The Language of Silence


My mouth does not know how to pronounce these names, and my fingers only recently learned how to type them. This is a purely scientific form of ignorance.”

In my most recently published essay (Camas, Winter 2018: Fragility), I tell the parallel stories of centuries of ecocide and genocide surrounding California’s largest lake, Clear Lake.

The essay, which took over six years to research and publish, connects the slaughter of the Badonnopoti (the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850), the mercury toxicity of a former lakeside mine adjacent to the Elem reservation, the DDD poisoning of the Western Grebes, the extinction of endemic lake fish, and current cyanotoxin blooms shutting down portions of the lake very summer.

It is not an easy read. Yet it is a necessary read. (The essay can be accessed here.)

Last week, I was at a reception for a major California-based environmental fund, talking to some of the senior staff. They had never heard of any of the environmental or cultural horrors impacting Clear Lake. Although I was silently shocked, I realized that Lake County, one of the most impoverished and neglected counties in our State (and one that has had over 50% of its land base burned in recent fires), is poorly represented in the literature.

In “The Language of Silence,” I also describe the tremendous, year-upon-year work of local Lake County heroes: Sarah Ryan (Big Valley Rancheria EPA) and Karola Kennedy (Elem Indian Colony EPA), leaders of the multi-agency Cyanotoxin Task Force who are doing everything they can to research, document, and address lake pollutants, and Clayton and Doug Duncan, descendants of a Badonnopoti survivor, who lead a prayerful memorial walk every year.

I encourage you to buy this issue of Camas – it contains a wealth of essays, poems, and artwork – and to share the stories with others.

We owe it to ourselves to bring these realities to light. We can’t fix things if we don’t know they are broken; and we can’t support local heroes if we don’t know who they are, and what they do.

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