According to Smithsonian Magazine, up until the 1980s, coal miners would carry canary birds in cages as a tool for determining when they should head out of the mine as toxic fumes like carbon monoxide were becoming dangerous for them to breathe. Sometimes the human miners couldn't feel when they were being poisoned until it was too late and they passed out in the mine, so they carried a smaller animal who has a superpower sensitivity as an indicator species. When the canaries' songs got more frantic and/or they keeled over in their cages, that was a signal to the miners to pivot and change course.
Who is a canary?
A canary is that single mom who went to the doctor's office with a chronic cough and tremors that started after a company leaked toxic chemicals into her water supply and was told by that doctor that there was no way her symptoms could be related to that exposure...and to go home and take an aspirin.
A canary is the veteran who goes into anaphylactic shock every time he smells perfume from someone's shampoo in their hair, having come back to the U.S. from the Gulf where he'd been exposed to chemical warfare his own country had concocted.
A canary is your child who gets itchy skin, rosy cheeks, a foggy brain, and abdominal pain for hours whenever they eat a meal, but the doctors just keep telling them to drink pink, relax, and keep eating jello and Saltines.
A canary is that middle school special education teacher who served her school for 25 years only to become bedridden at age 45 from mold exposure in the school building.
A canary is the orca whale who carries the body of her dead baby across the ocean for days, hoping someone will hear her cries as her liver soaks in toxic petrochemicals and her stomach starves for the salmon that once very recently swam fat and free in undammed rivers.
A canary is anyone who has never been the same since that bug bite, that car accident, that divorce - and who has been given an "autoimmune disease" diagnosis but the only treatment that will help costs $3,000/month.
A canary is anyone for whom the broken systems are not working.
You are not alone. We are finding each other. And we are singing and collecting our stories across borders, past bedroom walls, and through the cage bars.