A giant bee suspended from the canopy framework drew me into a booth at the botanical center’s plant sale. Inside, I found an education display on pollinators. A young man stepped out of the shade. “Do you have a question for a naturalist?” he asked. He and two other people waited alertly for my reply.
My husband, later, told me I’d missed my cue. According to him, I should have asked, “If you are naturalists, why aren’t you all naked?” It’s probably for the best that I missed that cue.
But I did have a question. “Why is it legal for my neighbor to use poison on her property?” The young man kind of sputtered. Then he said he had an answer to that question but it would be better if he didn’t give it.* (Kind of like me dropping my cue.) The woman beside him told us about a friend of hers whose neighbor sprayed poison on the perimeter of his property and killed her friend’s plants.
The young man began explaining how my beautiful lawn, maintained with safe practices, could set the example for my neighbors. I explained that my lawn wasn’t beautiful to anyone but a rabbit because of all the weeds and clover. This response seemed to make him happy. (My yard undoubtedly makes my house-proud neighbor unhappy. Hers is the ideal smooth, even green. Obviously, we have different ideals, at least where lawns are concerned.)
Then I asked the naturalists about my still dormant passion flower vine and they reminded me it’s still early in the season and I shouldn’t give up hope. They gave me a detailed pamphlet on native and invasive plants and I continued among the other booths looking for heritage tomatoes.
My neighbor with the immaculate lawn employs a mosquito control service to fumigate “her” portion of the outdoors. Not infrequently during the warm season, Other neighbors are out with their own personal tank of poison slung over a shoulder, aiming a spray nozzle at driveway cracks or fence perimeters.
So far this year we see only two bats fluttering among the trees at dusk. Fifteen years ago we could count ten. I have read that birds who also catch their suppers on the fly have decreased populations. Fewer insects means fewer meals.
We humans claim to value intelligence but we only value our own. We ignore the conversation of the trees and the communications of the whales. Because we set ourselves outside and above the underlying intelligence, the web of all life, we have only recently begun to see other forms of intelligence. Those populations may well disappear before we ever get a true sense of their extent or qualities. We go about wrecking the environment as if we don’t live here, too.
The tragic part for us humans is that the environment we have constructed for ourselves isn’t even good for us. It’s an economic system which evolved to feed the bloated demands of profit and power. It tramples on the souls of the people who live under it. Toxic food, bad air, polluted water and stress. Money thrives. People and their communities, not necessarily.
There are environmental extremists who view humanity as an evolutionary experiment that failed. These environmentalists look forward to the days when a plague cleanses us humans from the face of the earth so Eden can rise again, a phoenix from the crematorium ashes. Oh! How the beetles and birds and baboons will frolic without the contamination of human kind! Things will be perfect again without us.
In that scenario, my neighbors would no longer spray herbicides around willy-nilly and I wouldn’t be heating my house with fuel oil or polluting the air with my car.
True, the human quest for total world domination is literally killing all of us (except maybe cockroaches), I’d prefer a solution that doesn’t depend on our extermination from it. Other inhabitants of this planet are known to modify their immediate environments to live here. They tunnel, they forage, they eat each other, etc. Other animals also extract and exploit. There are even other species that, left to themselves, run amuk.
If we were half as intelligent as we think we are, we’d learn from our mistakes. Instead, we are inflexible and self-justifying. In other words, not as adaptable as a cockroach.
And, of course, that “we” is a concept that has glaring inaccuracies. “We” can all be wiped out by a pandemic because we are basically physically alike. But “we” don’t all think alike. “We” don’t all share the same level of suffering from the toxicity “we” create or the same (relatively) short-term benefits “we” gain from exploitation of the natural world and each other.
One does not need to contrast indiginous peoples in the Amazon with the Board of Directors of the World Bank to illustrate this point. Right here in Virginia people are sitting in trees to block pipeline crews with chainsaws. The pipelines would transport fracked oil across the state to the seaport for export, wrecking havoc on the landscape every step of the way — from earthquakes at the drilling site to likely spills on the sea. All for the private profit of an already wealthy “we.” The wealthy “we” write the laws that favor the interests of profit and the wealthy “we” insure that law enforcement protects their interests. The “we” who sit in the trees are not the same subset of “we” who want to build the pipeline.
The love of money may well be the root of all evil but comfort can devolve to decadence and complacency. Otherwise, at this point, “we”, intelligent beings all, should be sitting in trees, literally or figuratively.
Where is your tree?
(*Shouldn’t it be natural for a naturalist to have informed opinions about legislation that affects nature? And to freely share that information at a booth about pollinators? )