This morning Neal and I were walking the famous dog Isabel when we saw the female wood duck who has taken up residence on the Sparkill pond.
During the winter, the pond is more or less dormant. As the ice thaws, a variety of animals begin to inhabit the waterway, beginning with migrating waterfowl of various kinds. By this time in the summer, the itinerants have passed through, and the stable summertime community has established itself. Among the waterfowl we see are little blue herons, great blue herons, kingfishers, green herons, egrets, black crowned night herons, mallards, and the wood ducks. There are also abundant turtles, bullfrogs, grass carp, muskrats, and myrid dragonflies and damselflies.
Of course, this list just scratches the surface.
The female wood duck has been raising a flocklet of chicks, who scatter in a peeping panic whenever we get near them in a canoe. More often than not, the chicks are off on their own browsing in the vegetation, and momma is soloing not too far away.
It's a reassuring to see the female morning after morning, day after day. She is a part of our neighborhood, a part of our community. All of the animals and plants that live around us are part of this community.
The community is built of levels. The small creatures are what make it possible for the large ones to live.
Do we ever think about this?
Modern life and civilization in general have had the unfortunate consequence of separating men from this understanding. One of the fastest ways to get an impression of how this works is to go to your local garden center. It's filled with contradictions. On the one hand, there is birdseed and there are bird feeders. On the other hand, everywhere you turn, there are huge piles of bags filled with chemicals designed to kill things.
They kill plants. They kill animals. They kill insects.
This display is pathological. Every time I go to Lowe's or Home Depot it makes me nuts. Where is the understanding of community here? Should we be spreading poison everywhere to kill weeds and insects just so things will look nice?
Somehow, I don't think so. All of the animals, plants, and insects around us are part of our community. If we kill them, we're killing part of ourselves. Agreed, a certain amount of weeding is necessary, and in some aggressive cases perhaps a small application of pesticide is in order. (I myself never use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides of any kind in my garden, but that's me.)
Bottom line: to dump 50 pounds at a time of poison on your lawn to kill a few grubs is criminally irresponsible. To have to watch Ortho's commercials on how truly- joyfully- terrific it is to be in the business of biological genocide adds insult to injury. Why does everyone just accept this as normal?
I think we need to return to a different kind of respect for nature, one that is less groomed and less controlled. If we continued to treat the planet in this way, then eventually the conditions that sustain us will be eliminated. Any presumption on our part that we are exempt from the possibility of extinction is naive at best. A respect for the community we live in - not just of people, but of the animals, plants, and all other organisms -will go a long way towards helping us to preserve human life and human society.
This begins with perceiving the community.
We need to look to our individual personal communities in the same way. When we are angry, and negative, critical, or judgmental, it is usually because we're trying to "clean up" our personal environment so that it suits us better - so that it looks nicer to us. However, what we're doing is exactly the same as the people who are poisoning their front yard to make it look good. All of these activities are a kind of "spreading poison" that kills off the organisms-the conditions of our surrounding life- that we need to help support us.
If we percieve the fact that we are in community- which may well be painful, as it requires us to give up a little of that ego we all hold so dear- we can begin to discover what relationship with it would be. As I brought up last year, we all need to ask ourselves what we might have to give up in order to be part of a community.