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.