On Essential Workers
Much has been said of late about the importance and value of essential workers in our modern world. Certainly without the doctors and nurses, the firefighters and law enforcement, the grocery store clerks and the UPS delivery people, our time of dealing with the covid pandemic would have been far worse. These people have stepped up with commitment, intention and generosity in the largest of ways so that the rest of the population might survive on many levels. Imagine what it would be like if the sanitation workers had stopped picking up the garbage, or the hospitals and urgent care centers had all closed their doors during the pandemic.
In the natural world, there are a multitude of essential workers as well which for the most part we take for granted. In recent years we have read and heard over and over concern about the loss of bee populations around the globe. There is great reason for this concern, as without the help of bees, pollination of so much of our food sources would cease, and with it the source of food itself. Beyond the immense impact of bee pollination, there is something special about watching a bee in a meadow moving from stalk to stalk of goldenrod. One need not be an expert on bees to revel in the knowing that this fellow traveler is immersed deeply in it’s purpose. Viewing the movement from flower to flower simply enhances the image of the web of life.
Anyone paying attention recognizes that the change in climate has provoked events that are interfering with essential workers that we all depend on. The sun provides energy for all life on earth. And, with higher greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we have caused change that increases the intensity of the sun in places to the extent that crops wither and die. The oceans have become warmer, and so hurricanes, tropical storms, typhoons have strengthened and become more frequent affecting those in their paths. The original instruction of the wind is to blow out the stale air and bring in fresh so that we might live and breathe healthy air. Take a look at wildfires around the world these days, and it quickly becomes evident that between runaway high temperatures from increased solar energy and whipping winds to fan the flames, something is out of balance.
And lest the clouds and the rains are left out, how difficult is it to see the increase of 100 and 500 year floods occurring every decade, sometimes every year or two? People and other relatives who have lived in areas where these events occurred on rare occasions have in the past found ways to recover and mostly continue life in the same location. It now appears that that pattern may be forever interrupted. It may well be the case that migration to other, safer locations may become the only viable way to survive.
In the 60 years that I have been working with the land and connecting with the natural world on a regular basis, I have seen changes occurring that have caught my attention. Some changes are subtle, like historically wet sites becoming dry over the years. Other times, I have seen new species introduced that have had substantial impact on the ecology. When purple loosestrife moved in a couple of decades ago, it successfully and relentlessly pushed native plants out of many wet habitats in this part of the world. Declining with the number of native plants was also the quality of the water that they had been filtering for millennium.
Most folks realize that bees are the essential workers of the world of pollination. Without bees, much of the fruit and vegetables that we eat would simply not exist. The forests of the world capture carbon and release immense quantities of oxygen daily, providing the healthy mixture of air that we need on a daily basis. The coral reefs support a quarter of the fish population of the earth’s oceans. Butterflies pollinate native plants and foster diversity among plant and animal life. Wetlands and marshes scour and cleanse water as it travels to sources that we rely on for drinking.
It is easy for us to see the immediate impact that losing nurses and doctors, sanitation workers and grocery store clerks would have on our daily lives. We interact with these people frequently, and we can easily take their presence and contributions for granted. When it comes to the essential workers of the natural world, so many people in our modern culture are distanced or even totally disconnected from the woods and the wetlands that the contributions of these habitats is less obvious.
The great naturalist and creator of countless documentaries on the natural world, Sir David Attenborough, has shared a lifetime of collecting wisdom. His quotes often point out the folly of not paying attention to our relatives that share space with us on this planet.
“We are ultimately bound by, and reliant upon, the finite natural world about us.”
“We can’t cut down rain forests forever; and anything that we can’t do forever is—by definition—unsustainable.”
“It is quite straightforward. It’s been staring us in the face all along. To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity: the very thing that we’ve removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis we’ve created. We must re-wild the world.”
Far wiser people than me have pointed out the importance of preserving the biodiversity of our planet. Some teachings remind us that every single thing is put here on this earth for a specific purpose. Simply because we may not know that purpose is no reason to not recognize the essential service that all provide on some level.
I’ve never seen a polar bear or leopard in the wild. I know of spotted owls only because others have seen and shared their experience around them. I have had the thrill of crossing paths with black bears, wild turkeys, mink, ospreys and coyotes many times. My want is that those who come after us will have a rich and abundant variety of relatives, those other beings that we share this planet with, to enrich their lives. These fellow travelers provide not only physical substance and gifts, but gifts of the heart as well. Life here would be far poorer without those essential workers.
Steve Aman, The Wandering Bobcat