Tuesday, August 18, 2009

With stewards like these. . .

She grew up in a place called Philadelphia that has lots of rats and mice, and a few rabbits and squirrels, but no deer, raccoons, opossum, hawks, eagles, or other creatures that inhabit the place where we live now. The first moonlit night she looked out the window and saw three deer grazing in the yard, she was ecstatic. She stood and watched them as they munched on the flowers and greenery, resolving then always to plant trees and flowers that would provide food for them.

So, she planted blueberry bushes and fruit trees, roses and lilies. And the mama deer rewarded her efforts by giving birth to a tiny fawn under the cherry tree.

Now, she watches for the fawn-turned-doe and her babies. A few weeks ago, she looked out the kitchen window and saw the doe and two spotted fawns making their way up her side street to the forested hillside.

Even with all these doe-eyed visitors to her yard, our neighbors stop by to see all the pretty flowers and bushes she has planted. For among the plants that the deer can eat, she has planted a multitude of flowers that they will not touch.

THIS is stewardship she tells him: using human intelligence to assure that all creatures have a chance to enjoy the earth; that when Man intrudes into Nature, an intelligent effort be made to accommodate all living beings--not just homo sapiens. Thus she was angered by news that the adjoining town had decided to deal with the deer "overpopulation problem" by expanding its deer hunt. As usual, those in favor of killing the pesky plant eaters were humans who had built their houses in the wooded areas that the deer had called home since their return from the brink of extinction.

We wonder when Man will realize that killing to eat is one thing; killing to protect yourself or your family is another. But killing to protect a trillium is just wrong.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pack mentality and the healthcare debate

My cousin Cody is part timber wolf. You wouldn't know it to look at him, unless you knew what you were looking at. To the untrained eye he has the same coloring and ruff and tulip ears of the average collie.

But look at his eyes, and you see a haunting yellow that never glows from the pupils of the well-bred collie. His teeth are longer, stronger, and more numerous than those of a dog, his skull more massive; his hair and wide padded feet are those of his wild kin. He has an additional scent gland at his tail that would escape the notice of most humans, but never a dog.

Generally, the differences between my cousin and me cause no problems, and lately his insight has helped me understand why humans are spending so much time quarreling about tending to one another with something called healthcare.

Any self-respecting collie would find this ongoing debate silly and a waste of time. Why expend so much energy arguing when the answer is obvious. Of course humans should be provided the care they need. Would I deny care for one of my puppies? One of my pack? A baby? A human in need? Any animal or human left in my charge? Of course not.

Cody tells me that my analysis is skewed by being a domesticated dog, which for centuries have been civilized and taught to expand the concept of "pack" to include whatever creature or human their people want included. He reminds me that, in the wild, the concept of "pack" is more limited. The humans argue, Cody says, because they have many packs, and these packs compete for scarce resources. Even if one pack does not want to hurt the members of another, it does not want to work for the benefit of the competition.

Perhaps Cody is right, but surely such thinking would be foreign to civilized creatures. I know it is foreign to this collie.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Conversation with a turtle

The other evening we went for a walk to one of our favorite places, and came upon a herd of deer: one buck, a fawn, and some does. Now, there are few things in life that a collie loves to do more than run, and my cousin Cody and I would have taken after those deer in a split second. It's so much fun to have something to run after and corral: rabbits, geese, deer, goats, horses--it makes no difference to us.

But she wouldn't let us. She never lets us give chase when a fawn is present. She knows we would not harm the baby, but she worries the fawn could get hurt trying to keep up with its mother. So, we have to be satisfied with looking and barking.

Sometimes on our walks we come upon a turtle. Cody is intrigued by these shy, helmeted creatures. And frustrated. He doesn't understand why they won't come out to play. After a few minutes of nosing and barking, he'll give up and walk away--looking back frequently to see if a head or foot pops out from the shell.

Generally, I don't bother with turtles. They're not fast enough to chase or numerous enough to herd. But the giant turtle we came upon once got my attention.

He was trying to get under the fence that separated us, but was too large to make it through the scooped out place in the dirt that the rabbits and groundhogs use. The top of his shell was as high as my elbow, and of equal length. In dog time, he would have been ancient, but he assured me that for a turtle he was only middle aged.

I asked him why he wanted to leave the woods that had kept him safe for so long. He said he was looking for his offspring. Seems they would leave the woods and never return to the creekside where they were born. The turtle thought that odd. Surely, even with the fence, some of the youngsters who could fit through the rabbit scoops would return to find mates and lay eggs for the next generations.

Turns out the turtle was born in the days when man traveled on horseback, and used hand-held scythes or mule-drawn tools to cultivate and harvest crops. When I told him about cars and trucks, and lawnmowers and brush hogs, at first he did not believe me. But then I told him of my own encounters with what remained of his offspring on the days Cody and I roamed the nearby fields after they had been mowed.

The turtle grew silent and looked at me with great sadness. The last we saw of him was his giant shell merging into the blackness of the woods.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Wouldn't it be nice

Stay on the side of the road.
Stay on the side of the road.
Stay on the side of the road.

She repeats the plea like a mantra, as dusk falls and the car hurtles forward to whatever our destination is this time. She watches for deer and groundhogs and turtles, praying that she doesn't see any--or that, if she does, she sees them in time to warn him.

He drives, knowing that he won't always be able to swerve, to miss, to avoid the sickening thud -- and her tears. The tears wrench his heart, just as the wasted lives and mutilated bodies tear at her's.

They wonder why--why the species that can land on the moon cannot stop the eradication of entire animal groups by speeding cars and trucks; why some bright scientist has yet to invent an auto accessory that will warn animals away from traffic.

I hear them speak of special reflectors being used to keep moose and elk off roads in the north; brush and shrub covered overpasses for endangered species in Australia; and vegetated underpasses that provide panthers and other animals a safe way to traverse highways in Florida.

And we think: wouldn't it be nice if all people valued the lives of creatures that must cross the roadways. Maybe then scientists would be encouraged to do more research designed to stop the highway slaughter of animals, and road builders would be required to design roads that are safer for all species.