Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

I Am Sorry


birth, Culture

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Look up. Yes, I see. They are doing it again, and in plain sight. No one seems to care. No one looks up and screams. Yesterday the sky was deep blue. Not a cloud from horizon to horizon. This morning, early, the sky was filled with long chalk marks. Very high, six or more tiny arrow heads, large jets belching chemicals crisscrossed the sky. For several hours I watched as these long straight chalk marks spread into artificial clouds. As the day went on the sparkling fall light became dull. I’m a photographer. I notice the light. I notice when something artificial, unnatural destroys the composition. They are doing it again.

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I traveled to Europe. The time difference saw me up just before sunrise. I looked out over the Madrid skyline. They were there, flying over Spain, crisscrossing the morning sky. They were over Rome and Florence. Flying from Florence to Prague, high above the lower surface clouds, they could be seen even more clearly, their miles-long chalk like belching, a giant spider weaving a giant web around the globe. I counted five, six, sometimes eight jets at a time weaving. No one seemed to notice, in plain sight.

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Who are the pilots? Who designed the aircraft? Who built them? How many aircraft are involved? What chemicals are being sprayed? Where do they land? Who is refilling the giant tanks and with what? Who do they think they are? What right do they have to spray these chemicals over the planet, over my children and the children of all the species of the world? Who is paying for this? Who granted them access to international air space?

I don’t recall being asked. Did I miss the vote, the debate? Were the people in Madrid asked, the people in Rome, the people in Hawaii, in California? Who do they think they are? Why do most people ignore this? They look up. They see the sky dulled by increasing haze. What comes up – the millions of tons of toxic whatever-it-is must come down. They breathe the air. They drink the water. They eat the food infused with this. Why don’t they scream?

To my children and all the children of all the species on earth, to the sky, the water and the soil, I am sorry. This tiny planet we share with every living thing is itself alive, sacred. Those who are doing this seem to me sons and daughters of the monster Mary Shelly wrote about in 1818, Frankenstein; The Modern Prometheus. The monster in Shelly’s novel was the mind of the scientist, the non-human corporate mind, not the creature that mind produced. Others shared Shelly’s concerns.

How can you buy or sell the sky, the land? If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. The rivers are our brothers.The air is precious, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Alleged Letter by Chief Seattle, December 1854 (abridged)

I’m so sorry.
Michael Mendizza

Note: The historical Chief Seattle was the head man of the Duwamish and several other related small bands of Indians inhabiting the shores of Puget Sound. The text of Chief Seattle’s monologue has frequently appeared in anthologies of American Indian literature and oratory, but most do not identify its source. The main source for the speech is, apparently, a 1932 pamphlet by John M. Rich, copies of which are at the Seattle Historical Society and at the Library of Congress. Mr. Rich, in turn, cites an article in a Seattle newspaper from 1887 in which a Dr. Henry A. Smith reconstructed a speech by the Duwamish Chief December 1854.