams would be filled with the sound
That resulted in the release of liquid death.
The sound that condemned thousands of souls to heartbreak and misery.
The sound that destroyed an entire ecosystem.
And yet they slept on.
Oblivious to this wretched fate.
Dreaming as Mother Nature held her breath.
Artwork by Alexis Hutchinson
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.