Fumes seep and spiral,
Canaries in the coal mine
Chirp their last faint song.
RonovanWrites’ prompts of the week (trill and final) made me think of canaries in a coal mine. Initially, I had an image of canaries singing to warn of danger. However the canary warning is not their chirping–it’s their death. Miners used to bring caged canaries into mines to warn them of dangerous gas leaks. When their feathered friends passed out, they knew it was time to get out of the mine.
As Wednesday is the day I do a quotations post, I searched for a ‘canary in the coal mine’ quote. I was not disappointed. I found three interesting candidates–the first two have an environmental theme and the third one offers artistic inspiration.
“Whales are humanity’s canary in the coal mine,…As ocean pollution levels increase, marine mammals like whales will be among the first to go.”
Roger Searle Payne (born January 29, 1935) is an American biologist and environmentalist famous for the 1967 discovery (with Scott McVay) of whale song among humpback whales. Payne later became an important figure in the worldwide campaign to end commercial whaling.
“I believe that these sea lions that are washing up along the coast are actually acting as important canaries in the coal mine, warning us of some ocean changes that contribute in fact to human health.”
Dr. Frances Gulland is the Director of Veterinary Science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA. Dr. Gulland has been actively involved in the veterinary care of stranded marine mammals and research into marine mammal diseases since 1994.
∼ State of California Ocean Protection Council
“I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.”
What do you think about Kurt Vonnegut’s theory? I believe he was pondering human survival and asking ‘how do the arts promote the survival of humankind?’ His answer, quoted above, is that artists (writers, painters, photographers, dancers, actors, musicians, etc) are more sensitive; in touch with feelings, senses, imagination, intuition, and such. Artists notice more of what is going on in the world.
A bit elitist or grandiose? Perhaps, but Vonnegut may have been onto something. Another approach would be to attribute sensitivity to artistic endeavour rather than to those who pursue it full-time. In other words, people are more fulfilled and aware when they can incorporate the arts into their lives. We all have the potential to be canaries in the coal mine.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American novelist known for works blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction.
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