Along the Fraser: I read it in the Fish and Flies news

Puppet play written for Earth Day to make point about our fish

“All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing. Everyone noticed except the political establishment.”

– U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day.


In 1962, Gaylord Nelson convinced President John F. Kennedy that environmental threats had to be addressed.

Only Kennedy’s assassination delayed remedial action.

Then, ironically, in 1969, Union Oil moved the cause forward. It spilled 100,000 barrels of crude oil from an off-shore well, blackening the beaches of a popular vacation land – Santa Barbara, Cal.

The result was nationwide outrage.

On April 22, 1970, the Earth Day Festival – the first protest to demand a healthy sustainable environment – drew 20 million in cities coast to coast.

Politicians suddenly took note.

Earth Day 1970 inspired the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of the country’s Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Species at Risk Act.

Since, lobbying by developers and misguided politicians have undermined the intent of laws in both Canada and the U.S.

But, the popularity of Earth Day world-wide proves nothing shakes our will to protect the natural world.

Earth Day 2013 is in Memorial Peace Park, Maple Ridge, on Saturday, April 20. It’s organizer, Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, has focused on the importance of art.

A poster reads, “The Earth without ART is just, ‘EH’.”

Look for a lot of talented musicians, poets, and artists to remind us that all life from microbes to humans is interdependent, and essential for a sustainable environment.

That’s a theme of I Read it in the Fish and Flies, a puppet play I’ve written for Earth Day. The lead characters are little- known, and rarely-seen minnows called sticklebacks, a name they get from the three little spines on their dorsal surface. Sticklebacks inhabit most rivers in B.C., including the North Alouette.

In 2009, I discovered thousands of them floating belly up in our river. The politicians and the DFO didn’t think that was a problem, but you can decide.

Sticky is depressed. He has just read another letter in the Fish and Flies Newspaper that claims some fish and their habitat are more important than others.

The author, Randy Karp, a big farm fish, claims that the only important fish are those of “economic value.”

Similar letters – written by Steven Karper, an invasive eastern species – have appeared in the Flies in recent weeks.

Their attack is incomprehensible to sticklebacks, and it has left Sticky  very sad.

You need a good friend at times like that, and Sticky has one in Pointy, who listens apprehensively as Sticky announces he will join the chum fry swimming down river to the ocean.

Pointy warns Sticky of the dangers.

Arnold Sturgeon-ator, a huge, voracious bottom feeder, waits at the mouth of the Pitt River, the first leg of that perilous journey.

The Fraser, the next leg, is badly polluted, and in the ocean itself there are horrible things to contend with, including oil slicks.

Recently, some returning chum died before spawning; weakened by sea lice picked up from fish farms.

Sticky appreciates the risks, but he can’t stay in a place where he isn’t appreciated.

Fortunately, Sticky’s lament is overheard by a marine biologist, Dr. Bluefish. He’s been visiting the stream to conduct research on the role of small predator fish like sticklebacks to the ecology of all rivers and streams.

Dr. Bluefish tells Sticky that the Alouette, his home, can’t remain healthy without him. “You eat stoneflies, caddis, and mayflies,” says the scientist.

“Does that matter?” asks Sticky.

“If you didn’t, there would be too many of them,” explains Dr. Bluefish. They’d eat all the algae and plants, and in the process add three times the carbon dioxide to the water. That’s more climate change gas heating up the world, Sticky,” he says.

“Please don’t go.”

Of course, Sticky doesn’t understand climate change any better than big fish like Randy Karp, or Steven Karper, but he has to think about what Dr. Bluefish has told him. All of us want to be part of the solution.

The scientist’s words should guide him, but will they? Will the words make him change his decision to swim away from his problems, abandon responsibility to reduce climate?

Will science help Sticky see his role in the eco-system even though he’s not of “economic value?”

Come and find out. Two shows: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sticky is played by Christian Cowley of the Ceed Centre. Janet Amsden is Pointy. Both performed in A Magic Gift, the puppet play I wrote for GETI Fest last year.

Music is written and performed by the talented Paula Justus, with help from the amazing Raging Grannies.

Set is by Gerry Pinel; design and artwork by Marci Cole.

Dr. Bluefish is the versatile, ubiquitous Craig Speirs, who understands ecology, even if he has been a politician.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.

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