Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Living in Place

A cliche of science-fiction stories ever since H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is the idea that hostile aliens would want to gorge themselves on humans.  Wells was a brilliant storyteller and prescient social critic who keenly followed the developments of his age and beautifully wove them into his novels.  Unfortunately he lived when biochemistry was in its infancy.
Modern writers of science fiction should know better.  Aliens from other worlds could never consume humans, nor for that matter, any other earthlings.  The scientific reason for this, of course, is that we can only consume what we can recycle:  amino acids that will be incorporated into our proteins, nucleic acids that will become part of our DNA, vitamins that will assist the biochemical reactions needed for our bodies' functions, etc.  Put more poetically, the act of eating is a communion with family.  This brings me to the main point that I wish to make here:  the notion that we exist independently of other living beings is an illusion.  All that we breathe, eat, drink, and excrete, passes along its way, connecting us to all that exists, as so much water flowing over the pebbles in a river.
I am sorry to report that things recently turned for the worse at the rookery, and the birds are suffering unimaginably of the severe drought.  About two thirds of the rookery’s denizens have already fled.
 This Summer, we are rescuing the juveniles of Anhingas and Black-Crowned Night Herons:  species who have rarely or never before needed our help.  For the rescued Great Egrets, this past week the mortality shot up to about one in four.  Initially, I was overjoyed to be able to see the rarer juveniles, but now I realize this to be very sad news. These are the early-arriving species who had the greatest chance of a successful season.
For the late-arriving species, such as the tricolor herons and little-blue herons, the majority of the nests have failed.  Bird lovers and photographers who monitor the rookery tell me that many of the eggs did not hatch for these species.  Some parents took the more pragmatic course:  they calculated that they could not reasonably maintain themselves and their young, and they abandoned their active nests.  Others stayed and died trying.
What is currently at stake is not the demise of the planet, as it has become so fashionable to say.  This is as arrogant as imagining that when we sleep the world disappears.  The planet will continue.  On the other hand, our species might well become one of many index fossils, i.e. a precise marker for a geological era because its population exploded and then disappeared.  What is under threat right now is the ecological ensemble to which we belong.  Our lives depend on the continued well-being of this ensemble as surely as it depends on the continued beating of our hearts.
 It is for our own sakes that we must learn to “live in place” and support those plants and animals that surround us.
 Right now, we can help the birds remaining in the rookery by:
 1.  Increasing the frequencing of our trips and rescues.   Based on past experience, in the next few weeks we will see the worst injuries of the year.  Collect any distressed birds and deliver them to Rogers Wildlife ASAP.  Contact "birdintrouble" if you need help with the rescue or delivery.
2.  Making our work better known to others on the campus.  As the juveniles begin to fly a little, they are wandering farther from home.  We are already finding them in the tennis courts, the parking lots in the North campus, and various odd places.  It is important that these wandering birds be discovered early.
 3.  Inspecting, cleaning, and refilling the water troughs.  The juvenile birds definitely drink from the water troughs that our Society has placed for them around the woods.  There is a white six-gallon container of water near the memorial garden that can be used to refill the nearby troughs.  Bring gloves for handling the container and troughs.  After emptying the container, refill it from the faucet by the faculty parking lot.  If you cannot manage the refill, let us know that you have emptied the container, and we'll organize a refill.
 In addition, for the long term, we can help the rookery by getting it officially recognized as a bird sanctuary.  Details about this are at:
Additional suggestions are welcome.
 Yes, our humble little Society is making a difference.  If you doubt this, drive to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and visit the birds we rescued this season.  Some of them already wading about and feeding themselves.

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