Pandora’s Last Scourge: The Hope Fairy

Just last week I found myself doing it again. Finding hope! I was feeling so good about the Smithsonian article about Nokuse, the 50,000 acre ranch in Walton County, Florida, on which the longleaf pine forest is being encouraged back into existence, along with gopher tortoises. I loved walking on the Celery Fields listening to the limpkin’s call as they searched for snails.

Then Ranger reminded me that hope is a commodity that quickly disappears when it comes from outside ourselves.

Ranger: “Okay, Pandora couldn’t stand it until she opened the box. And the last thing that squeaked out of the box was hope. It was set loose in the world as a balm, but more probably as a scourge. Why? Because when you hope for something you usually look for a fairy to land on you and fix everything. The hope fairy brings a winning lottery ticket, or a politician who agrees that climate change should motivate limits on carbon emissions, or someone with millions of bucks who buys up a huge amount of land and DOESN’T develop it into a theme park.”

Me: “I’m dumbfounded, frankly. I always have looked at myself as an optimist, a hopeful person. Hope has always been a virtue for me!”

Ranger: “That’s rubbish. You need to lose hope before you can get to work cleaning up this mess. When hope is lost, then all bets are off and you’re willing to act. I was so abused that I lost hope in the human race. I attacked whenever, however and whoever I could in order to gain my freedom. I was quite willing to go down fighting. When the hope fairy visits you, you get all wistful and teary about some good thing happening, and you lose track of reality. The survival of the human race? I consider that a hopeless cause, thank you very much. We’ve jumped over that cliff and no longer can control what’s going on out there…. the “there” that humans have messed up so badly.”

Me: “I can’t quite agree with you, Ranger. Didn’t Darryl provide hope for you, and aren’t you bringing that hope to your new relationships?  Let’s face it, he saved you at the last moment from being put down at the shelter.”

Ranger: “Yes. Listen, I’m not arguing that we should throw up our hands in despair. I’m not saying we should pursue hedonistic pleasures because there isn’t any point in trying to do something to save Earth. We become virtuous because that is the right thing to be. Darryl took me in partly because he didn’t have any hope either, so why not take me in? Darryl is compelled to create his movies about the environment, but it’s not because he’s hopeful that the world is going to turn around and save itself. It’s because he is a good man who uses his humanity to do good. That is all anyone can do.”

Me: “Okay, let me try this on for size: I am going to banish the hope fairy in my life. I still think Nokuse is a fabulous story of someone doing what they can with the resources available. I rejoice when I see the population of limpkins rebound in our area (partly because their food supply has multiplied through the invasive giant snails)…. that kind of thing.  If you are right, my banishment of the hope fairy will allow me to become more assertive and daring with my own actions. This is kinda a big responsibility. I instinctively want the solution to all this environmental degradation to come from someone other than myself. Now I have to work harder than ever.”



In Wild Myakka Park

The wild beauty of an egret in a rage.
The wild beauty of an egret in a rage.

We tramp under the Spanish moss waving from Florida oak branches to an old weir in Myakka. The only things we see there are alligators sunning on the river bank, hundreds of circling vultures, a solitary great blue heron, some glossy Ibis….. and one snowy egret.

Here  in Myakka we can own the part of us that is also animal. We sell our cleverness and buy bewilderment.  Rage, fear and death are palpable here…as much as peace and beauty. Somehow this is where we must be… to connect again. A vulture sits on a ledge a few feet away, eyeing me up and down. He is a smart bird, evolved to do cleanup duty for the dead. We mutually agree that we are friends, and he turns his gaze to another vantage point. The egret exudes rage as a glossy ibis invades his patch of ground.

Ranger: “This is actually a perfect morning. There are no other dogs here, and we’re the only people. Suits me just fine.”

Me: “I want to be aware enough to see the rage, anger, and death in the natural world. When I am here I lose my cleverness, my illusions of control. These vultures are beautifully designed for their task, their heads hairless, their stomachs able to digest whatever carcass they come across. Roadkill vanishes under their expert care. We’re standing here looking at where they make their home in the trees across the river. From there they cruise the area looking for their next meal.”

Ranger: “I think I’ll probably be content to go home with you and eat my next meal out of a bowl in the kitchen, so don’t get any ideas about leaving me here.”

I visited Myakka once with a friend who kept asking, “What is there to see here?” She was disappointed, because it wasn’t a theme park. She asked that I take a picture of her leaning on the rail.  Our modern culture programs us to focus only on the man-made, the pictures with people in them, the straight lines, the cathedrals, the art galleries, the Disney Worlds, the game on our playing cards or TVs. We wait for entertainment, for a score to be made, a road paved and a new development landscaped.

Myakka is a wild land. I really hope that it stays that way.