Sharpening Our Vision

Toshiba Digital Camera

It’s just a little unsettling that as we get older, before we invest in updating any body part, we consider its life expectancy. I have a friend who is “making do” with a temporary crown on a tooth.

“Holy moly!” she says, “I’m 75 years old! How much longer am I going to live? I’m chewing just fine with the temporary–I think it will last!”

I was unprepared, however, when I drove the Potter to his eye appointment, where, after his exam, he scheduled appointments to have cataracts on both eyes removed. He was a little quiet in the car riding home.

“You know,” he finally said, “I have a decision to make. I can simply have the cataracts removed and Medicare and my insurance will cover it. Or, if I pay extra, the doctor can correct my vision. I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore.”

Another long silence. “I really don’t mind wearing glasses–I’ve worn them most of my life. That would just be a vanity thing and I don’t care about that. The real issue is that I’m 81 years old–if I knew how much longer I was going to live, it would really help to make this decision. It’s not worth it if…..” And his voice trailed off.

That evening when he called, he said, “Well, I’ve made the decision! I’m going to go for the complete fix! You know what helped me decide? I can see through binoculars a lot easier when I’m bird watching–I can get the binoculars right up to my eyes if I’m not wearing glasses!” He was joking, but I know how important those binoculars and birds are to him.

There is a delicious irony here. You know about birds’ eyesight, right? Birds have the biggest eyes, relative to their size, of all animals. So yes, they have much sharper vision than we do. Raptors, especially, have keen eyesight. I have read that if we traded eyes with an eagle, we could see an ant crawling on the ground from the roof of a 10-story building. And, birds see certain light frequencies, including ultraviolet, that we can’t see.

Will I remind the Potter of this? Probably not. He’s been in a foul mood lately–he might not even chuckle at that pun. In this Year of the Bird, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of the most important conservation laws in the world, is turning 100 years old this year. A reason to celebrate, right?

Wrong.

This law prohibits the unauthorized killing of migratory birds. Viiolations are criminal offenses. The Interior Department has just issued a memorandum ruling that corporations and businesses that accidentally kill migratory birds during their operations are no longer in violation of the act. Under this new ruling (or Rep. Liz Cheney’s similar House bill), BP Oil would not have been legally responsible for the one million birds that were killed in the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf.

So we are gutting one of our most important environmental laws in this Year of the Bird.

It’s another attack, and another reminder to all of us. We renew our support for local and state conservation efforts, we continue to support those national organizations that fight for birds and science (Audubon, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Union of Concerned Scientists, Nature Conservancy, etc.). And we continue to send letters and make phonecalls, and make sure our families and friends are all registered to vote.

We need to demand our lawmakers sharpen their vision. This is not a time to be short-sighted.

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