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“China’s Rare River Dolphin Now Extinct, Experts Announce.”

National Geographic News, 14 December, 2006


She moves between the dams, calling.

For thousands of years in her genetic memory, her kind passed through this river. Voices rang from source to sea celebrating the freedom of movement, healthy waters laden with food, sediments from the mountains’ slow decay enriching life along the river for all. They prospered, sang and played, survived flood and drought, loved and lived, gave birth and died, in a fecund wilderness that knew no end.

Until the dams. One by one, the concrete edifices, called essential to feed a manufactured need for things nonessential, by a species that knows no peace with things wild or with itself, drew barriers across places that never knew false boundaries. The floods that flushed nutrients, now gone—populations that bred along blended genealogies, now isolated and fragmented and failing, like a royal line too long inbred.

Goddess of the Yangtze, you once called me, she thinks, in olden times when you were wiser. No more. Filthy water moves across her pale skin. Nearly blind anyway, oil and garbage make vision even less clear. Often she shifts to shake a plastic grocery bag from a fin. She eats a smaller fish that tastes toxic and sits poorly in her belly—but she must eat.

She calls.

A boat passes close and she sinks to avoid it. Nearly as bad as the dams, these. The thrum of the motor hurts her water senses. Leaking fuel from the engine casts a sheen across the surface that refracts the light in an unnatural hue. Birds tap the water to grab bits of food thrown overboard by the people on the craft. She flicks her tail and coasts away, hoping for a response to her call.

Trash litters the river floor: tires, television sets, shoes, shopping carts, construction castoffs, tennis rackets, toasters, sometimes even entire automobiles. She sees no need for these things. Why make something just to throw it away? This was not the way they lived when it was their river. She wishes a flood might come, a cleansing flood that might bring back the time she knows once existed here, a harmony when her song blended with the soft sounds of all that surrounded her. For now there is no escaping any of this, she knows, the encroachment of what passes for civilization into every space, everywhere—even here, in her river.

Perhaps a Goddess could bring that cleansing flood, taking the dams and boats and all other manufactured things with it—bringing back the wolves, the forests, the free flow. If she had the power she would. Knowing not else what to do, she swims, and hopes for another who might take away some of the loneliness she feels. Her tail moves her, fins guide, touching the water as a reader might touch the screen, in sympathy.

She calls, but nothing returns from the concrete but her own voice, a threnody for a lost world—echoing, alone.

William Huggins

William Huggins

William Huggins is an avid hiker, reader, husband, father, and dedicated rescue-dog maniac--though not necessarily in that order. Educated in a series of remote places because of his father's work for the United States Air Force, he was born an advocate of wild places and grew into that green skin. Bill writes for Texas Books in Review and has a series of six essays for Conservation Lands Foundation appearing at and a new short story, "Watercharmer," coming this fall 2017 in the anthology Visions VII: Universe."