#200: The Nature Around Us

As I am sitting in my warm house, I am watching a squirrel eat some of the food I originally put out for the birds. There is not just one squirrel, there are five. Every attempt at “squirrel-proofing” the feeder has failed. They are smart animals. I had to hang up a separate feeder somewhere else, where it is more difficult for the squirrels to get to, so that the birds have at least a chance to eat. That feeder also, by now, is only quasi-“squirrel proof.” It can’t be done. Should it be?

The birds are smart too. They swoop in whenever they can, and they do have a pecking hour, and they have a breakfast, lunch and dinner time rush. Whatever the birds and squirrels don’t get, the raccoons will, even the deer. They are all smart, some more than others, and they all have personalities. They see me, gesture to me, even sometimes seem to thank me. I am not anthropomorphizing, I am just observing and interpreting living beings that are smart and know exactly what they are doing. Am I drawing inferences from what I know about human behavior to them? Certainly. Why shouldn’t I!

I am feeding the birds because of the loss of habitat in a human-controlled environment, and I have seen – and heard – a marked increase in the bird population around my house. I have counted at least 30 different species by now. Add to that three different species of squirrels (Western Grey, Eastern Grey, Douglas Squirrel) and even a chipmunk. I have seen families of deer, I have seen a deer that was very old – and a very old squirrel. Hardly ever do you get to see old animals in the wild.

Now, as I am sitting here, in the house, plenty of food, warmth, shelter, separated from the “wildlife” through a window pane, what makes me that different? Yes, I can read and write, type, etc., but all that is beside the point. They can do things that I can’t do. Smart humans have designed squirrel-proof feeders, and squirrels can outsmart them. What does that tell you? At the time of the dinosaurs, our mammalian ancestors could not type on computers either, and yet evolution led them down that path. I am looking at a Steller’s Jay, and see the smartness of their dinosaur ancestors. Don’t even get me started on raccoons – wily cute Zorros.

Are we smart? Certainly. Smarter than them? Well, it’s not them currently endangering the entire planetary habitat. Between them and me, it is me that has done his part to contribute to climate change, not them. I try my best, and see my feeding them as reparations.

People keep talking about giving “land back” to those people who were dispossessed in the past. Guess who else has been, and is being dispossessed. The ravaging of the natural world has been a crime committed by smart humans, and animals need to make do. We think of them as nature – but what are we? We come from nature, depend on nature, and if we succeed in destroying it, we will destroy ourselves. Of course we are part of nature, just as them. Any other statement would be hubris – something we are well known for. I have written about this in my very first poems 31 years ago (in German) – and my annoyance at how we treat nature has not left me. It only has grown.

Biodiversity is not an abstract concept. It means that we need as much of a diversity of life as possible. We need to preserve life, we need to preserve nature, not just because it is amusing to watch, or because it is the ethical thing to do, but because – finally – we depend on it. If no other argument works, that should be enough. Are we really smart enough?

Furthermore, we are indeed living in the Anthropocene. Our world has been remade by us. There is no more real wilderness, and wherever we pretend it to still exist, it is hedged in, demarcated, imprisoned. We should take responsibility for that. One solution should be to increase the areas of true wilderness, to actually give land (and sea) back. The other probably should be to start thinking of our suburban and urban animal and plant companions as neighbors. We have made this world the way it is, we should take care of it, and should allow our fellow beings to thrive.

Design your gardens and backyards so they can house and feed animals. Live so that your house enables life around you. Leave bushes and “weeds” and rethink human aesthetics of how a garden should look like. Stop the insanity of stone gardens, plastic lawns, even large-scale watered lawns. Don’t use robot lawn mowers. Don’t pollute the night with too much light. Let nature thrive, so that the obstruction brought by us can at least be ameliorated. Cities and suburbs can be great places for biodiversity if we help out a bit. Now, I’ll continue watching my fellow furry and feathered smart friends.