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PROFILE : Curing an Ailing Earth : Alan Godley became an environmentalist after playing catch with a dolphin for an hour.

September 06, 1990|BRENNAN CHASE

A store devoted to environmental awareness on Main Street in Ventura?

Yes, there it is, a thin storefront pinched between a drapery business and a convenience mart, as incongruous as a redwood in the Sahara.

Blue lettering on a wilting white banner identifies the enterprise as the Blue Dolphin Co.

The proprietor, Alan Godley, has embarked on a venture contemplated by few and pursued by fewer.

The Earth, Godley said, invoking an oxymoronic metaphor he attributes to anti-nuclear activist and Australian physician Helen Caldicott, is "a patient that has a curable, terminal disease" and is in dire need of "the right attention." Godley's voice is feathery and calm, even reciting so gloomy a diagnosis. "We need to look at what we have left," he said, "and do everything we can to save it."

If you buy that, the Blue Dolphin Co. has made a sale.

Godley's store is affiliated with Earth Island Institute, a 32,000-member San Francisco-based environmental organization founded in 1982 by conservationist David Brower. Blue Dolphin is one of 35 Earth Island centers, meeting places and information clearinghouses intended to stimulate grass-roots environmental activism.

The Blue Dolphin Co. is little more than 6 months old, but its ambience harks back to the '60s.

The decor is garage-sale minimalist--no fancy fixtures, no elaborate displays, no hint of prosperity. Overhead fluorescence casts a cool pallor on a gallery of unframed posters, mostly dolphins and whales. Tables and countertops are littered with leaflets, stickers, buttons, T-shirts, petitions, books and journals all amplifying the same ideology: Cleanse the Earth, respect all life.

Every other week or so, Blue Dolphin hosts an evening gathering open to anyone who wants to attend. A film or videotape might be featured, or perhaps a guest speaker. Any time Godley inspires someone to write a letter to a legislator or circulate a petition, he considers it a victory. For now he is content to change the world one person at a time.

Godley used his own money to open the store. He receives no financial support from Earth Island. Almost from the beginning he has sold enough T-shirts and posters to break even. But only even. The business, true to its nonprofit status, remains unprofitable. Godley can't afford the luxury of a salary for the 30 to 40 hours he puts in each week. He subsists on money he earns on the side as a real estate loan officer for a small Ventura company.

Born in Ventura and raised in Ojai, Godley, 38, remembers the incipient ecology movement of his youth. But he wasn't an activist then, so he could hardly have envisioned that, as a graying man of middle years, he would be an environmental proselyte.

Godley said he was turned into an environmentalist at a marine park when he was 13. Having wandered into an unauthorized area, he found himself standing alongside a pool occupied by six or seven dolphins. No trainers or park officials were around, so he plucked a volleyball from the water and tossed it to one of the gregarious creatures. The dolphin caught the ball in its mouth and with a wrenching motion threw it back. Godley threw the ball the length of the pool. The dolphin bolted for it, snatched it and returned a perfect pass. For an hour the two played catch and, to hear Godley tell it, communed.

"I got the strong feeling that I had made a friend," Godley recalled. "Here was someone that was as in tune with me as I was with him."

Today, dolphins and oceans are at the center of Godley's ecological universe, as the literature and artwork at the Blue Dolphin Co. suggest. In his presentations to schoolchildren he describes the intelligence, spirit and gentle disposition of dolphins and then tells how they are needlessly killed by commercial tuna fishing.

"I believe that once kids know a part of nature and fall in love with it, they will defend it," Godley said.

Godley linked his store with Earth Island primarily to foster acceptance in the community. "I felt that people needed to feel they were a part of a group, needed to feel that it was OK to walk in here," he said recently, after acquainting a visitor with the unabated harp seal massacres in Canada. "They have to feel that this is a peaceful organization that's working for truth and for the better good."

After a contemplative pause, he added: "I didn't want to just be thought of as a tourist shop."

UP CLOSE: ALAN GODLEY

Profession: Proprietor of the Blue Dolphin Co., an environmental awareness store in Ventura.

Environmental outlook: "I think people are going to get a rude awakening."

Lifestyle concessions to the environment: Conserves water. Recycles. Reuses. Eats low on the food chain. Eats no tuna. Limits his driving. Boycotts companies and products he feels needlessly degrade the environment.

Last book read: "Citizen Hearst."

Hobbies: Hiking, body surfing and collecting tropical fish.

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