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We sailed on a river boat down the Yangtze
twenty years ago—before the Three Gorges Dam
& the rising water lowered the mountains.
That day the peaks shrouded with clouds,
the rains torrential. We expected a river choked
with vessels, but saw only a scattering
of barges, ferry boats, tugs & floating rafts.
On deck in warm jackets & non-slip shoes,
we drank bottled water, as instructed.
When we arrived at the Lower Reaches,
we saw ‘the land of fish and rice’
poised for sacrifice to the power gods.
The baiji, shy & enigmatic, nearly blind
with upturned beak & tiny eyes.
Twenty million years ago, they migrated
from the Pacific, but in the last half-century,
no match for giant nets & churning propellers.
In legend, the river dolphin was a princess,
drowned by her family for refusing to marry
someone she didn’t love.
Again & again scientists search for the baiji
in the waters of the Yangtze, from Yichang
to Shanghai, a distance of two thousand miles.
Each year, they find none.
Copyright 2018 Joan E. Bauer