Do You Know Your Habitat? Or, Please Make the Petitions Stop!

Lake PendOreille Rock BeachEvery morning my email box has an endless parade of help-the-environment petitions waiting for me to sign: Shell drilling in the Arctic (again), stopping elephant abuse, Fracking, toxic chemical dumps, punishment for the capture and starvation of some animal or other, and saving whole forests of trees from removal so we can have another piece of paper (or paper money, same thing). It’s depressing as hell and after years of this armchair activism, the process should be routine for me but it’s not. In fact, most of them just shock the heck out of me with their cruelty, thoughtlessness, and avarice. A good portion of the actions waiting to be blocked don’t even make sense. I can hardly believe what people with the worst kind of imaginations have come up with to destroy their own habitat. And I think that’s just the problem. People have forgotten which habitat is really theirs. It isn’t a house, the office, or the neighborhood Starbucks that is giving us life. It’s Earth. Her resources support us, so why are we trying to torture and kill her? We continually trash, pollute, abuse, and decimate our own environment for the sake of convenience, comfort, or cash.

Why? I ask myself that question every day. Why are we so reluctant to acknowledge, to relate, to see, that we are intimately connected to plants, soil, and animals that are all around us? It seems like since we moved into our skyscrapers and bought our cars, we believe we have somehow, magically rid ourselves of any link to the natural world. Like a shirt we outgrew that we stuffed in the back of the closet where it languishes. We are Earthlings, people whose home is the Earth. We breathe the ever-dirtier air, eat the plants with pesticides, and drink the vanishing water along with an amazing variety of animal and plant life. We need this planet, the planet doesn’t need us. I am painfully aware of the fact that if we all disappeared tomorrow the Earth would be the better for it! Is an attitude of ignorant indifference the way we want to repay our most vital supplier? How long can we go on with such a view point? Let’s not put it to the test.

I live in the country by choice but even when I was in suburbia I knew what was growing in the neighborhood, flying overhead, or crawling on the sidewalk. Now I consistently run into people who don’t know a Flicker from a fig tree. Is it important for us to know the names of the creatures we live with? No, not really, but it’s indicative of a much bigger problem: most of know nothing at all about our fellow inhabitants. We don’t relate to our own natural environment. That leaves us open to rampant ignorance, hearsay, and the destruction of our own home. Prejudice and fear turn into ridiculous laws that add to the damage.

We have a woman down the road from us that raises wolves. I love hearing their howls when I am out in the garden but a man buying property in the area was afraid that the wolves were going to “call in” other wild wolves. If he knew about wolves at all he would have understood that wolf howls are communication tags to track each member of the pack and also the sound of territoriality, that is, a way for them to say: “This is our land, all other wolves keep away!” When it comes to wild wolves, we’re probably the safest neighborhood in America.

A lack of connection to and knowledge of our own habitat also puts us at risk in another way. It’s why hundreds each year drown or end up in the hospital with wasp stings, animal bites, Poison Ivy, and the very rare bear attack. They don’t know the environment or understand how to act in the wild. What is really tragic are the plethora of innocent wild animals that pay the ultimate price for simply living their lives and doing what they were born to do. When we get hurt because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time and don’t have a clue how to behave in the situation, we love to blame nature. Then we send the rangers out with their guns to kill it mercilessly. Without another thought, we want it dead, whatever it is. We don’t like that uncomfortable feeling that something threatening to us is wandering around out there. They aren’t going to hunt us down you know, they don’t have our addresses. Sure, bad things sometimes happen, there are psychotic animals just as there are psychotic people (and at about the same ratio), but knowing why animals behave as they do would for the most part, keep us out of trouble and solve most of the problems.

Not only do we make bad choices because we don’t understand nature, we don’t even feel any kinship with it. Years ago on one of my walks through the wood, I jumped up on a rotten log. When it broke, a million red ants poured out and in seconds some were already making their way to my bare hands, biting as they went. I managed to brush them off and get away with only a couple of welts. I didn’t blame the ants for attacking me. I should have been aware that those kinds of critters love decayed wood and when I broke their nest they fought for their families the same as we would. Now I know better. Animals, insects, and plants just want to eat, drink, and sleep in peace and safety, just like us.

Sometimes when we have visitors from the city they are afraid to go out the door. Animals don’t wait on the front porch for a meal and we’re the only species that seeks revenge. Understanding our fellow creatures and seeing them as vibrant and beautiful with their own habits and personalities would not only keep us safe but would help sustain the variety of life on this planet, letting us all enjoy a little health and happiness. Maybe if we understood how our environment works we would see where we are destroying it and why we have to preserve and protect our vanishing resources for all concerned. Maybe if we knew a little about the neighborhood creatures we live with every day, we would start to see some similarities and relate to them. Maybe we would feel for them just as we do other people. Maybe we wouldn’t step on them, mistreat them, ignore their needs, or wreck their homes because we want to build a new Wal-Mart. Then my email box wouldn’t be jammed every morning and I could finally exhale. I look forward to it.