by Sherry Marr
Birds gathering nesting materials at the beach
Dear Mother, [a letter of apology to Mother Earth, by Eve Ensler]
It began with the article about the birds, the 2.9 billion missing North America birds, the 2.9 billion birds that disappeared and no one noticed. The sparrows, black birds, and swallows who didn’t make it, who weren’t ever born, who stopped flying or singing or making their most ingenious nests, who didn’t perch or peck their gentle beaks into moist black earth. It began with the birds. Hadn’t we even commented in June, James and I, that they were hardly here? A kind of eerie quiet had descended. But later they came back. The swarms of barn swallows and the huge ravens landing on the gravel one by one.
I know it was after hearing about the birds, that afternoon I crashed my bike. Suddenly falling, falling, unable to prevent the catastrophe ahead, unable to find the brakes or make them work, unable to stop the falling. I fell and spun and realized I had already been falling, that we have been falling, all of us, and crows and conifers and ice caps and expectations — falling and falling and I wanted to keep falling. I didn’t want to be here to witness everything falling, missing, bleaching, burning, drying, disappearing, choking, never blooming. I didn’t want to live without the birds or bees and sparkling flies that light the summer nights. I didn’t want to live with hunger that turned us feral or desperation that gave us claws. I wanted to fall and fall into the deepest, darkest ground and be finally still and buried there.
But Mother, you had other plans… Mother, I am the reason the birds are missing. I am the cause of salmon who cannot spawn and the butterflies unable to take their journey home. I am the coral reef bleached death white and the sea boiling with methane. I am the millions running from lands that have dried, forests that are burning or islands drowned in water.
I didn’t see you, Mother. You were nothing to me… I ignored all the ways we used and abused you. I pretended to believe the stories of the fathers who said you had to be tamed and controlled — that you were out to get us.
I press my bruised body down on your grassy belly, breathing me in and out. I have missed you, Mother. I have been away so long. I am sorry. I am so sorry.
I am made of dirt and grit and stars and river, skin, bone, leaf, whiskers and claws. I am a part of you, of this, nothing more or less. I am mycelium, petal pistil and stamen. I am branch and hive and trunk and stone. I am what has been here and what is coming. I am energy and I am dust. I am wave and I am wonder. I am an impulse and an order. I am perfumed peonies and the single parasol tree in the African savannah. I am lavender, dandelion, daisy, dahlia, cosmos, chrysanthemum, pansy, bleeding heart and rose. I am all that has been named and unnamed, all that has been gathered and all that has been left alone. I am all your missing creatures, all the sweet birds never born. I am daughter. I am caretaker. I am fierce defender. I am griever. I am bandit. I am baby. I am supplicant. I am here now, Mother. I am yours. I am yours. I am yours.
— by Eve Ensler: (full text here)
When I read Ms. Ensler’s apology to Mother Earth, (Losing the Birds, Finding the Words), it made me reflect on how intricately and perfectly interconnected is the web of life. Nature’s plan attends to every creature’s needs, amazingly supplied by the other beings and systems in which they find themselves. Even humans, though we have long forgotten our place in the scheme of things.
An example of interconnection that has always fascinated me is the trophic cascade. When wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone, they impacted the deer and elk population, which trickled down to change the topography of the land. Vegetation increased, firming up riverbanks and, over time, actually changed the course of the river.
As I watch birds hopefully gathering nesting materials at the beach, to prepare their springtime nests, I reflect on the wonder of every species’ inborn instinct to move forward, to follow our life cycles, to procreate, to work towards a future. We humans are now feeling uncertain about that future. But even in the dark trenches underneath the steel plant in Mariupol, people shared food, and tears and song – the hope that one day they will emerge into the light.
The beyond-human realm constantly moves forward, building their nests, seeking a place in vanishing habitat, travelling farther and farther in search of diminishing food. The life force is strong; it continues no matter what, in basements in Mariupol, on melting icebergs in the Arctic, while fleeing wildfires burning across the U.S., and beginning now here in B.C. as well.
I just finished reading Bewilderment, by Richard Powers, author of The Overstory, his moving chronicle about activists trying to save trees, which was an amazing read.
In Bewilderment, through the nine-year-old autistic character, Robin, (named after the bird), Powers illustrates the grief and shock to our systems of living through times when species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate — creatures we thought would always be around. One stunning fact had me gob-smacked; he writes that wild creatures are now only TWO percent of the planet’s population. Humans and factory “farm” cows and chickens make up the rest. This is insane. When I mentioned this to Brendan, he said, of our species’ attitude: “Unless we eat it, it doesn’t exist”, and that seems to be the case. Oh, my goodness.
This sent me on a journey. Eve Ensler’s apology led me to Rachel Carson, who, in her bittersweet farewell to the world, warned us about pesticides and topsoil depletion, identifying the cost of harmful growing practices as long ago as 1962.
Since Carson’s death, three billion birds have vanished. As animals and birds and species disappear, their names retreat into the past and we forget to name the missing. The Great Forgetting continues, and we remain too distracted – or too drained – to add up the losses.
We know that all species are interconnected. That salmon feed the bears and wolves, whose scat nourishes the old growth in the forest. We know that fish farms and their sea lice, antibiotics and chemicals are killing the wild salmon, which means bears and wolves are starving. We understand that if the bees disappear, much of our food production will suffer. In fact, some places are already feeling food insecurity. Given wildfires, flooding, and topsoil degradation (with increasingly less land available to plant), even we in North America might soon begin to experience food shortages. We had a glimpse of that during the “Freedom convoys”, and people panicked. We are so used to abundance. But we can’t live in abundance any more. We have to live more simply and sustainably, at every level. (From my mouth to government ears, who sadly are decidedly not listening. The “Economy” is their deity; it keeps their bank balances fat and keeps them re-elected.)
There are only 336 right whales left in the world; once there were thousands. The seal hunt is happening right now in northern lands, a scene too brutal to describe. Habitat loss, human activity and climate change are making it a struggle for species small and large to survive. Intellectually, we know this will impact us as well; but humanity seems unable to alter our behaviour significantly enough to slow the pace.
Monarch butterflies have been in decline for two decades, due to human-caused changing weather patterns and habitat loss. Experts are beginning to talk about their extinction. (They were declared endangered in 2016, and not much has improved since then.) Heavy insecticide use has led to a drastic decline in milkweed, the only thing monarch caterpillars eat. (Sigh. Even CATERPILLARS are going hungry!) The Monarch’s epic migration plays an important role in the proliferation of fruits and vegetables.
The insect world is in trouble. In the last four decades, they have declined by 45%.
Bees, butterflies, moths and flies are critical to ecosystems and the production of food. Pollinating bees allow fruits and veggies to grow. We can’t do without them. Thankfully, there are organizations working to encourage bee and butterfly survival.
To help them, we might consider growing wildlife gardens, plants and flowers that attract pollinators. Bees love borage, for example. Avoiding pesticides and herbicides is a given. We can put up birdfeeders, and plant berry bushes; include insect-loving blooms. Our seeds will plant hope for birds and insects who need our help. Some people, instead of cutting their lawns and keeping everything manicured, allow their yards to “go wild”, and grow freely. Wildflowers make yards beautiful.
In Tofino we have a community garden at the school. And we have a group that brings in Island-grown produce to keep our veggie carbon footprint low.
Nature has a plan and design, one that worked for thousands of years, until we became too many. The human population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 – if the planet is still habitable by then, which is in serious question at the moment. And corporations have gotten far too greedy and are not paying their fair share. If we don’t develop sustainable practices now, we never will.
It always takes my breath away, the intricacy of the web of life, how every small and big thing depends on every other, and how one small loss impacts the whole. A sky without birds is something I hope my descendants never experience.
But, the other side of this equation is, when humans learn to live with Mother Nature, she can return to balance. She can heal.
I am reminded of an activist friend of mine, Julie Draper, who is now in the spirit world. She said, “The animals live in harmony. They are waiting for us to join them there.”
For our challenge: Contemplate the web of life and see where it takes you. It might be the grand design. It might be the most miniscule yet important creature. Write about it, small or big. Let’s appreciate nature’s wonders, her intricate design, so we can better assist Mother Earth on her healing journey, which is also ours.
“You are comprised of 84 minerals, 23 Elements, and 8 gallons of water spread across 38 trillion cells. You have been built up from nothing by the spare parts of the Earth you have consumed, according to a set of instructions hidden in a double helix and small enough to be carried by a sperm. You are recycled butterflies, plants, rocks, streams, firewood, wolf fur, and shark teeth, broken down to their smallest parts and rebuilt into our planet’s most complex living thing.
You are not living on Earth. You are Earth.”
— Aubrey Marcus