What Tracks Will We Leave?

Can you imagine walking through a beautiful wilderness area and not seeing any wildlife? No birds, no insects, no small animals? My friend April, a college science professor, just returned with her family from a trip to Europe. They hiked and rode horses through beautiful mountainous areas. She was stunned to see so few animals. She said the forested areas they hiked through “felt like shells or facades.” She called them “monocultures, empty inside.” The birds they saw were common birds we see in parks. She said it felt like “an ecosystem in collapse.”

2ndBeach,LaPush

Last night as I went to close the back door I saw five large raccoons come down the hill behind my house and meander toward the back door. No, they weren’t about to knock–they were going to head between the house and the garage to get on their trail down to the orchard.

This morning as I picked the pole beans at the top of their support poles, a hummingbird stopped at a blossom right above me. I didn’t move and it worked its way closer and closer down the vine, stopping at each red blossom. It was a few inches from my hand and a foot or two from my face before it spun off.

I often see either a bald eagle or an osprey circle the bay in front of my house. We never saw eagles 45 years ago! What a successful return!

I will try to never take these encounters for granted again. I will greet the big bumble bees, and admire an unusual beetle. And I will not sit quietly when endangered species laws are trampled.

“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”–a Dakota proverb

“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

 

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Dead Zones (revisited, revised for this month of change, November, 2016)

His back ached and he could still taste grit between his teeth, but as he rocked in the porch swing at the end of the day and looked out over the land, he could see it going on for years and years. His children and their children would continue to grow the small herd of beef cattle and the vegetable crops for the local market. Perhaps they could pick up that piece just west of them and expand their holdings.

He didn’t know about dead zones.

The years passed, and he passed, too. His children went to war and wandered to the cities. The land was divided and sold. The years passed and the land was divided again and sold. And then again.

And when my friend Connie and her husband bought one of those much smaller pieces, just a fraction of the farmer’s, they hauled in rich topsoil all around the house. They set about developing beautiful gardens–a small orchard down near the road, raised vegetable beds behind the house, flowers for every season surrounding it, and a lush carpet of lawn in front.

Connie doesn’t have a green thumb–she has ten green fingers. Past president of the garden club, she can grow anything.

Almost anything. Connie didn’t know about the dead zone.

She planted a plum tree by the side of the house that had a great southern exposure. It died. She pulled it out and planted another fruit tree nearby. It died also.

In frustration she finally contacted the county extension office. They weren’t surprised at her question. They’d heard this complaint before. Many years ago, farmers often kept one area, perhaps a corner, away from the house and their animals, as a dumping ground for any chemicals, old fertilizers, or poisons. This, a dead zone, passes on and on for generations.

Dead zones also exist in the oceans, areas where the oxygen concentration is so low that animals can’t live there. These areas can occur naturally, but human activity can also create or enhance them. Excess fertilizer runs off the land (hence the concern about septic tanks or farm animals close to streams, rivers and salt water) and then into the sea. Those nutrients promote algae growth. As that algae decomposes, the process consumes the oxygen in the water that’s necessary for marine life.

Connie’s farmer had neglected to visualize that division of his land, the population growth, the loss of the farm. He didn’t know that what he was doing would continue to contaminate the soil for generations after he was gone. Connie dealt with her dead zone by planting grass whose shallow roots didn’t run beneath the rich topsoil. She calls it the “Dead Zone.”

Today we know about the dead zones, in the water and on the land. We know that whatever we spray or sprinkle on our little patches of ground will stay there. We know the lawn chemicals won’t magically evaporate or sink into nothingness, in spite of what the manufacturers claim. They accumulate over the years, over the generations.

Today we know that the over-emittance of greenhouse gases is contributing to the increase of Earth’s temperatures at an alarming rate. Scientists have warned us about this for years. We’ve resisted their warnings for a long time. Now we’re beginning to feel it in the changing weather patterns. We can no longer claim ignorance.

Today we know that if we don’t make significant changes in the way we live, we will be producing more dead zones all over the world.

We know all about the dead zones. What will our grandchildren and their children inherit?

We know better.