Saturday, May 05, 2007

The 6th Great Die-Off

Without the bitterest cold that penetrates to the very bone, how can plum blossoms send forth their fragrance to the whole world?
Each something is a celebration of the nothing that supports it.
---John Cage
The horse's mind
So swiftly
Into the hay's mind.
---Fazil Husnu Daglarca
All the artwork is by Richard Ross.
Something like 60 years ago I spent some summertime at YMCA Camp Onyahsa on Lake Chautauqua. It was only several miles from Mom and Dad in Jamestown, New York, but I didn't thrive in the situation. The highlight of the whole experience were a couple nature hikes with a young man named Bob Sundell. The boys all called him "Bugs." He had an intensity about what you could see in Nature and how to look that was contagious. Even other boys who weren't into this whole camping thing that much were completely involved with this guy when he showed up. Off we'd go...and immediately there was a snake or a hawk---"It's a Cooper's hawk!" yelled Harold Smith, who later had to wear a ball and chain in the cafeteria because he kept trying to escape...but "Bugs" said, "Hey, that's great!" when he knew that hawk, and Harold was proud. Or there was a flash in the fast I didn't see what it was: a bright blur. "A redstart," "Bugs" whispered...but it was gone and hiding.
Redstarts became my favorite bird and I always wanted to see another one, even though I hadn't really seen the first one. Maybe it was "Bugs'" influence and the way he engaged us little boys. I don't think I ever saw Bob Sundell again although I often thought to look him up when I was back in my hometown. I think he's lived in Western New York all his life, teaching at a community college there and prominent with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute Ornothological Club (Peterson was from Jamestown too) and the local Audubon Society...especially the annual bird count.
The other day, down by the main creek of 3 that run through our woods, I saw another redstart. My second. It's been 60 years! I suppose if I had really gone out and looked in the meantime---made a project of it---I could have seen a bunch by now. But I don't seem to interact with Nature that way. I'm more an alert-and-see-what-pops-up sort of guy. It may be those 2 redstarts are bookends of my life, and I'd be content with that.
I never minded when neocons snarled "treehugger" at the way I feel about Nature. They've called me a lot of things in the past 40 years, but I think hugging trees is a wonderful experience. I much prefer it to knocking down every one I see. A couple weeks ago I threw a father and son off my land because they'd brought in their 4-wheelers. I did it with so much rage I frightened myself. I don't mind hunters---as long as they let me know---but I find those recreation vehicles obscene today. When I look at my neighbors and how they interact with Nature, I feel doomed.
What should I do?
And how much time do we have? Which brings me to the dire task at hand. Before today, there's always been a sense of joy or sharing or work-to-do when I've recommended information to people I know. But now I feel more like it's duty to report this. The June issue of Mother Jones magazine carries a cover story by their environmental reporter Julia Whitty. That cover is here illustrated, and the little card next to that specimen reads "Homo sapiens: -Large brain, opposable thumbs, -Primary cause of Sixth Great Extinction". After the warming and climate change, this is next and more biologists are telling us this everyday. The entire article is online and I believe was picked up by The Independent in the UK, but it's always good to support magazines at the newsstand. I'll warn you Julia begins with a graphic description of death by dehydration...but we need to know how fast it happens and after a certain point no matter how much water they give you, it won't help.

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