Fading Omens

Raindrops and fog are just as pretty as flowers glowing under clear sunny skies.

Our environment is so infinitely rich that we often fail to notice the absence of something.  Unconsciously, we are tuned to detect threats from something, rather than nothing.  That is why the so-called sixth extinction is so insidious. 

I would worry if thousands of dead ducks floated on the harbor, but I am less aware that this year instead of scores of buffleheads I have seen only two.  I would be aghast at masses of dead monarch butterflies carpeting my yard in summer, but rarely pay attention to the fact that there are few where there used to be many.

Extinction in our times is not often massive.  It is a phenomenon of less and less, becoming none.  It is not suddenly in one area, but gradually everywhere.  That is the most frightening aspect of the tragedy, that we will be mostly unaware until it is too late.

Truly empty puppy cove, not even a seagull or crow, let alone a wild duck.

Children of the suburban post-war era are used to vanishing local wildness.  I grew up familiar with roaming box turtles, ground-nesting birds, various types of snakes, odd insects.  As they disappeared, I assumed there were still lots more over the hills, upstate, in the jungles described in National Geographic.

On Long Island, only forty years ago, there were lobsters being harvested nearby, toads in the sand of the south shore, bats flying at twilight.  My wife remembers seals in Huntington harbor.  We assume that they have simply moved to better places.  We are overoptimistically wrong.

Life is tenacious.  There are lots of squirrels, pigeons,  gulls, rats, raccoons and mosquitoes.  Current worries are diminishing bees and other useful insects, a drop in numbers of horseshoe crabs, but they are still easily found. 

For years, migrating bird counts have been plummeting, a sign that all is not well elsewhere.  Articles from alarmed scientists note the end of many species, a disastrous fall in insect activity, the possible collapse of rain forests.  But those are far away, out of sight, out of mind, as I take my local walk.

Weeds will certainly survive any human apocalypse, and all unknowing will provide what was once considered beauty to an unappreciative world.

I like to fantasize that something will be done, that it all will work out, that somehow my childhood Pleistocene paradise will be saved or will save itself.  Logically, I understand that such is too late already. Looked at one way, humanity is just another natural catastrophe, like an asteroid.  No more use to lament extinct birds or frogs than extinct dinosaurs.

I grew up thinking nuclear war would destroy everything.  It has simply taken a little longer.  Back then, I knew there was nothing I could do about it.  Still feel the same way.  An awful lot of people voted in an anti-science administration.  An awful lot of people are willing to kill a rain forest to have a new floor.  An awful lot of people need to eat and are willing to do whatever it takes.  Me yelling “stop” at them has no effect whatever.

So at times like this, I simply put it all in one bucket and enjoy a possibly dying world as I am enjoying a soon-to-die self.  There are still wonderful experiences, still possibilities.  Maybe all the rest will work out, but I will never know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s