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Macondos // J. Lee Morsell

I'm visiting my hometown in rural northern California, and as I write this I'm sitting on an ocean bluff in fog so thick I can't see the water. I am told that this particular bluff is home to the southernmost individual Sitka spruce on the west coast, but the tree is allegedly nestled in a hidden rocky crevice and I haven't located it yet. The fog doesn't help, of course.

whale-diver.jpgThis part of the state has vast forest, steep hills, and few people. It is good for hiding things, and it is notorious for marijuana cultivation. Every August various county, state, and federal agencies fly helicopters in search of illicit gardens. This morning a helicopter was buzzing the place where I'm staying, circling just overhead. Happily, there was no marijuana in the huckleberries outside my window and so no fear; but for an hour the ground vibrated with each roaring pass, and it took some restraint not to step outside and flip off the guys leaning out the chopper's door.

Only when I drove to the ocean did I pass a bunch of visiting Marin County Search and Rescue vehicles, and wrongly suspect that the helicopter might be part of some kind of training.

But usually, single-propeller helicopters here are looking for marijuana, and double-propeller helicopters are hauling logs off steep slopes. Both always make me think of the Vietnam War. This association is curious because the Vietnam War ended before I was born. I have no similar thoughts of wars from my lifetime.

I presume that I think of the Vietnam War because I've seen more movies about that war than any other (Apocalypse Now four times), and they all make heavy use of helicopters in the soundtrack. But more than that, when I was born Vietnam was still very much on the minds of my parents, and it was imprinted on my early consciousness as the Primordial War, the epitome of horror, and the reason my parents taught me to not say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.

A lot of vets returned from Vietnam and became California marijuana farmers, a job that enabled them to continue dodging helicopters in the forest. This is another factor in my association of the California forest with Vietnam, another line in the genealogy of a shared dream: the legacy of that war still infuses (or infects) this place.

But it is a new era. When I was young, logging was king, and fishing was duke. Today, those industries rasp on life support, their titles stripped. Marijuana rose to replace them, granting middle-class lifestyles to communities that would otherwise be desperate. But as marijuana becomes ever more legal and the price drops, there is a feeling that this too may pass, and soon.

I met up with friends and we used a rope to descend a cliff to an isolated beach. We found the intact bone structure of the pelvis of a whale. It was too big to carry up the cliff. We hid it. We talked about going back with a frame pack and straps to get it, making something out of it, or at least putting it somewhere special around the house.

I read that, fifty miles west of Half Moon Bay, there is an undersea observing station on the Pioneer Seamount, where they've been recording the vocalizations of passing blue whales:

Four hydrophones captured the loud and eerie sounds. Each is a burst of warbles, a little like someone gargling underwater, followed exactly 130 seconds later by a loud, long, deep-toned and sad-sounding moan . . .
But each of the calls made by the whales sounded exactly the same - precisely four octaves below middle C on the human scale. And where the calls did vary occasionally, their pitch differed by barely half of 1 percent. (read more) (listen)

Scientists speculate that the consistent pitch may help whales find each other. Thanks to the Doppler effect, that precise pitch will be heard as slightly higher or lower depending on whether whales are swimming toward or away from each other.

The next day:
The neighbor tells me that the helicopter was neither looking for marijuana nor conducting a training exercise. A local seventy-six-year-old woman with Alzheimer's took her dog for a walk two nights ago and did not return. It was she they sought in the huckleberries.


Have you noticed that the Deepwater Horizon rig was built on a section of seafloor named the Macondo Prospect? Macondo, the fictional town of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, built on the site where its founder dreamed of a city of mirrors, a site where cursed events repeat and characters are either crippled by memory or amnesiac, a place finally destroyed by flood and hurricane. Apparently, some Latin Americans beset with absurdity refer to their home towns as Macondos. The Macondo Prospect was portentously named. It's feared that the next Gulf rig to blow will be, no joke, the Atlantis.

Good news addendum:
They found the missing woman, sitting beside her dog in a ravine, thirty-six hours after she disappeared. She said she hadn't realized she was lost.

Image Credit:
Image by flickkerphotos/flickr