The drive went smoothly, and quickly. Jake
seemed to accept the move now that they were on their way. They stopped in
some bookstores in San Francisco and bought Jake some natural history
field guides to supplement the few he had been able to buy in Rivercity.
Jake's interest in "weeds, critters,
and bugs," as Mrs. Benveniste liked to call it, started with camping
in Boy Scouts. After leaving the dry and sterile flatland of Rivercity for
the mountains, the young boy had fallen in love with anything green or
moving. Only an average student in school, Jake's knowledge of natural
history was nearly all self-taught.
His parents wanted Jake to go on to college
when he graduated high school. Jake wasn't so sure. He didn't hate school
so much as he couldn't see any reason to go. Most of his classes put him
to sleep. He would come home at the end of the day and not remember a
thing that had gone on. He couldn't imagine college being any different.
Mention of the subject invariably lead to an argument.
As they drove, Jake regaled his mother with
the geology and natural history of the areas they passed through. Like
previous trips, when they were a complete family, Jake and his mother
settled in to debating about what music to play on the car stereo as the
scenery sped by.
The contrast in colors as they moved north
was dramatic. Rivercity is a dirt brown. Late spring in the Sacramento
Valley is green. The northwest coast of California is almost tropically
lush with tall, dark green conifers. The ocean, away from the influence of
cities and shipping is deep blue and the gulls that fly over it, glaringly
Jake's interest in the changing scenery at
times seemed to consume him. He wanted to get out of the car whenever he
saw something fresh. That included flocks of migrating dragonflies in
Sacramento, Redwood trees in Eureka, a River otter in Gold Beach, a Bald
eagle in Willapa...
They spent one night camping in a small
town on the southern coast of Washington. In the morning, Jake walked to
the campground "trading post" to examine the wooden Indian
sculpture and the plaster model of a lumberjack on the front porch.
Inside, he found the store to be a rustic version of the Rivercity Minit-
Jake felt amazed that a store in such an
out of the way place could sell the same items "real" stores had
at home. While he looked around comparing prices, Jake listened to two
fellow customers talk.
The men were in their early twenties and
peppered their speech with a list of technical terms Jake didn't
understand. The Blond-haired Man with the ponytail was bearded and his
black skinned companion had a huge afro. Both wore work clothes; long
sleeved cotton shirts, blue jeans, and heavy boots. They smelled like they
had last bathed in March.
The conversation had something to do with
illegal dumping of toxic wastes in Puget Sound. Since that was to be his
new home, Jake paid close attention. Evidently the two young men did some
sort of work that had something to do with fish and marine mammals.
They were talking, with concern, about dead
salmon and other fish washing up along the beaches of the San Juan
Islands. Residents were upset and demanding for something to be done. The
young men were deliberating what action could be taken if scientists
didn't know where the dumping occurred.
Jake excused himself and asked, "How
do you know there is illegal dumping going on and that it's connected to
the dead fish?"
The two researchers paused in their
conversation and were silent for a moment. The man with the ponytail
looked at Jake as if "sizing him up." When he spoke, there was
none of the condescending tone Jake normally heard from adults when
explaining things to teenagers. Jake appreciated the man's considerations
and liked him for it.
"That's a good question. When dead
fish start appearing on the beaches, most people are only interested in
getting rid of them before they begin to smell. That isn't such a big deal
if it's only one or two.
"But when the numbers run into the
hundreds, we know something is fishy." He and his buddy smiled.
Jake smiled too and waited for the man to
"Someone from the National Marine
Fisheries Department, that's who we work for, goes out and takes a sample
of tissue from the fish. They take it back to the lab and subject it to a
series of tests."
"Like an autopsy?"
"Exactly. Good analogy." Jake
smiled inwardly and felt pleased. "In this case, the analysis showed
that the fish had croaked from TBT, tributyl-tin, pentachlorophenol, and a
concentration of heavy metals like copper, zinc, and lead. Copper and zinc
are used as pigments and lead-based paints were pretty common years ago
before we learned you could get lead poisoning from them. TBT is used
solely as boat bottom paint."
"What's this penta..?"
pronounced slowly. "It's found in wood preservatives and contains
dioxin. Extreme nastiness as far as the environment is concerned."
"Do you know where the stuff came
"We have some guesses. The problem is
that you have to determine if the dumping is coming from the manufacturer
or any one of the thousands of consumers who buy and use the stuff. Our
enforcement branch is small and underfunded. It could take years to find
the culprit and by then the guy is long gone."
His companion continued the story. "It
looks like the main source of these pollutants would be from paints used
in preserving wooden ships from salt spray. We think the investigators
should be talking to the navy, marinas, drydocks, and boatyards."
"I can understand boatyards, and
stuff, but why the navy?"
"There's a big naval shipyard in
Bremerton, on the west side of the Sound. Its been there since Moses was a
small child. TBT hasn't been used for years. It was very popular for
bottom paints ten years ago but it's hardly used anymore. They must have
tons of stuff hanging around since the beginning of time. At least, that's
what my father says, and he should know because he runs the place."
The man with the pony-tail picked up the
narrative again. "All of these chemicals are considered hazardous and
the law says it's illegal to eliminate it anywhere but in federally
designated toxic waste disposal sites. I can promise you that Puget Sound
will never be such a designated site."
"It doesn't look like there is much
chance of finding out who's breaking the law."
"Hey, don't look so glum! We'll catch
the guy sooner or later. Right now there's a team trying to pinpoint the
highest concentration of the toxics."
"So you can find out where they're
dumping the bad stuff to begin with?"
"You got it! Well, we've got to go.
Nice talking to you. Don't worry, we'll get them."
Jake returned to the campsite. The car was
all loaded and his mother impatiently waiting for him. It was less than a
half day's drive to Seattle. In the excitement of arriving at their new
home, Jake forgot all about the two researchers.