On World Environment Day ~Beatitudes for the dead fish that inherited the mudflats

The fifth of June has been designated as World Environment Day by the United Nations. Today, in fact, will inaugurate the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea [1]. Pakistan is the host country this year for the official celebrations. As we are aware, the protection of the environment and its restoration is of utmost importance given the damage to our environment. Today, helps highlight that our well being and economic development, are intricately and intimately connected to the health of the environment in that, World Environment Day, gives us an opportunity to learn more about our ecosystems, cultivate broad and enlightened opinions, encourages responsible conduct by people, their communities and their enterprises to help preserve and enhance our habitat [2].


I chose to write a poem on the Atlantic Menhaden, fish that are an important part of commercial fisher and in estuarine habitats . They are filter feeders, consume phytoplankton and zooplankton and constitute the largest landings, by volume, along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. They are found in coastal and estuarine waters like in the Hackensack Meadowlands [3]. They are harvested for use as fertilizers, animal feed, and bait for fisheries including blue crab and lobster, are food for striped bass and other fish, as well as for predatory birds, including osprey and eagles. Menhaden are silvery in color with a distinct black shoulder spot behind their gill opening [4]. It was late (November, December) last year that I spotted a lot of dead fish in the Hackensack river. It was reported then, that it may have been the lack of oxygen in the water [5] It was only in April this year that species of Vibrio bacteria were suspected as having caused multiple organ failure in the Atlantic Menhaden [6]. In any case, high levels of contaminants in rivers, along with sediment make up for low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water in summer and along with the bacteria, are a threat to this variety of herring that are important to many other species that make the Hackensack their home.

A dead fish flanked by cordgrass in the Hackensack Meadowlands


We spent the day enjoying the Jersey Shore area, grateful for bright sunny weather. By evening, I still planned to post a poem dedicated to the Menhaden of the Atlantic, the composition of which was finally completed on my trusty phone on that very long drive, given that it was still the 5th of June on the East Coast. I had a lovely experience when we stopped for dinner along the way that I feel like sharing. The server at the restaurant was a young woman who struck up a conversation with us and later while she was clearing away the dishes, she complimented me on my smile, declared to my husband that there was something about it that was very touching, so much so she said, that she had to share it at the front desk with her colleagues at the restaurant. I told her I was very flattered, it was kind of her to say such nice things about me without even knowing me at all. She assured me it was in the eyes, one didn’t have to know. It was one of those rare occasions I accepted a compliment very graciously, without questioning the motives of the person making it, without in fact, turning a shade of sad stygian skepticism. Perhaps well too, that I could share it on my blog at this hour close to midnight like a twinkle of starlight, a fitting close to World Environment Day.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Blessed are the poorly, for theirs is the kingdom of mudflats

The dispirited streak turgid waters
sinuously, through unsettled feelings
in the wake of boats shedding
filaments of fuel,
sheen on a turbid infusion
and the cordgrass nods a resilience
or an apathy as the silt settles
on their Piscean gleam

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see a salted heaven

Angelic Menhaden of the Atlantic,
are silvery stretches of scale,
dulled in death under a festering sun
and the retreating tide of dying waters
brined in ocean, freshwater spirited
to secret spaces, some dammed crevasse,
now  tumultuous  fate in a salted heaven

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled 

At the Tabgha of this intertidal palette
Cattails whisper beatitudes 
latched onto the tails of wind gusts 
and the plovers descended
in a litany of  bird song
amassed like the manna
trailing  tidal waters 
as the sea swallows herself.
Blessed are the herons, the mallards,
the geese. Time is measured
in the passage of fish that
cycle themselves through the innards of birds

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the rocks

The meek Menhaden, leaped
onto the rocks that hemmed the inlet,
escaping the hungry habits of herons.
They inherited Earth in agony   
pounding a rocky surface,
but the air I swim, had no water. 
I prodded these  Menhaden of the Rock 
to the fringe of retreating tides,
and they leaped to die once more
to breathe water that had no air

Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted

Blessed is the discomfiture 
of my brackish tears 
that streak marsh faces
as fish struggle out of dead water.
I take comfort I don't inhabit
tainted places or do I take comfort,
all places are the tint of poison,
the gleam of a genesis of sorrow
The zoom on my phone just about managed to photograph this fish close up

Notes:

The year 1972 marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics, with the first major conference on environmental issues, known as the Conference on the Human Environment, or the Stockholm Conference. Later that year, on 15 December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/2994 (XXVII)(link is external)) designating June 5 as World Environment Day and urging “Governments and the organizations in the United Nations system to undertake on that day every year world-wide activities reaffirming their concern for the preservation and enhancement of the environment, with a view to deepening environmental awareness.” [2]

Hackensack Meadowlands is a large wetland complex dominated by intertidal and intermittently flooded common reed (Phragmites australis) marshes and lesser areas of the following wetland types: shallow tidal bay/mudflat; low salt marsh dominated by low marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora); remnant high salt marsh dominated by high marsh cordgrass (Spartina patens); brackish impoundments; freshwater impoundments; and remnant palustrine forest dominated by pin oak (Quercus palustris), red maple (Acer rubrum), and swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). Grassland, shrubland, and early successional forest are the upland habitat types on the landfills, with small undeveloped uplands scattered around the edge of the Meadowlands. The Hackensack Meadowlands drains an area of about 522 square kilometers (202 square miles) from the Hackensack River. The Hackensack River and the marshes in the Meadowlands regularly support 34 species of fish, and provide important nursery habitat for both anadromous and marine species. The Hackensack is a polluted tidal river with high sediment concentrations of contaminants and low levels of dissolved oxygen in the summer and so, not surprisingly, the dominant fish are the resident estuarine fish tolerant of fluctuations in salinity and water quality [3].

Tabgha is an area situated on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It is traditionally accepted as the place of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30–46) and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus (John 21:1–24) after his Crucifixion [7] 

Beatitude, is any of the blessings said by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as told in the biblical New Testament in Matthew 5:3–12 and in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20–23. Named from the initial words (beati sunt, “blessed are”) of those sayings in the Latin Vulgate Bible, the Beatitudes describe the blessedness of those who have certain qualities or experiences peculiar to those belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven [8]

Cattail, (genus Typha), are a genus of about 30 species of tall reedy marsh plants (family Typhaceae), found mainly in temperate and cold regions of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The plants inhabit fresh to slightly brackish waters and are considered aquatic or semi-aquatic [9]


Manna is, according to the Bible, an edible substance which God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the 40-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan [10] [11]

References:
[1] World environment day ~https://www.un.org/en/observances/environment-day

[2] https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/environmentday

[3] Cordgrass~https://nctc.fws.gov/pubs5/web_link/text/hm_form.htm

[4] Menhaden~https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/atlantic-menhaden

[5] https://hudsonreporter.com/2020/11/23/dead-fish-wash-ashore-on-newark-bay/
[6] https://www.nj.com/news/2021/04/nj-blames-bacteria-for-dead-fish-found-in-rivers-bays-for-months.html
[7] Tabgha~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabgha

[8] Beatitudes~https://www.britannica.com/topic/Beatitude-biblical-literature
[9] Cattails~https://www.britannica.com/plant/cattail

[10] Manna~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.atlasobscura.com/articles/is-manna-real.amp
[11]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manna#:~:text=Manna%20(Hebrew%3A%20%D7%9E%D6%B8%D7%9F%E2%80%8E%20m%C4%81n,to%20the%20conquest%20of%20Canaan.