Extirpated, Eradicated, Extinct

Passenger pigeons: From many to none.

We were walking down our pasture loop yesterday, and for some reason, I remembered when we first walked this path in 1999, we often saw flying squirrels that would drive the dog-of-the-day crazy. Not any more. It’s been years since we saw the last one.

And ruffed grouse: We’d hear their low-frequency drumming in the woods almost every time we went down the valley, some times of the year.

Red squirrels: Mountain Boomers, they’re called. I’d see them from the back porch, three or four at a time, chasing each other or the gray squirrels they seem to have a natural loathing for.

Whippoorwills: we heard them without fail every spring for the first ten years we lived here. Nope. None for the past decade.

Fortunately, these species are not gone completely and forever. They are only missing from our local landscape by my observations, and maybe all these kinds of macro-vertebrate animal have come to where you live and you see them regularly. I hope so. But I have little reason to think that’s the case.

It would be hard to tease out exactly why the range of some animals changes from year to year. But looking at global numbers of plant and animals species and populations, the news is not good. And it is not just local range retractions but large-scale ecosystem declines of entire webs of inter-related plants, animals, fungi and microbes taking place with increasing frequency and breadth across all biomes.

Two hundred species go extinct every day, the latest studies project.

Imagine: today, the Eastern Chipmunk. Thursday, the robin. Friday the raven. Saturday, the Monarch Butterflies. Sunday the silver maple.

These are conspicuous, named and familiar creatures we’d miss if they weren’t there. We’d be alarmed if we could actually see extinction, like so many lights across the globe that wink out suddenly. The very last one of its kind dies, and that is the end of the genetic line forever. We can’t see those lights going out, but be assured it is happening. And this Sixth Great Extinction is not new and it is not something we can blame on natural cycles.

The increasing number of humans on the Earth; the voracious appetites we have for stuff and the enormous footprint we leave in our wake of resource consumption; and now the extra heat our carbon era has left in the atmosphere—all of this disturbance of natural checks and balances is rapidly leading to a planet unlike the one experienced by living things, maybe not EVER, but certainly over the 200k years of hominid presence or the 10k years of proto-civilization.

Every living organism on every continent and in every biome is being challenged by the changes Homo sapiens has created. And our arrogance has us thinking we will be just be about our business of doing what is best for our own kin, corporation or country. And in the end, it will be self-absorbed indifference and willful ignorance that will do us in.

Extirpated. Eradicated. Extinct. As species disappear, we are burning the precious books–the last and only existing copies–from the Library of Life. Few of the species whose way of life has brought this about seem bothered by this emergency. Humankind may yet be a self-terminating species, but it will not be because we did not see it coming.

On Reaching Joe Flounder

Overfishing, water chemistry changes, thermal fluctuations, invasive species…causes for fish population changes are complex. Reducing fishing pressures is one way to conserve what stock remains until conditions improve.

Our son-in-law is a prosperous, young, thinking Republican. He laments the mentality of his hunting and fishing buddies (Joe Flounder in our discussion) who blames current restrictions on flounder fishing on the whims of environmentalists. They are indignant over any rules that restrict their total freedom to keep everything they catch on their three-day weekend fishing trip.

He challenged me to confront with my writing such contrarians directly and make them see the light. If only it was that easy. I penned a lengthy reply to his email this morning, and have included it here, since it speaks to the current work on the book and the voice and values it hopes to share with readers. Heck, you might be one of them!

❦ ❦ ❦ ❦ ❦ ❦ ❦ ❦

To be sure, we as a nation and planet are on the precipice of a crisis that is complex and centuries in the making. In its coarsest features seen through my 50-year thirty-thousand foot view of things, it is a divide of values that drives the two camps to very different conclusions about who deserves what and why.

Again, in my view, we suffer the consequences of broken relationships with nature, place and community (human and other.) Perhaps the most stark distinction is that one side sees humankind’s ecology and economy as one web of relationships, the other as two distinct and separate circles on a Venn diagram, if you will.

The Enlightenment, scientific revolution, then the industrial revolution moved the movers and shakers to understand that man was separate from nature, holding dominion over it (according to one mis-reading of Genesis) and turning it to our purposes alone. Thus the ECONOMY became an engine to generate profit and stuff, with Earth’s matter, space and living substance (ECOLOGY) the fodder for the machine. The growth model of economics has been very good for many stockholders, CEOs and politicians, and as we have known now for a half-century, increasingly bad for the health of the planet that sustains us.

So with that broad sweep of understanding, my presuppositions about Joe Flounder’s world view (of which he is not the least be aware or interested) is that there is a wide, deep and well-entrenched gulf to cross to reach Joe and his pals who think ME-HERE-NOW while those on the other side of the divide prioritize THEM-THERE-THEN. Why are we here? What is our purpose?

Is a well-lived life one that serves the planet and the common good or one that serves self in the here and now? (Almost every major religion and ethical systems comes down on the side opposite the SELFISH side.) Which story gets us where we all want to be–living in a world that works, where prosperity is measured in more than dollars, where people show respect for all others and honor and steward the natural systems–the ecology–of a “living” planet for authentic and universal well-being?

So I do not write about climate change as such, though of course I mention it in some places. Book 3, like the others, is not about facts so much as it is about healing broken relationships. Joe F will not change his mind based on new facts. But if he can be made to feel and give voice to what is missing and what is essential in his life, he might actually find that he can be outdoors without a stick in his hand after all.

The golf club, fishing pole and shotgun are all “real guy” authenticators, because anybody outdoors just taking it in is surely a fag or intellectual (god forbid!) But what most guys really want, I think, is to be OUT THERE because there is a goodness about being in the world not made by hands, as john Muir called wilderness. They acknowledge that, but our distorted understanding of manliness makes them uncomfortable if they don’t carry the authenticating stick (and besides, this reinforced stereotype is really good for the GDP.)

So Book 3 (One Place Understood: Field Notes from a Personal Ecology) consists of personal writing (essays, natural history, nature advocacy, lucid daydreams and reflections) that arise from my attempt to better know who I am by where I am. And this means a sharpening and intentional use of the senses. It means living with perpetual curiosity about the ordinary in our living spaces–the soil, air, water, human history and the passing of time through place.) It means seeing ourselves as part, not the whole, of a functioning world we did not make but are quickly damaging beyond repair for human generations.

A personal ecology (my terminology as I define it in the book) in its grandest sweep is a nurturing by which every future person learns to see themselves fully within the circle of nature and the web of the Whole Ecology of Earth. One place understood helps us know all places better, Eudora Welty said. And when we have this kind of wisdom and vision, priorities realign within the human economy so that we make right choices about our consumption and behaviors in light of its impact on the common good, and especially the good of forests and coral reefs and oceans and rivers and…

There is a phrase among writers that you should “show not tell.” So again for the third and last time (if this thing actually gets between covers) I show what my relationships (ecology) mean within my slice of time and space. And perhaps if Joe Flounder’s wife or grand-daughter happen upon the book and are touched in some way by it, they will have the words (or model the changed understandings) to influence our good ol’ boy so he stops tossing beer cans in the bay. Hell, he never even thought about “the commons” before!

A wider audience: that’s a tough nut. While working sporadically to get all the pieces completed and ordered, I’m wading through how to write a book proposal, how to pitch to a publisher, etc. I may end of self-publishing, and that too will require a lot of research since those options have changed so much since book 2 in 2009. I am not bored.

And so it goes. SustainFloyd struggles every year with how to reach Joe Farmer in Floyd–firmly entrenched in the Tea Party mentality and damned if they’ll be seen with those pointy-headed tree huggers.Damned buncha socialists!

We have a new project a few of us talked about last night–a Community Chestnut-planting effort–that hopes to find stories and willing hands across the political-intellectual-values divide. We’ll see how it goes.

A Cicadian Pox of Conidial Pustules

Yes, it does sound like a medieval incantation of doom. This is one for you from Nature’s Book of Bad Dreams.

Seems we have among us a fungus that infects periodic cicadas in a most bizarre and ghoulishly effective way. So if you find said insect with its back half white, it is a flying salt-shaker of death to others of its kind. It will not turn you into anything more or less than what you have been. OTOH…

The white pustule is a teeming mass of fungal spores, that, when germinated in the tissues of a passing cicada, turn it into a living zombie, roaming the world for weeks with its hind-most parts replaced by the fungus that has eaten it alive. Note that the fungus, too, has periodicity so to be timed to “bloom” along with the emergence of its meal and meal ticket.

During its zombification, the chances of spores finding other victims are increased by the fact that chemicals are released by the spores (including a couple of known human hallucinogens, but you’d have to eat a bucket full of insects to get a, er, buzz.) These drugs induce male cicadas to produce sounds typical of females to lure in other males not yet infected. And also infected males respond by seeking out calls of both sexes, thereby increasing the odds of contact and contagion.

Order it by name: Massospora cicadina

One-Armed Paper Hanger

So even with my good intentions to breathe life back into the blog, it’s been on life support in ICU for another week, hanging on by a thread (though not of active conversation) and waiting for an injection of adrenalin. But not because there is nothing to write about on Goose Creek. Far from it. And I do not apologize for personal sloth. Oh NO!

My goal was to ship out five bits from the upcoming book for (possible but not certain) inclusion in lit-mags to establish some writing cred–and perhaps attract attention of an agent or publisher. I did it, and so now moving on to other things.

On the positive end, I am finding wonderful resources for publishers, publications and writers who might be kindred spirits and a help towards the goal of printing for “One Place Understood: Field Notes from a Personal Ecology.” I’ve changed the name back since I mocked up a cover a month ago. (It won’t be this dark and will contain more color. And if I succeed in getting it third-party published, they’ll hijack the cover and the title, so I’m not spending much time on this just now.)

One bright spot has been the discovery of the ASLE–the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. I have joined as a member, and look forward to learning as a folk-writer from these mostly-academic professionals.

ASLE is where slow thinking (scholarly and artistic research and writing) meets swift action (we cannot truly be environmental humanists unless we are willing to become environmental activists). We study, write, compose and create because we care about issues like biodiversity, environmental justice, survival in a time of endemic precarity and global catastrophe, and the effects of climate change on humans and nonhumans alike. These concerns have long histories, and we believe that we can look to the past to imagine alternative futures. We do not have easy solutions to the problems that face us, but we do have faith that widened community is our best way forward. 

Just so you know: I’ve been busier than…you know; and had a cat to help every step of the way.

Mosey loves the melted ice from last night’s bourbon and Pepsi

Status: UNK

That’s not exactly right. FUTURE status UNK, but when is that not the case? Just sometimes more UNK than others. And we are in one of those times, I suppose, on Goose Creek and on Planet Earth.

Where do we go from here?

Our time and energy of late has been centered around the (now failed) attempt to find housing options nearer town and with more “aging in place” options at 71 than we needed when we refurbed this place at 51–twenty years ago this coming Thanksgiving, just ahead of Y2K.

And in face of putting the house on the market THIS WEEK (which did not happen), we have had service folks–plumbers, carpenters, painters and HVAC–in the house, or expected at the house whether they showed up or not–for a month or more. We have been creating maximum disorder in every room to bring about a greater order. Eventually.

And to totally distract us from our home-transition woes, the very evening of the day we learned we would not be making an offer on The Place, we heard a noise on the front porch just as we were turning off the lights for bed.

And it was Mosey (as she is now called) who had appeared (origin and pathway to Goose Creek: UNK) to announce that she had arrived at her Storm Home, and please show her to her room. She was 10 weeks old upon arrival, the vet says, and way under-nourished and clingy. Not those things any more.

So now, as I attempt to shop around 8-10 of the bits from the increasingly-likely new book, I have a kitten in my lap, on my shoulder, on my keyboard, under my feet or lurking somewhere on my desk. If we were to rename her at this point, it would be Mehitabel (Bel for short)–an alley cat who presided in the cutting room of a large newspaper, and whose stories were pounded out by a longsuffering cockroach named Archy.

With regard to the “seeking publication” efforts, I have sent off a few, am looking at submission deadlines of others and matching topical submission requests with the subject matter of what I have available.

Then, PRESTO! Only six months or more later…

“Dear Mr. Frost, we are unable to use your submission in our publication, finding that it is devoid of coherence, purpose or any readership interests we could possibly identify. We encourage you to leave the essay in question buried in the deep structure of your hard drive where it can do no harm. Best of luck in finding a hobby more within your skill set than literature. “

Honestly, I expect one in five might see the light of day. I’ll get back to you on that–provided the blog survives upcoming relocation mandated by circumstances beyond my control. I don’t want to wipe 17 years of words (mostly front-loaded to the period ending about 2010) go extinct. Future status: UNK

Upcoming months may find Fragments a good place to share book excepts, notice of upcoming speaking events and the like. So hoping for a life extension.

Stay tuned!