It was good to see the four painted turtles up on the old dilapidated dock. More boards were submerged than were above the surface, it seemed. It made for a handy ramp for the turtles to climb into a suitable spot to collect the warmth of a September sun.
Mostly I had not seen many of the turtles this year. I’m not an expert at anything in the natural world. Still, I have spent six decades roaming the woods, walking streamside and paddling on rivers and ponds and lakes all over the northeast. One simply does not spend so many hundreds of hours in the outdoors without absorbing some of what is going on around.
Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I had a front row seat on our farm near Irondequoit Bay, experiencing firsthand a decline in the numbers of songbirds. Later, subtle though it was, I did indeed notice the slow recovery of the bird populations. It would be later in life that I discovered that we humans had smartened up enough to eliminate some of the worst pesticides that were decimating certain populations.
Aside from known man-made influences, it has been apparent that populations of many species have fluctuated over time. Rabbits grow plentiful because of an easy winter, and the fox and owl population grows. The grasshoppers get frozen out by an unusually cold winter, and the turkey population suffers the following year.
I carry a strong, impending feeling of dread that because we have only partially addressed man-made influences on the natural world that we have tipped the balance of things precariously. It seems obvious to those who are paying any attention that the increase in wildfires, hurricane intensity, monsoons, flooding, acidification and warming of the oceans is cause for alarms to be ringing. Still, our world population and economic and political taboos keep us paralyzed to take meaningful action. It may well be too late to prevent mass extinction of tens of thousands of species. It may well be too late to prevent coastal cities, states and whole countries from becoming sea floors. Perhaps it is too late to prevent mass starvation and death from rising heat, from disappearing fresh water. And, whatever we do now will lessen the suffering that those who come after us will be forced to endure.
I have had it good. Indeed, I get to spend a lot of time these days on the river, watching the loons and ospreys, the turtles and the herons. I can sit on my deck and drink in the healing tonic of the natural world unfolding from a blessed vantage point, or climb in the kayak and sit on the water, floating by water lilies unfolding as they have for millenia for anyone passing by. I experience calm, still days with not a whisper of a breeze, the surface of the water like a mirror. And I soak in the beauty of the sun shining on a wind rippled surface, a million diamonds showing every facet of their beauty.
That same wind sometimes blows across the 30 or 40 acres of reeds just across the way. When the direction is just right and the gusts come intermittently, the weeds put on a show, dancing, waving, the invisible wind becoming visible in its life, pushing the stalks of hundreds of thousands, millions of reeds back and forth. A living thing. I was kayaking today, and I wondered if my great granddaughter will be able to enjoy the serenity and connection of those cattails moved by that invisible energy. I wonder if her generation will have the blessings and benefit of a world rich in biodiversity, in connection to the gifts of this Mother Earth. I don’t know. Fifty years from now, will the reeds still wave? Or will it all be a memory recorded in words like these?
Steve Aman, The Wandering Bobcat