Editor's Note: Ambushed By Bob Sipchen
THE EVENING SKY had turned pink and blue when they heard the orcas rocketing toward their skiff. The grandfather was annoyed. He knew what the gluttons were after. The boy just watched and listened.
Following a strategy probably as old as Puget Sound and much more efficient than the old man and his grandson's hook and line, the 25 or so killer whales began to circle, herding hundreds or thousands of salmon into a panicky underwater gyre. The boat bobbed on the tranquil surface near the center of the vortex below.
At the right moment, one orca dove deep, blasted through the fish twister, flew into the air, then slammed onto the water's surface with a percussive thwack, turning the stunned salmon into a high-protein feast.
"We felt the sound waves inside our chests," said Greg Haegele, the Sierra Club's director of conservation.
Haegele recalled this story, from his boyhood summers on a British Columbian island, while standing under a San Francisco conference room's fluorescent lights. The 50-some Club staffers before him had come from across the United States to congratulate themselves on coal-fired power plants defeated and a landmark energy bill won. They'd spent the morning watching PowerPoint presentations on tactics for stopping mountaintop-removal mining. They'd put Magic Markers to big sheets of paper as ideas popped up about ways to elect a president who will lead the fight against climate change.
But they all understood the boss's tangent. They got why Haegele used the word awesome to describe the simultaneous fear and joy in such a moment, why he made a point of noting that the word came not from Beavis and Butthead ("heh heh heh eh heh") but the Old Testament, which uses the term to connote an earthly brush with God.
"It's the sense of how insignificant we are in the presence of greatness, as well as a sense of being connected to nature," Haegele said. "I felt it that day."
Bad things are happening to the natural world. Haegele's point was this: Even people caught up in the whirlwind battle to save it--especially those people--would be well served to light out on occasion for wild places, to risk being ambushed by awe.