The Current Moment

A foggy, cloudy, cooler day. Another week without rain. Even with frequent watering the garden is dry, even for August. More heat is forecast for this coming week.

Last week we were in northeastern Maine, visiting family. As is our want we spent part of a day in Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor, which were remarkably empty for August. Mostly we were good and just stayed home.

Remaining at home was a treat, as the house is right on the water in a small bay. Daily we were visited by eagles who have become family over the years. This year they have a single youngster, and the entire eagle family have apparently become quite intrigued by the small dog who lives there. The dog is a bit larger than an eagle but the eagles seem curious, or even tempted, anyway.

We were also visited by osprey, dolphins, porpoise, and seals. The seals and dolphins seem almost as interested in us as we are in them. Several times the seals took time out from feeding to watch our comings and goings on the deck.

In spite of all the wildlife interactions and sightings, we noticed there seemed to be quite a lot less wildlife than usual. Perhaps the drought has impacted wildlife in ways we do not understand. Perhaps the slow decline in wildlife we have noticed over the years has reached a tipping point. In any event the paucity of wildlife, especially loons, terns, and other birds, was disconcerting.

Looking back over my life I see a dramatic decline in wildlife. My mother said the same thing about her life. Her mother told of seeing enormous flocks of passenger pigeons. Mom told stories of great flocks of other fowl and often bemoaned their passing. I wonder, what stories of loss my grand kids will tell their children and grand children.

There is a great debate in some circles as to whether other species are all that important in the great scheme of things. We have, it is argued, gotten along fine without sabre tooth tigers, mastodon, and carrier pigeons, to say nothing of dodos. Most people live in large cities and may never even see a loon, the argument goes. So no great loss.

There is also the deeply uncomfortable fact that most people who utilize natural parks and other conservation sites in the US and much of Europe are relatively affluent and white, and many people of color experience profound racism when they try to access these areas. And yet, there is a growing acknowledgement in the sciences and humanities that the lives of marginalized and otherwise systems impacted folks, and the fate of wildlife, are deeply tied.

There is, it seems to me, no way in late capitalism to argue for the centrality of other species or even other peoples in our lives. If everything is about capital and wealth, how are we to value kinship, difference, and the simple right to life? In a culture that can accommodate the unnecessary deaths of 160,000 people in a pandemic, the loss of innumerable species is totally unimportant. Of course, there are scientific, cultural, and spiritual arguments for the preservation of species, ecosystems, and cultures, but they carry no weight in a culture driven by the desire for the short term accumulation of wealth.

Perhaps those who benefit most from the current system believe they can retreat to their fortress islands and be fine while the rest of us try to make our way on a greatly impoverished planet. Sadly, large scale climate change, species extinctions, and ecosystem collapse will eventually touch even those remote islands. The current moment insists we dramatically change our values and behaviors if we are to create a hopeful, vibrant future.

11 thoughts on “The Current Moment

  1. Michael, I am glad you got away into the wild. But you are right that things are not right. A few years ago a Native friend asked what kinds of birds we had at our feeders and everyone who responded said there were less and less. This hurts me to my core. This is not acceptable.

    1. Lara, So much habitat loss, and indifference! It would be possible to make space for most species if we were willing to. Yes, not acceptable to continue down this terrible path.

  2. I have never seen a loon but even so, I grew up reading books where there were loons, so that bird is part of my history even though I’ve never seen it. I hate that biodiversity is so often brought down to the economic value a species has to us when in my view diversity should be celebrated for what it is.

    1. Andrea, I love loons! But beyond that, we are all I guess brought down to economic value. It is as though the the idea that land and slaves should be economic value rather than souls has never stopped. It is soul devouring.

  3. In France, our president said: the world afterwards will not look like the world before.
    When you hear that, you’re filled with hope…
    But that same president is going to allow the use of pesticides that kill bees, genetic manipulation of embryos…
    These people have children, grandchildren… I’m afraid they’ve forgotten what that means.
    It fills me with sadness.

  4. Sounds like you stayed in a beautiful place on Mt. Desert Island. But…your reflections are sad and true. I do not stand with those who say only human lives matter and only certain ones at that. A life without diversity of all kinds is a poor life, out of balance.

  5. Thanks for the post. The world & people are still unjust. Capitalism & the rich are making millions with the pandemic where’s the rest of the poor and middle income are suffering. A friend wondered, why the stocks are going up when the recession is here. Simple answer, the rich saw an opportunity to make more, & some of those are my our stimulus money meant to aid economy and humanity.

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