Finding a Bioregion in the Sea

Peace Boat off Baja California
October 8, 2006

This story is atypical at the start, then becomes progressively more unusual. It began when I gave a talk/show about living within the natural systems of the place that one inhabits for Be Good Café (a traveling media event that changes venue for each performance) in a large coffee bar in Tokyo. An American woman was waiting in the audience with a unique request. Would I consider giving a similar presentation on a ship in the middle of the ocean?

Emilie McGlone radiates joy about the process of discovery. Excited by what I had said in Tokyo, she beamed conviction that I would be equally pleased with the trip she had in mind. She explained how Peace Boat originated in the 1970s with Japanese student activists who believed that progressive change was impeded because their countrymen were too parochial about the world. The outrages that Japan’s military committed in other Asian countries before and during World War Two wasn’t publicized or taught in Japanese schools, for instance. People probably wouldn’t get an opportunity to learn about the extent of harm unless they visited those lands. A cruise ship provides an attractive way for a significant number of people to share a deeply informative introduction to a multitude of basic understandings that are necessary for a more peaceful world. The Peace Boat evolved into a floating university and village of about one thousand passengers of all ages learning about and to some extent practicing non-oppressive, cooperative and creative ways of life. As International Guest Care Coordinator, Emilie invited me to join a future cruise as a guest speaker on how passengers could rejoin their natural communities when they returned home. It took nearly two years to arrange the trip but eventually I flew to Acapulco, Mexico with a Passenger Voucher to board Cruise #54 for a week’s sail from there back to San Francisco.

Acapulco is faded now but was a beauty in its day, claro. Round blue-green harbor with small rock islands, moderately steep cliffs covered with lush vegetation. You can see out from the bay to an expanse of ocean. The city is as touristy as Miami Beach without the latter’s recent glitzy revival. Resort culture dominates from advertising signs that are often in English (even some Spanglish) and branches of United Statesian chains including Planet Hollywood along with all of the usual fast food joints. This is the Pacific side of Guerrero State where Huichols number among the indigenous people but visitors might only catch a glimpse of them in restaurant kitchens and cleaning hotel rooms, or outside sweeping streets.

Peace Boat is kept shipshape clean and well-maintained as a charming relic, the oldest active around-the-world ocean cruise ship still in service. Decks are yachty dark brown lacquered wood, warm-feeling though worn. Original style is Fifties European (post-Art Deco but gratefully before plastic) with an overlay of refurbishment from the late Nineties. Officially named The Topaz, the vessel has its own widely assorted crew: Greek, Indonesian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Ukrainian, Filipino, and so on. Peace Boat is the client operator with a large group of staff and volunteers, also of mixed nationalities ranging from British to Turkish. Paying passengers are nearly totally Japanese. Peacefulness starts with cradle-like rocking at anchor that moves the horizon about one inch up and down as seen through a single cabin porthole.

Moving out onto the Pacific at just under 17 knots there is the shock of limitless water circling 360 degrees. Warm breeze walking the deck during yellow-white and smoky rose sunrise. Worked most of the first day with interpreters and spoke to audience of passengers about what to expect from talks and workshops that I will give over next five days. Also explained some of the ways that San Francisco leads the rest of the country in ecological innovations and activism. I was given the luxury of an interpreter group with three eager professionals who sought this gig for around-the-world cruise opportunity and some pay. We are scheduled to meet every day to strategize before each of four public sessions where they will turn my eco-lingo into accessible Japanese.

Here’s a sample of typical night’s program fare: 19:00 Broadway Room – “Former US Marine talks about the war in Vietnam – Have You Killed Anyone?” 21:00 Windjammer Club – “Talking about worshipping Buddha at 88 temples in Shikoku” followed by “Laughter Saves the World”; 23:00 Theater – “Paooon” led by “Mukku”; 21:00-23:00 Sports Deck & Top Deck – “greatest moon in Autumn (full moon bar)”.

Saw a flash of dolphins at breakfast the next morning on a remarkable sudden hunch that something was happening in the endlessly smooth waves out the window. Met some retirees, many young international culture types, New Zealand rocker guest performers. Climbing stairs to stroll around various of six available decks is like walking in a sophisticated urban neighborhood with restaurants and bars, go players and newspaper readers, yoga classes and hot tub, theaters and musicales. One limiting reality of ship life becomes growingly apparent. There’s really no place including staring at the ocean from the rail that feels completely OUT. Just IN my cabin. Another inescapable fact protrudes after only two nights: all of that good cruise ship food adds weight incredibly fast. Start exercise on Day Three.

First main stage talk to several hundred passengers went extremely well possibly due to frequent references to locales in Japan based on my five visits there. I introduced the themes of sustainable living and ecosystem restoration as the means to stop the ongoing industrial war against Nature. This will become a necessity soon because otherwise it is likely that 21st Century shooting wars will be fought over ecological issues related to energy and other resources, food, human population, wild habitat, and water. (There are already harbingers in Iraq’s oil, Darfour’s population, conflicts over fishing rights.) In my first conversation with Emilie I perceived “peace” in the American political sense as primarily anti-war and thought the ship’s role must be to participate in demonstrations around the world. But peace is actually much more than the absence of war and must include harmonious interdependence with other species and forces of life as well as people. After only a few days aboard I see that their motto “peace for people and the planet” means cultivating continuous open-mindedness.

Second presentation on following night was interview style with a moderator asking questions of Yoshioka-san from Tokyo’s Café Slow and myself. It was memorable for the theater decorations by our assigned groups of three volunteers each. They simulated a river with fish and a lake on the floor, flowers and a waterfall on stage, a bird and the sun hanging from threads in the air, creating “Topaz Bioregion”.

Today I led a map-making exercise in which sixty participants drew representations of natural elements in the places where they live such as rivers, land forms, and native plants and animals, as well as human ecological impositions or benefits. When assembled together according to common places of residence like Tokyo or Yokohama they enjoyed showing each other what they had done so much that the workshop ended with a friendly roar of story-telling and the promise to convene for more tomorrow. Success is obvious when things get out of hand this way.

When we finally arrive in San Francisco on October 11th, a party of interested passengers will be led through Glen Canyon Park to see nature in the city, up to Twin Peaks for a view of the entire SF Bay watershed, and finally to the large Crissey Field bay marsh restoration project in The Presidio for proof that a one-time military installation can be pacified and replaced with the original ecological amenities.

For more information about Peace Boat, visit their web site.

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