We're all in this together.
This refrain has been repeated in the media for months. I always feel a twinge when I hear it, wondering, but are we-- really?
As we have navigated choppy waters of illness and protest, finding new allies and shocked by the seeming heartlessness of some, it has often felt quite lonely. That in the end, each of us has to find a singular path, knowing that inequities baked into our society have reinforced the bubbles of privilege or injustice each one experiences differently.
I started work on this mosaic before the pandemic or the protests, based on my study and observations of another, nearby species. Living on the Oregon coast, I'm within a short distance to spectacular animals like these Pacific sardines. They had mesmerized me on a visit to the Newport aquarium. While the more charismatic, larger animals like otters and sharks drew crowds of onlookers, I was stopped in my tracks by these fish. They moved together in lightning-fast precision, using invisible communication allowing this synchronized darting back and forth, or swirling in an endless loop. The light from above striking - flash! - on their bodies as they zoomed past. I couldn't stop watching.
As is often the case, my fascination with some other part of nature leads me down a rabbit hole, trying to understand their world. I was saddened to learn of their population crashes, coming after years of aggressive industrialized fishing and degraded ocean conditions had decimated the species. And then infuriated to read that these fish, after feeding people for millennia, are regarded as "forage" and the school referred to as a "bait ball" while their superior nutritional value is dismissed, as we grind them into products like feed pellets for farmed salmon. They are viewed in terms of what they provide to others, not in their own right.
So, what do we value? If we are "all in this together," can we reconsider the value of nature in our lives? What about the value of small and overlooked species, and of other humans we see differently? Can we learn to move together in harmony as the sardines do?
I am encouraged these days by the strength and resilience of people in my big-city hometown. Just blocks from the huge nightly protests in Portland, OR, I attended school for 4 years and then worked nearby for a couple more. I walked by the federal courthouse daily and know those streets well, where my fellow Oregonians are standing in protest. I am witnessing an evolution in the thinking of many people on issues they never considered, and confronting their own humanity with simple acts like donning a mask for the sake of others.
In times of despair and confusion, I find answers in nature. My hope is that shining a light on a humble, overlooked species can lead us to think about what we value, why, and how to share these rough seas together.
Pictured: 'Caught' - a mosaic of stained glass, smalti and gold smalti, 16"w x 21"h. This work will be shown later in 2020 as part of the T3 mosaic group exhibit in Port Townsend, WA and Lincoln City, OR.