I was reading through some old North Carolina Wildlife magazines this past weekend and came across a personal story that resonated with me. In it the author, who is severely allergic to wasps, tells of a summer watching bald-faced hornets build a nest from his kitchen window. He was unwilling initially to kill the fascinating life building it or later to destroy the nest itself. Unfortunately the nest gets rather large and the author was stung, resulting in a hospital visit. One could hardly begrudge him the act of murder he commits next, spraying the nest with a pyrethrin under the trademark name of the Enforcer.
He did not however experience a sweet revenge, but rather, “an unease that soon wore like a hollow victory.” Eloquently he goes on . . .
“Each day from the kitchen window I looked upon the empty gray nest, silent and lifeless like a forgotten horn that no child ever blew. I felt a certain sadness for all my established dominion. After all, I was the intruder; in a scheme of things grander than that which says a man must keep a tidy lawn, it was the bald-faced hornets that existed in the natural order. They were only doing what a million years of instinct bid them.
So now a sense of loss replaced the fear I had when I stared out the kitchen window. Having claimed such chemical sovereignty over my Raleigh abode, I felt a strange sort of detachment from the natural environment, a kink in a lifeline I had treasured and a relationship nurtured on a daily basis. Was I so much high on the evolutionary ladder that I’d lost sight of the bottom rungs my own ancestors had climbed? “
I sense this very loss often when I read about loss of species habitat, endangered species, overfishing, and poisons in our air, water, and soil. I wrestle with it emotionally when I flush a stinkbug down the toilet one minute and catch and release a spider to the outdoors in another. It is why I write this blog. It is my naïve hope that I will say something different than all the other ‘nature loss lamenters’ before me, and in doing so will change someone’s perspective from nature as separate, to nature as integral and essential. It saddens me that many people who so quickly and easily destroy other life have no remorse and often feel that sweet revenge.
I had an epiphany reading Nickens’ words, mingling with all the articles I was clipping on natural diversity. It struck me that life is a dance between all participants. It occurs at the species level and at the individual level. This is explained when we learn about food chains and food webs. We exist because of a foundation of plant producers that supply most of the rest of life with food and oxygen. Imbalances in food webs can screw up other species intricately tied to each other. There is loss and renewal all the time. It is a dance. Or at least it was. Humans have so altered natural systems and increasingly spend so much time separate from natural systems that I think we are losing something very important. We are losing ourselves. We are losing humility, compassion, and awe.
If we chose to merely watch from our window or destroy and isolate ourselves from the life around us, we are like spectators at the dance show. We clap and admire perhaps. Snap photos from afar. This seems harmless, but we are outsiders. We don’t know the dance. We don’t feel the dance in our flesh as our muscles ebb and flow with those of another dancer’s. We don’t understand that the dance is vital to our survival – much like I sense dancing is vital to the dancer’s wholeness. Even worse, I sometimes feel as outsiders we expect more and more of the dancer: more energy, more acrobatics, and more stimulation for ‘me’ the outsider. Why? Because we’ve lost something. Because we’re not participating. For some of us, it may be something we don’t even understand we’ve lost.
How do we find it? Start participating. Start dancing. Take walks outside. Sit still and observe nature. Lie on your stomach and watch what moves through the grass. Plant a garden. Spend time outside with children. Let children show you the awesomeness of nature. Don’t spray the hornets’ nest.
There is loss and renewal all the time. Life is a dance. Our time will come when we leave the scene, the web of life. Perhaps we should dance while we are here instead of sitting on the inside looking out.
Nickens, T. Edward. The Empty Nest. Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine. 2007.