Peggy Stap, being child-like, and other such fancies

While the elusive Bob-cat (renowned photographer and film-maker Bob Talbot) remains elusively wrapped up in the completion of a film project and I am still steadying myself for the slightly daunting task of writing about dog-rescue trainer, whale disentangler and so-labeled ‘climate change skeptic’ Pieter Folkens, I have the opportunity to write a few spirit-reviving posts about Peggy Stap and the work of Marine Life Studies (MLS).

I say spirit-reviving with a ‘can’t-help-but-smile-conviction’ because Peggy is one of the most generous, kind-hearted, child-like people alive and I have a little candle of love that will always burn for her and wish her well. Some of you may remember Peggy with fondness from reading my posts about her just over a year ago, and if so, you will know that I write ‘child-like’ for all the positive, charming, beautiful aspects that this way of being in the world presents. To still have a child’s heart with its capacity for trust, love and spontaneous generosity, and to still have a child’s spirit with its unbounded exuberance, curiosity and willingness to do more…. Yes, I think we could all do with a Peggy-pill once in a while to rekindle the soft flames in our hearts and enliven our spirits.

I visited Peggy for a couple of weeks in April, staying with her in beautiful Monterey Bay, California. I have a soft spot for Monterey, with its cute old houses (of course, we are talking old for America, not old by world standards), gentle streets that people actually walk along as opposed to simple drive through, and its lush variety of trees and plants that provide a wonderful feeling of nature, freedom and woodlands in amongst an urban setting.

I met Peggy’s husband Dick for the first time; an intelligent, gentle man with an all-encompassing love for his wife and the most interesting, eloquent person to sit down with and have a conversation of substance. Peggy’s dog Whiskie the Whale Spotter was as adorable as ever and I swear I have never, ever seen a dog with such an ability to relax in the most indulgent fashion; every day sprawled in some new, exotic position on her favored chair of the moment.

Peggy was, of course, working her usual seven day week for Marine Life Studies. The organisation is still staffed by volunteers, including Peggy, although MLS has successfully attracted pockets of government and corporate funding for particular projects. I accompanied Peggy going about her daily activities; she was launching her own small research boat ‘Sweet Pea’ this spring and we were both very excited that I would be onboard with her and Whiskie to assist with her killer whale research. I will write about those adventures in a future post; the wonders and frustrations of attempting to track down orcas from a small boat where visibility is limited to three miles in a bay which is, apparently, 449 sq miles. However right now, I feel my attention turning to an education project which MLS was undertaking while I was there.

‘Take it to the Streets’ is an initiative devised and run by MLS in collaboration with The Plastic Police (an organisation established by MLS’s volunteer coordinator Jenna Contuchio and run under the umbrella of MLS). I accompanied Jenna, Peggy and a team of local volunteers on a ‘Take it to the Streets’ afternoon at a local Boys and Girls club. The aim of the session was to educate children about the environmental effects of litter dropping, (garbage dropped on land often ends up in oceans, polluting them and harming marine animals which accidentally ingest them), and to inspire them to get pro-active and participate in activities that will impact positively on their own psyche and the environment. The majority of the session involved taking the children out on a litter cleaning excursion. Can you believe that picking up litter rather than dropping it can be fun? If not then think again; the teenagers had an engaging, liberating and rewarding experience. Below was one typical comment given that day:

“We risked our clothes and brand new shoes to save a turtle’s life. It was worth it!” Unnamed boy, Salinas Girls and Boys Club

However, I came away from the day with a double-edged feeling; one that the experience was assuredly beneficial for all participants, the other that without continued input its effects might be short lived for some of the participants.

I know from my own dance teaching the immeasurable value that out-of -the-ordinary experiences provide children. Young people need unexpected and exciting experiences to shake their perceptions, instill new thinking, bring fresh energy and encourage a renewed sense of curiosity. As adults, we can easily forget to seek these experiences and fall into the trap of living a life where we believe that life is simply about ‘getting by, plodding along’. But children have not yet been deceived into believing that life is about living a humdrum existence. They are alive to possibilities and open to the potential for growth that the unknown brings. One-off exciting and nurturing experiences spark new fires in their imaginations and remind them that the world is limited only by their perceptions of it, and sometimes this impression inspires a lifetime of passion-infused living. This is exactly what ‘Take it to the Streets’ provided.

However, children by their very nature, are also wonderfully changeable and adaptable, and in their teens their attention can swing wildly between conflicting focuses; one day they think the world of something, the next it is forgotten. They require the intellectual and emotional freedom to develop their own perceptions of the world, but they also require structure to develop these ideas coherently and safely, and they require steady, patient guidance to introduce and nurture certain aspects of their thinking. Out-of-the-ordinary experiences like ‘Take it to the Streets’ may light a fire that does not die out for some children, but, for some, the fire may be forgotten by tomorrow. Maybe that is enough; maybe that is just how it should be. But maybe, in a world where our actions are causing such harm to our planet and others around us, more is required.

I do not mean that MLS should provide more; they are playing their role, a vital and passionate one, bringing that unexpected experience to children who would not otherwise have it, maybe planting the seeds for tomorrow’s dedicated conservationists. But in the bigger picture, for the work of organisations such as MLS to leave a lasting impression on the majority rather than a minority, it requires the steady, patient, on-going reinforcement that schools, families, clubs and society can provide.

I have no doubt that some families, some schools, some clubs, some states, some communities and some countries do provide this framework to a greater and lesser degree. But my guess is that in this imperfect world where we all suffer from such human frailties as complacency and self-oriented interests, the framework becomes muddled and sometimes forgotten. The proof is after all in evidence around us; would pollution and other such manmade problems exist if we had all grown up with the flame of caring for one another and our planet still alive within us?

I do not have an all-encompassing answer and I do not even believe there is necessarily just one answer. We are all such different creatures, needing different experiences and different ways of learning. One religion does not serve all of humanity; while all paths may lead to the same essence eventually, a multitude of paths can be taken along the way. So it is with how we learn, how we interact in our families and how we build our communities; there may be many solutions to the challenges life presents us. I do, however, believe that our overall approach could change… from one which is externally led to one which is internally moved. From one which is about material possessions and achievement in the outer world, to one which is about inner treasures and internal growth. From one which focuses on what we can all get from the world, to one which nurtures the concept of both inward and outward flow, giving and receiving.

And now I am left with a challenge… I started writing this post freeform with no defined objective as to what subjects it might lead me to or where it would end, just a picture of Peggy and her child-like self and the vague notion that I would write about her and MLS. And look where I ended up; in the midst of musings that weave their way from education to religion to the state of our world! A complicated puzzle but one where everything is intertwined, everything is connected. From Peggy, to child-like, to the education of our children, to children’s innate natures, to our human nature, to the flames in our hearts, to the small picture of one person unthinkingly dropping litter, to the larger picture of our whole world, to the mysterious inner realm that underpins our external life, to inward and outward flow… All of these subjects are connected, as is every aspect of our lives, with everything influencing and being influenced by everything else. Remarkable!

In my next post, I will attempt to return to Peggy, Whiskie, the world of whale research and the surprising differences between a transient, resident and offshore orca. For now, the words below eloquently add weight to my musings on conservation, education, life and other fancies.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness which created it.” And, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Albert Einstein


4 thoughts on “Peggy Stap, being child-like, and other such fancies

  1. Just lovely, Amanda. I look forward to hearing from you about some of our exploits on “sweet pea”. Remember the “jig” we did in the rain to stay warm😄
    Love and miss you,

  2. Wonderful post, Amanda… I loved your musings through all the positives, negatives, the complexities, the lurking ambiguities. Amongst all this tangle there is, as you say, no single, easy answer – but, like you, something keeps me following that thread of hope that runs through the heart of it all; that there could be a possibility of change in what internally moves us…

    I know what you mean about beach litter picks – I’ve done a few in my time – and they can be such uplifting, motivating, enpowering, community experiences, but I’ve felt too that double-edged awareness that pervades afterwards… the knowledge that the next tide will bring more, and yet more, litter to replace what we’ve removed. As you say, lighting those individual flames is absolutely vital – but, ever increasingly, there is that troubling sense that wider, fundamental changes to support those flickering flames, and to keep them alight, need to happen – urgently.

    I love what you say about your dance teaching, and the work of MLS, reminding children that ‘the world is limited only by their perceptions of it.’ So true that we adults need to keep reminding ourselves of that too. What a wonderful organisation MLS is. The world needs more people like Peggy!


  3. Thanks Melanie. Yes, Peggy really does coin the well-worn phrase ‘one in a million’. She has her troubles, like everyone does, and she has people who do not wish her well in this world. But part of what defines her nature is that she will still, always, unhesitatingly, attempt to be nice to those people. There are really not that many people in this world who can honestly, sincerely, do that.

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