Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Common Knowledge

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking of our relationship to our natural world, and in particular, how we have lost so much knowledge about how nature “works.” This, combined with what seems to be some sort of modern fastidiousness about what is “ugly” in nature, and misplaced fear (born of ignorance) about animals and natural phenomena, underlies much destructive behavior. The results of this disconnect are really distressing. Our common knowledge about the natural world has evaporated.

“Ugly” trees are too often removed or their “undesirable” parts lopped off. Often these are dead or dying trees, perhaps “ugly” to human eyes, but essential sources of food and shelter for many animal species. Just up the hill, I had been watching a Pileated Woodpecker that had made an impressive trench in an oak tree. I went up the next day to get some photos and discovered that the tree had been cut down; I suppose that “officials” saw the woodpecker’s diggings and thought the tree might be frail. But the condition of the stump indicates that the tree was in vigorous health. What a waste. And what of the woodpeckers? Not only that pair of Pileateds, but the other species I saw on that tree. Not important. Let them find some other tree, if they can. Across town a few weeks ago, I was stunned to see, in one section of public land, that every dead tree in a half-mile stretch of forest, on both sides of the road, had been cut down. Hundreds of trees, homes for woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, bats, and more. What terrible ignorance made this possible?

We have a thriving population of black bears in our region, and we see them come through our yard pretty often, sometimes every day. We consider it a privilege to be able to observe these interesting and beautiful animals. It is so very distressing to read about how human ignorance, fueled by media reports, has led to a general fear of these shy animals. HELLO EVERYONE! Bears do not eat people, or babies, or dogs, or cats. They just don’t. They are omnivores, but omnivores of small things. Seeds, berries, small animals (rabbits, squirrels), roots, grass, wild fruits, the occasional fish. They are not interested in you or your dog. Like almost every other animal, bears are not aggressive or “mean” unless they are cornered, or startled, or if their young are interfered with. Bears come up on my deck pretty often on their way through the area, and all it takes is a rattle of the door, or a few sharp words, and off they go, sometimes running. I have never felt afraid of a bear, even when I have been about six feet away standing in the doorway. A bear is often easier to chase away than a squirrel. So please don’t shoot the bears, as this ignorant person did. (The bear family described in that story was well known in the neighborhood – I have many photos that I had never posted here, as the end of the story was too sad.)

A more recent outrageous story is this: Several days ago in Danielson, CT, some kayakers chose to approach a Mute Swan on its nest, at a place where these swans had nested for 10 years or more. What kind of person willfully approaches a large animal with young? A person who is ignorant of, and disconnected from, nature, of course, would do this. Such a person is likely to be attacked by the male swan, especially if he approaches a second time, and especially if canoers also join in and get too close to the swans. Apparently these ignorant people, who were breaking the law by interfering with wildlife, were all upset when the swan, naturally feeling that it, and its nest, were threatened, defending its nest and tipped them into the water. Boo hoo! (I wish I had been there to cheer for the swan!) Apparently the stupid people complained to the police or DEEP about the “aggressive” swans, and DEEP officials responded – ready for it? – not by issuing warnings or citations and fines to the people who broke the law, not even by educating the ignorant people about the natural behavior of wild animals, but by killing the male swan and addling the eggs. The residents of the neighborhood, who have enjoyed the swans for years and know that they were not, in fact, “aggressive,” are understandably shaken and upset.

Oh, and swans mate for life.

Have you ever seen an animal whose mate has been killed? I have – I will never forget several years ago seeing, by the side of a busy road, a female Mourning Dove standing by the body of her mate who had just been struck by a car. When I passed the spot later that day, she was still standing there by his body.

Back to the swans. This is common knowledge, isn’t it? That it is dangerous to interfere with a wild animal, especially if it has young or eggs? Do people think that because swans are elegant and beautiful that they are also docile? (Need I mention that the perpetrators were young men?) Apparently this is not common knowledge, which perfectly illustrates the points I made in my opening paragraph.

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