Rain drops drip, drip, splash, plummet earthward soaking into a rotten hollow log covered with lichen and mushrooms. The huge log is quietly decaying on the forest floor. No one notices. The carpenter ants have long since lost interest. Its hollows are too moist, now, for cozy dens for gray foxes or chipmunks. On its north side, a plush covering of luxurious green moss. It’s impossible not to reach out and run the palm of my hand over it, my fingers tickling the softest, greenest gift that nature has to offer me on this dark, rainy equinox morning.
It’s nice that some folks will be able to be connected to the Internet better with Starlink around the globe. And what I am about to say is NOT meant to inspire guilt for using Starlink, but more to raise important existential questions. I am quite concerned about the number of satellites Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, and other companies, including Amazon, will eventually be launching into low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently, according to an article in Science, and another article from CNBC, SpaceX has about 2,000 satellites in orbit, with FCC approval already for another 12,000. SpaceX has plans for a great many more satellites than that. There are predictions that eventually we could have 100,000 satellites in LEO. Hello, space junk!
Already, monetizing LEO is affecting the field of astronomy in significant ways. Astronomy is a key discipline for humans to sort out the mysteries of the universe and our place in it. SpaceX has put visors on subsequent satellites after the first outcry from both night sky viewers and astronomers. The visors help some, to the naked eye, but not perfectly. But they do not solve the interference in astronomy work. Other companies may not care about whether their satellites can be seen or not. As I’ve read, there is no global blueprint for fielding this issue.
Already I am noticing, shortly after evening falls, more wobbly, zigzagging satellites crossing my view of the stars. Sadly, much of humanity lives in so much light pollution now, they can’t see the stars. But for those of us that can, stargazing is an age-old human pastime that is important, I believe, for well-being. Seeing the Milky Way, constellations, shooting stars, and sometimes even the aurora borealis reminds us of the vastness of the universe, and keeps alive wonder and appreciation of beauty. The night sky reminds us that we don’t have all the answers to how things work. In fact, on a grand scale, as Einstein liked to remind us, we know very little. Lastly, what of migratory species that navigate by stars? Do we know what interference this may have?
All of this begs the question: Who owns space? Doesn’t it “belong” to all living creatures on Earth? Do we have a right not to have the night sky obliterated by LEO objects? Really, if you get right down to it, space belongs to no one. Yet, there are also plans, in this revived space race, to sell off parts of the moon to the highest bidders for mining and other plunder.
We have so many difficult issues down here on the planet, on Earth, that we are floundering at solving. Meanwhile, this larger space issue is manifesting in the background; I fear no one is paying attention. If we can’t solve complex issues here—gun violence, climate change, starvation, war—how will we ever come to agreement on these questions about space, and saving the night sky?
(Note: I acknowledge with gratitude that I can work from home and I have a nice place to “be” during this challenging time. I know that many, many people do not have that ability. I am also a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, which has had certain advantages.)
- I’m on a first-name basis with many of the animals, birds, amphibians, and insects around my house. Oh, and let’s not forget the plants. Who knew there was so much activity going on out there all day and night! It’s endlessly fascinating.
- I’m on a first-name basis with even the A. Cavaticus spiders (aka Charlotte’s Web-type spiders) on my porch and in my woodshed. Let’s see … there was Shelob, and Mrs. Orb, and Lulu … Seeing the tiny babies, smaller than a pinhead, emerge from their beautiful apricot-colored egg sacs is now a spring “event.” Most of the wee beasties balloon away on the wind. And whomever stays, well, my arachnophobia is much less now.
- I detest bras. Who the hell invented the confounded things?? With the straps that slide off your shoulders over and over and over all day long? And the “support” system that causes undue pressure on the mid-spine of my back and my diaphragm in front? Egads. The best place for a bra is in the wood stove.
- I’ve started planning meals for the week, instead of gnoshing in a haphazard manner based on my mood or stress. Dinner is becoming no longer an afterthought. I investigate good recipes and cook good food! Because I eat better, I tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Wow, the sun is really beautiful when it is just coming up …
- I’ve reconnected in a meaningful way with a few treasured friends with whom I had lost touch, made some new friends, and lost touch with some “acquaintances” with whom I had no real connection. And I know my neighbors on my rural dirt road better than ever!
- My stack(s) of good books to read keeps growing. When I die, my monument will read, “My only regret is that I didn’t finish all the books I hoped to read.”
- I could tell you anything you want to know about Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Northern Exposure.
- I no longer dress up, unless it’s for myself on a special holiday. But I do occasionally experiment with wild outfits that speak to my soul. For who will see me? And if they do, do I care? Plus, I no longer care that I am aging and that is a relief.
- I gas up my car about once every 3–4 weeks, rather than once a week. I spend many fewer hours hunched over the steering wheel going god-knows-where. Why was I going so many places?? The only downside is that I did forget how many gears my standard-shift car has—was it 5 or 6? I had to look down (with a rush of anxiety) when I got on the highway one day! Oh, right, 6 gears.
- Okay, I’ll confess, after watching Emma Thompson’s sweet, funny movie, Last Christmas, I’ve decided that George Michael was a genius songwriter and I’m just loving many of his tunes. I would not have been caught dead listening to him when younger—I was waayyy too cool! It’s such a relief not to be “cool” anymore.
- I haven’t had to endure a mindless conversation with someone I barely know at a party in, oh, say … two and a half years? And that is just ducky with me.
- My work has gone from my small editing business, and teaching at a college, and working at a bookstore, and substitute teaching, and gardening for hire, to … just my editing business. Whew. How the heck did I do all that before? That was insane!
- Speaking of gardens, I’ve been reconsidering the little patch of earth I call home and I’m growing more trees. Just because it’s a good thing to do.
- I’m also attempting to shrink the lawn by letting a lot of it grow into meadow (easier said than done, actually, I’m finding). And I’m transitioning a perennial bed that is an “upkeep nightmare” into a pleasant, simple herb garden. Here’s to a more biodiverse, less-labor-intensive relationship with the land. Oh, and hmmm … invasive plant species? Who knew there were so many?! Well, I’ve discovered that they are nearly impossible to eradicate, so I’ve decided to live with them. Let’s just call them “nonnative.”
- My cat and I have a lot of different games we play. One favorite is the yoga mat rolled into a tube and a ping pong ball rolled down the tube to where she sits waiting at the other end. Who needs expensive cat toys?
- Man, do I look forward to spring more than ever now, because it means I can socialize outdoors! Patios and decks of friends and walks and hikes are a lifeline.
- Six feet is just about right. Don’t come any closer, pal. (But I will spontaneously pay for your coffee if you happen to be in line behind me, because random acts of kindness are much-needed.)
- At least with the mask, I can have coffee breath when out in public and no one notices.
- I’ve discovered a lot of things in my house that I forgot that I had!
- I’ve discovered I want to get rid of a lot of things in my house.
- I have a recurring dream of downsizing to a tiny house.
- I dream a lot about going places and being in crowds where people are not wearing masks. Or, I’ve forgotten mine. I guess this is the new “naked in public” dream?
- I’ve increasingly eschewd the grim morning news most days in favor of kitchen dancing to my latest favorite song. I listen to news just often enough to reaffirm that, “Yup, we’re going to hell in a handbasket.”
- “Risk aversion” is now a “thing” that I think about. And wow, is everyone all over the map on their risk comfort levels! I suppose that has always been true, but it’s been illustrated in bold colors the past year or so. Now it’s not just do our interests and personalities line up, but do our “Covid comfort levels” align?
“Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave…” I ask, over what, exactly, is that banner waving?
July 5, 2020. The full thunder moon. Fitting. We sit within a tempest, even as it is dry as a bone here in the American Northeast: a tempestuous energy that blows through the psyche, through our communities and cities, across the land from coast to coast, and border to border.
I was struck yesterday by how fraught the Fourth of July felt to me this year—with the wildly surging pandemic and the administrative gas-lighting (rather than problem-solving) that plagues the pandemic’s resolution, or at least its reduction. With the occupant in the White House conducting audacious displays of divisiveness at Mount Rushmore and the Washington Mall, inciting people to gather in large numbers, close together (in zip-tied chairs no less) and a “wink wink” no masks or social distancing needed here. “We are invincible! No virus can get us. And if it does, well that is god’s will.” It’s just a little flu, right? One that has killed over 125,000 people just in the U.S. in less than six months—that pesky little virus. It’s of no matter, so the Occupant, in his Rushmore speech, focused instead on protecting racist statues and decrying the progressive left as fascists.
Really??! I looked up the word “fascist” just now to double check. Did I have the meaning wrong? No, I don’t think so … Dictionary.com says, “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism … emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.” Now I know the meaning of fascist has many more nuances, too many to go into here, but this sounds, well enough, like our current status with this president.
Last I knew, the progressive left are fervently focused on saving the earth’s ecosystems before it’s too late and creating social systems that support ALL people, not just those glittering with ill-gotten wealth. Seems reasonable to be passionate about these goals.
Countries with competent leadership and intelligent citizenry abroad are watching us, aghast, and utterly flummoxed. They won’t let Americans fly into their countries without quarantine, if at all. Who could blame them? Countries led by despots just like ours are applauding our idiocy. The weaker America gets, the better for them.
This past week, I’ve noticed that the houses in the rural New England towns near where I live are the “flagged” and the “unflagged.” Or in some cases, the flagged and the “Black Lives Matter” houses. Yesterday, for the Fourth, one house had decorated its yard with quite an impressive number of medium-sized, seemingly brand new flags and a quaint little colonial-style sign that says “God Bless America” hung on a tree. I thought, as I walked past, “Man, we need blessing badly.” Now I like this family, a lot, so as I walked, I tried to understand how, maybe, they viewed the divisive issues we are grappling with as a country. Judging from their flags and crosses, obviously their views are quite different from mine.
Part of me wants to sit down with them and have a good ole lengthy civil discussion about philosophy, religion, politics, and the meaning of life. Or several discussions. But I can’t. For one, civility seems to be in short supply these days. It would be a risk. And, of course, we need to physically distance. And they would probably think I was a weirdo, with my belief that even plants have intelligence; and that all is interconnected and equal, even rocks and minerals; and that consciousness is primary and physical matter is a manifestation of consciousness. (The latter is not that crazy—some quantum physicists are starting to think in these terms. Space-time is starting to appear doomed as a theory. Ancient religions have been saying this for thousands of years.) But I digress.
To me, the Fourth of July felt this year a surreal pageant, playing out like a Stephen King or Robert R. McCammon novel. Indeed the whole year has felt this way. The past four years… The “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem” in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” appears to have awoken. We are all painfully aware of its presence. How we view the beast is a matter of perception, and how much love we still connect with in our hearts.
On a long walk down my country road yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I was thinking about the town I grew up in. It was a small New Hampshire town with one general store, a town hall, a town garage, and a library. That’s it. It is still that way to this day, due to vigilant zoning and a coop running the general store. It was mostly white, this town. But we had diversity of economics for sure with some families being very poor. I like to think we all looked out for them, for each other. I know my dad used to stop in regularly to check on an old hermit who lived in a one-room house with his German shepherd. This old hermit knew the town history like no one else and often helped my dad solve his surveying questions (my dad had a part-time gig as a land surveyor).
So as I walked, I was thinking about July 4, 1976 in my hometown: the two-hundredth anniversary of the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed (August 2, 1776). Okay, I didn’t know this but independence was declared on July 2nd; Congress approved the text on July 4th; and it was signed on August 2nd. A little history thanks to Constitutional Facts online.
What a celebration that was in 1976!! I was thirteen. I believe I wore red, white, and blue elephant-bellbottom pants—remember those? Just about everyone in town joined in for picnics, a softball game, log rolling, and fireworks. We even had frog races. One of my favorite memories of time spent with my dad was he and I trying to catch those dang frogs with nets and white buckets at the pond up the road that morning. Easier said than done! Still, my dad and I realized our error as we watched the poor things prodded on hot pavement by clumsy children. We’d just engaged in an act of cruelty. A small dampening of an otherwise happy day. I never caught frogs again. Neither did my dad.
Being young teens, my friends and I were thrilled to find a half-eaten vodka-spiked watermelon on a picnic table that evening. We ate a generous quantity and I was drunk for the first time in my life. We ran through the cemetery, “oohed and awed” at the fireworks, and, on the town hall steps, I kissed a boy for whom I’d been harboring a huge crush.
Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think that the Fourth of July would be a sad day, as it felt this year, in 2020.
Even as I got older, the Fourth was always a cause for celebration. Fireworks synced to WHEB Portsmouth playing Pink Floyd, “Dark Side of the Moon.” Sitting on my friend’s roof on State Street with a big party of folks watching the display, my friend’s brother smiling and saying to me as the colorful sparks burst and fluttered earthward, “Each one looks like it’s coming right to us.”
It was my father-in-law driving his old Corvette in the town parade and the barbecue afterwards at their big, old New England home. My husband and his dad squabbling over how to grill properly. My mother-in-law proudly presenting her cucumber molded salad that none of us liked but ate out of duty and our love for her.
Of course, history is never ideal. We had our problems for sure. Humans have always been prone to treat each other and the planet poorly. Wars, genocides, nuclear arms proliferation, Cancer Alleys created by toxic manufacturing of chemicals. Elephants slaughtered for ivory. Crooked politicians: Watergate, Iran-Contra. Religious differences. Serial killers. Crazy cult leaders like Charles Manson. Persistent racism and sexism. The tenacious patriarchy. Cultural revolution in the ‘60s followed by an insipid, growing apathy. And the ever-present human ills: selfishness, greed, egoism, and the like.
But it’s never felt like this.
Like a tinderbox ready to burst into flame. Like a tempest about to unleash. Like a very, very sick society that just needs to go to the infirmary to heal. I’m not the first to wonder if the coronavirus is an outward manifestation of our inner illness, of our cultural ills, of our sick planet.
Yesterday, it felt that the Fourth of July was a symbol of that illness with worries about people gathering in large numbers and giving another boost to the accelerating pandemic in the U.S. The fireworks—I didn’t even have the heart to watch my neighbor’s fireworks out my front windows—they felt as if erupting like the tinderbox I sense that we are. (And I actually worried about a wildfire, it being so dry.) And then there is my knowledge, contrary to my elementary and high school education in the ’70s, that the real narrative is that our independence was won by colonizing and enacting genocide on the indigenous people whose land this was when Europeans arrived. I can’t unsee that and I don’t wish to. It’s the reality we need to face and accept. And fix.
We are encouraged by this holiday to celebrate “freedom.” Yet those with little means, without the justice and respect they deserve, with health issues from toxic pollution from now unregulated or less-regulated factories, can’t take advantage of that freedom in equal ways. The indigenous tribal members who protested at the entrance to Mount Rushmore are still, centuries later, calling for the respect and apology they deserve. They are still fighting to protect their sacred lands, currently dug up and destroyed for oil and gas endeavors and other infrastructure projects we really don’t need and should not build.
The giant Formosa plastics plant they are attempting to build in St. James Parish in Louisiana would further pollute the already polluted communities nearby. The plant will create mountains of trash we can’t dispose of safely. Trash that will float to the shores of other countries. Trash that mother birds will feed to their babies, thinking its food. By 2050 it’s predicted that we will have more plastics in our oceans than fish. We already have enough fossil fuels out of the ground to warm the planet the precarious 2 degrees Celsius that will see 90% of coral reefs die off and flood out major cities (The Story of Plastics; Center for Biological Diversity). We don’t need more oil and gas extracted and piped under the Appalachian Trail or sacred indigenous lakes. We just don’t.
Our country not only has a dangerous, delusional ruler who gleefully supports the fossil fuel industry and rolls out the red carpet for projects like Formosa’s, our country has been, for decades, hijacked by corporate interests that think nothing of melting our polar ice caps or destroying every single species on this earth. More resources to grab and profit from.
Speaking of freedom, what of the brown people we have locked up in detention centers? How is it, that in the land of the free, the “give me your tired, your poor” America, that we deny asylum, lock up people in this way, and simply go about our business?
None of this is cause for celebration.
These are signals that the light of love has burnt out in our hearts, leaving us in darkness. Perhaps this is a necessary part of the process for us to learn, by coming to our knees, that love is the only truth. Maybe this is the only way forward? I don’t know. But it’s painful. And heart-wrenchingly sad. Grief is my constant companion these days. Even as I see the light everywhere: in the nest of blue-headed vireos that flourished in my lilac bush this past month. In the full thunder moon that will rise tonight.
How will we carry America forward? How will we steward the earth? With the light of love reignited in our hearts? Co-created in the spirit of thoughtfulness, communication, and cooperation? Or in pieces and tatters, barricaded behind walls and waving flags, while sacrificing the vulnerable, the “others,” and all the beauty of this planet on the altar of short-term gratification, selfishness, independence, and greed?
We get to choose. We choose every single day. Each day there are consequences of our choices—individually and collectively. Each day we create consequences that could turn us from this darkness to light. Or, we create consequences that could take hundreds of years to rectify. And we create consequences that can never be undone—such as melting permafrost, or a grandmother who dies in the ICU because her grandchild went to a party and, not meaning to, passed the coronavirus on to her.
Let’s pause … live slowly and deliberately. Let’s rethink and revise our words, our actions, and our beliefs. Let’s realize that individually we really don’t know everything and that together, with open ears and minds, we might figure out something. Let’s create good ripples. Let’s celebrate independence in conjunction with cooperation and collective wellness—for we can’t separate them. They have never been separate. In the illusion of separateness, we won’t survive. But with the inclusion of interconnected hearts, we will.
Looking out of place, a horse trailer was parked next to the Everette Ice Area. In the parking lot near the trailer was a sizable round metal object, looking to me very much like a merry-go-round. Except there were no kids on it and there was no playground, only cracked tar with grass growing up in spots.
Curious, my father slowed our woody station wagon that our family had named “Pale Blue Pig.” My mother stubbed her cigarette out in the ash tray and I rolled down my side window in the back to see better, also taking in grateful gulps of fresh air.
“Look!” I pointed. “Ponies!”
My father pulled in and stopped. An old guy wearing dungarees, boots, and a cowboy hat led a series of short, stubby ponies down off the ramp of the trailer and tied them one by one to the railings of the metal “merry-go-round.” Last, a big white and red sign: Pony Rides.
“Pony rides!” I said. “Can I go? Can I go?”
“After we finish our errands,” my mother said.
Before long we pulled back into the parking lot of the Everette Arena. There were now several cars parked and, I was disappointed to see, a line of kids waiting. The ponies were trudging round dutifully in circles, each with a kid astride holding tightly to the saddlehorn. Some kids were grinning and others looked about to cry.
My dad looked back at me over the seat, his blue eyes jolly. “Ready for your first pony ride?”
I swallowed and nodded, pulling up the knob to unlock the door. My mother took my hand and we went to join the line. It seemed to take forever. I watched as one kid burst into tears, screaming for his mother, terrified. The guy in the cowboy hat stopped the lead pony and went to the mother and kid. They talked for a moment and she removed the little boy who continued to scream and cry as she cradled him in her arms. A young girl in a pink dress was plopped on the now empty horse. The merry-go-round began moving again, the ponies’ tiny hooves making a clop-clop and the metal go-round squeaking as they turned in the circle.
My dad turned to me grinning. “Are you going to scream and cry?”
I shook my head no.
Finally it was my turn and the old guy came over. “Well, well,” he said, smiling. His teeth were stained brown and he spit a bit of tobacco on the pavement. “Looks like a young cowgirl if I ever saw one! This here’s Slow Poke.” He gestured to the one empty pony.
Slow Poke was perfect—the pony in every little girl’s dreams. He was light golden brown and his long mane and tail were silver. He had mischievous, wise brown eyes. Best of all, he smelled like dust and grass and his fur was soft. My father picked me up and put me on. And around we went. And around. It wasn’t all that exciting really, going in the same direction, tied to the rail. But I was in heaven. And I wanted him. I wanted Slow Poke in the worst way. For my very own.
I must have told my parents because the next thing I remember, Slow Poke was delivered to my house. I was over the moon! My very own pony. My mother already had a half-thoroughbred mare, named Ribbons. Now I could go riding with my mom!
In short order, Slow Poke was saddled and bridled. My dad held him out in the pasture. He gave me a leg up and I was aboard! I sat up tall. So very grown up! My father led me around, his big hand on the bridle, his large athletic frame reassuring me nothing could go wrong. He showed me how to put my heels down in the stirrups.
“So your feet don’t slide through and you get dragged if you fall off,” he explained.
My mother stood nearby. I was glad she could see how quickly I was learning and how brave I was.
“Would you like to try a bit by yourself?” my father asked.
Though I was uncertain about this move, I nodded. I wanted to be strong like him.
“Ray,” my mother cautioned.
“What? She’ll be all right,” he chuckled. “The pony’s name is Slow Poke.”
The second he let go of the bridle, Slow Poke bolted. I dropped the reins and grabbed the saddlehorn. I may have been screaming, which may have made Slow Poke run faster. Faster and faster Pokey ran down the pasture, my father hollering from behind us. And my new, stubby, smart-as-the-dickens Shetland pony headed straight for the only tree in the pasture. An apple tree with low-hanging branches. He made for the very lowest branch. I was too busy hanging on to do much else.
Wham! The branch caught me right across the chest and I was clipped off backward over his fat little butt to land on my back on the ground. Woosh! The air went right out of me.
Slow Poke, well, he turned right around on his little hooves and galloped right back to the barn where my mother caught him. As if to say, “There, I took care of that!”
My father arrived. “You okay?” he said, feeling my arms and legs for broken bones.
I gasped in a breath of air and nodded, then stood shakily.
“Guess what we are going to do,” my dad said as he took my hand and walked me, limping, back up the pasture. “I want you to get back on your pony and ride.”
I might have cried or protested, or maybe I was stoic and did as he said, I don’t remember. But I know I got back on and rode, right then. For my dad knew, and I knew, that if I didn’t face my fear right away, I’d never ride again.
If I hadn’t ridden again, I would have missed one of the most magical parts of my childhood—my daily jaunts through the forest on Slow Poke, and later Topsy, a chestnut Welsh mare, and last Melody, a chestnut quarter horse. Four-footed furry companions for a lonely, only child. Horses brought me my three best girlfriends—Becca, Jessy and Jane—also horse lovers. Caring for horses all my young life taught me a lot about respect, responsibility, and courage. And of course, to expect the unexpected.
It just found me
old state forest
tall wise trees.
large tidal river running.
silvery trunks so straight and smooth
leaves rattle and sigh.
Field of tall grasses
splashes of wildflowers
wearing summer cap.
We start to climb
a long hill but
Saw-teeth and tread roll
out the wide wheels
groaning and whining
Where are we climbing to?
I wish people would find alternatives to lethal elimination of wildlife and insect “pests” from their property. In the past few weeks, I have learned of sad situations, in my supposedly nature-loving state of Vermont, in which humans have deemed a particular critter a “pest” and animals suffered as a result.
In one story, a resident was out for a peaceful walk when she came upon a raccoon in a steel leg-hold trap in a culvert. The animal was in terrible pain, and it was later discovered that the critter had a compound fracture on the leg that was clamped in the trap. Raccoons have heightened sensitivity in their front paws for feeling around for their food in rivers and such. Imagine the agony of having this appendage in the trap for hours and hours. Turns out the town road crew was setting the leg-hold traps to catch beavers as a way of maintaining their roads. The suffering coon was “by-catch.” After a public outcry and citizen letter writing, the town has thankfully pledged to cease the trapping and will find other nonlethal ways of mitigating the issues they perceive with wildlife. Let’s hope they keep their word.
In another recent story, a homeowner had decided a raccoon needed to be removed from her property. So she called a professional “pest elimination” company to come trap it, under the impression that the company would simply relocate the animal. (I am pretty sure relocating is deemed illegal, so not sure why she had that idea.) Instead she discovered that the pest elimination company had water tanks where they submerged the live animal in the cage to drown it. This is a process that takes up to six minutes. And in a cage. No escape. Imagine the panic. This process has been deemed inhumane by even conservative veterinarian organizations.
Then there are the various medieval-style torture traps for mice sold at the local Aubuchon Hardware store. Hard plastic boxes that allow not enough air so the critter suffocates. The worst – the glue boards that trap the mouse by sticking their feet in place. Thus immobilized, they die a frightened death of dehydration. Meanwhile, researchers have found mice to be incredibly family-oriented, with complex social systems. Do they really deserve such treatment for simply trying to find food and warmth? These are Maslow’s basic needs.
My slate is not crystal clean. I am not finger-wagging. But I’ve been significantly re-framing the notion of wildlife (and insects even) from “pests” to “community members” at my place of residence, and in the world at large. Since sixth-grade science class, when the idea was taught that all living organisms are connected in a complex web, I’ve felt this. But as an adult, I’ve been challenged to really live in a fashion of interconnectedness.
My story: I have had skunks live under my porch on and off for years. In my misguided thinking, I thought I must remove them since I had a dog and a cat. So I hired a trapper who, after careful research, I found was one who put them to sleep with an injection. But I was soon dismayed because every day he was trapping a new skunk near my house. Where were they all coming from?? As the death toll mounted to 5 or 6 beautiful black and white skunks, I felt like scum. The final straw was when the trapper had set the trap somehow at the drip-edge of the house eaves. And it poured all morning! I watched an adult skunk basically get water-boarded for four hours, water streaming off the drip-edge like a waterfall. I tried again and again to approach the trap with a tarp, but the skunk, understandably highly agitated, prepared to spray. I frantically called the trapper to say, please come soon! After that, I swore I would never ever again call someone to trap another animal.
Since then, sometimes a skunk or several winter under the porch. Other than an occasional light waft of “Pepe Le Pew,” they never cause a problem. When they wake up in the spring, there is sometimes a spray or two in the yard, but it dissipates in a day and no big deal. I wish I could put out some rabies vaccine bait, just in case, but am not sure how to obtain it…or if I even am allowed to. But otherwise the skunks, my cat, and I have cohabited peacefully (my old dog passed away).
And then I discovered that resident skunks have a benefit! I had a ton of Japanese beetles in my gardens and on my berries. All summer I would grimace in disgust while plucking the beetles off my plants to drop them in soapy water, where I am sure their drowning took equally long. I felt awful as I watched the beetles try to climb on top of one another to get to the top of the dish for some air. Horrible. I quit doing that method which had been highly recommended both online and by fellow gardeners. But soon I noticed the skunks were digging all over my lawn. Something that would send most homeowners over the deep end. Instead of getting mad, I researched online and found the skunks were eating the Japanese beetle grubs. Now I have no more Japanese beetles, without nasty pesticides! And my lawn looks just fine.
I also have a resident groundhog. Other neighbors consider them “pests” and shoot them. Even the babies. So sad. I call the groundhog in my yard “Chubby.” He (or she) has never once troubled my garden—I simply put a short wire fence around it. Veggies are untouched. Mostly the groundhog eats the clover in the lawn. And I have not seen a big invasion of groundhogs, as most folks online fretfully caution.
Last, one time a colony of carpenter ants came in on a piece of firewood in my fall wood delivery. Soon the ants ventured into the house! Tons of them. After several failed attempts to stop the problem with organic methods, I resorted to calling pest control. The guy came and sprayed all around the base of my house, for two years in a row. He wore only a light protective jacket and had his kid with him. He was a nice fellow, but wasn’t he worried about toxic exposure? I asked him about the safety of the stuff…for me, my dog, and my cat. Oh, just fine. Not dangerous at all. This was about 5 years ago. Still, when the crickets come out in late summer, I find a few crickets (and spiders and moths) who have the misfortune to hang out near the base of my house. Soon they are writhing in a chemical-nerve agent twitchy sort of death. The stuff he sprayed is still deadly. Not just to ants. Probably to us! Next time, I will be wiser. If carpenter ants come in on wood, I will not throw it in the brush pile (duh!!). I will carry it far into the nearby wild woods, so the ants are not deposited on my property. I am also in progress to redo the base of my house with solid flashing to prevent insect and mouse access. Really, the mitigation of these problems is up to me and my nonlethal, non-toxic ingenuity (well, and that of a trusty carpenter).
Anyway, I am finding, the more I just work to cohabitate with the wild creatures, the more peaceful, humane and even beneficial our relationship becomes. And guess what—my property is just fine. Side note: since as a human species I am only here for, if I am lucky, 80–100 years, I really don’t view the land as “my property.” It is land on which I live for the short time I exist. It is land that will exist long after me. The land belongs to plants, and trees, and insects, and wildlife, and for now, me. The land essentially belongs to Earth.