Last week I returned from an annual Retreat at Indralaya on Orcas Island having experienced something unique and eye opening. I've been going up to Orcas since 1986 where I am awe struck by the rock-covered beaches filled with starfish in almost any color one could imagine. Most spectacular have been the ones that are brilliant purple and orange, and I would sit for long periods just watching them clinging to the rocks and moving ever so slowly using the suckers on their arms.
But not this year. The starfish are essentially gone. I'd heard about this in the news, but until I personally witnessed the devastation of the wasting disease that's killing them, I didn't really believe it was happening. And I didn't realize how it would impact me.
I've only seen such environmental degradation on the news or in documentaries, but there it was right in front of me. A species that dates back some 450 million years had nearly vanished in a matter of months, and it appears that the warming of the oceans' waters that we humans have caused may be a key factor in this destruction.
Regardless of the cause, the results were clear. As a member of the current generation of humans, I felt small and guilty. The humans who have only been doing what we did to cause this ocean warming have only been operating in this manner for a couple centuries, but we're affecting life forms that have occupied our tiny fragile planet for tens of millions of years. More importantly, very few of us are doing anything to change the behaviors that have led to this degradation. We've yet to wake up and notice the problems that may even lead to our own decimation, much less do anything about them.
On our return to "civilization," my friends and I had a rare opportunity to visit Richard Berger's Masterpieces of the Earth Collection. Wandering among crystals and other massive mineral formations that weigh more than 7,000 pounds, I realized that I was in the presence of rock and mineral beings that were present millions of years ago when the starfish first appeared on Earth, and I had a sense of continuity and possibility.
If, despite all odds against him, Richard Berger could amass and preserve such a unique collection of Earth relics, perhaps there was hope for others preserving the legacy of the starfish. Maybe one day, I will return to Orcas Island to find the beaches again covered with starfish. At least there's a possibility that my grandchildren will have such an opportunity.
Life is tenacious, even in the form of seemingly inert Giant Crystals. There is much to be learned from each life form and experience, even if it feels like the actions we've taken were an enormous mistake. As my mentor and teacher Buckminster Fuller used to tell people, "there are no mistakes, only learning experiences." If we see the error of our ways and wake up to the wonder of nature's beauty while maintaining a reverence for all life, perhaps we can learn from our mistakes and begin to operate in harmony with nature, thus saving species such as the starfish - and perhaps the humans.
May we all learn from our actions so that we can more fully function in harmony with the exquisite design and beauty that surrounds us in every aspect of nature and become true Earth Stewards.