Quirky Little Nature Essays Don’t Seem Quite Right Today

Very bad cell phone shot of a vulture on a carcass.
Did you know you can take pictures through binoculars with your cell phone? The vulture had just arrived at the opossum and probably couldn’t believe its luck.

My favorite kind of post, in the years I’ve been writing here at LWON, has been about little moments of urban nature. A few weeks ago the bumblebees were all over the sunflowers at the community garden, and they were wonderful. I’m still excited about the vulture I saw swoop down to the railroad tracks to check out a dead possum a few months back.

But I can’t write these right now. My moments of delight don’t mesh with the wrongness of the world. My little nature obsessions always seem a bit pointless, but the contrast is stronger now. If I’m writing, I should be delivering some kind of brilliant insight on why so many of my fellow citizens are so full of hate. The guy who sent bombs to people whose politics he disagreed with. The other guy who murdered people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The long and thoroughly human history of murdering other humans because they are those other humans, not your own humans. And the wish that people could just love each other. And hold out their arms to the poor and the desperate and, for goodness’ sake, just stop being mean.

I know it’s true what they say, that you need people who highlight the bits of beauty in the world. But I don’t know how to make that gorgeous vulture’s story (it went for the eyes first, smart bird) matter. How do I write a quirky little nature essay when you—you, reader in the United States of America—could get shot tomorrow at work or a store or your place of worship?

Sometimes taking the long view makes me feel better. Recently I read an article from the Atlantic, about people trying to piece together what killed the dinosaurs. We all know what killed the dinosaurs, yeah, the giant asteroid impact – but apparently people are still arguing about whether that was really it. These people do not like each other. I recommend the article.

The dinosaurs were around for such a long time. The article reminded me, the time from stegosaurs to tyrannosaurs is more than the time from tyrannosaurs to humans. Tyrannosaurs died out about 66 million years before we got here; stegosaurs lived 67 million years before that. Our species has only been around for a few hundred thousand years.

Imagine one day, 66 or 67 million years from now, when a superintelligent form of slime mold has taken over the Earth and is carrying out its own scientific inquiries, squelching across the countryside on its slime mold transports and fighting nasty, personal fights in slime mold publications about what caused the cataclysm of our age.

Note: I’m not saying we’re going extinct soon. I imagine it’ll be slow. But we will, eventually. Everybody does.

So one day all of our fights, about who gets to live where and who gets to control their own body and which religion is the best, will be over. These slime mold scientists won’t be able to see any of that in the sedimentary layers, but they’ll find the evidence of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere, and the mass extinctions, and the layers of plastics deposited in the oceans, and what will they make of them?

“It was a particularly intelligent mammal!” one of the slime molds will claim. “They ruled the world! They burned rocks and ruined the atmosphere!”

Come on. Will anyone believe that? It’s so improbable. This brief window when mammals ruled. That brief window when lizards ruled. But of course all of that misery is now.

And I forget this in weeks like this one, but all of the goodness is now, too. The kindness of neighbors. All those people across the country who went to vigils for the people murdered in Pittsburgh. The birds outside. The clouds. That beautiful, lucky vulture, with nothing to on its agenda but ripping apart roadkill.

I might envy it, a little bit.

Photo: Me. Yep.

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