Scrub Jays Join Our Book Club

Ranger and I have our very own book club. We talked this week through “The Invention of Nature — Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.” We agree that von Humboldt’s life is one that challenged the paradigm of colonialism, conquest and exploitation of nature, and his legacy can be traced through Thoreau, Muir, and many others right down to the present environmental movement.

This contemporary of Thomas Jefferson had ideas that changed the way many saw the natural world, and in the process lives in our hearts as much as any of our founding fathers.

Ranger: “Up until that time most people saw the world as a machine, and a pretty menacing one at that. It needed to be subdued and bullied by humans so that life could be improved. What’s that got to do with scrub jays?”

Me: “Well, we’ve been on Merritt Island, and met some scrub jays. They’re endangered, their habitat rapidly being taken by humans…..

Male scrub jay making sure his mate is safe.
Male scrub jay making sure his mate is safe.

…. they may very well disappear from Florida. The development paradigm, which pretty much says that this bird is of no consequence, would believe that habitat is better if it served a housing development. The paradigm that von Humboldt brought was one of admiration for the bird and the protection of the habitat.”

Ranger: “Looks like that habitat is aptly named: scrub. There isn’t much to look at…. lots of sand, occasional  pine trees, low bushes. I suspect the jays evolved with that habitat over thousands of years.”

Me: “Right. These birds won’t be adapting to cities any time soon. What a loss that would be.”

Female scrub jay finding a meal.
Female scrub jay finding a meal.

Me (continuing): “Von Humboldt said that when habitat is destroyed, as he saw everywhere in America by agriculture and building practices, everything else is impacted. Springs dry up, the rivers change, and in the end humans suffer also. By the way, this guy  challenged his friend President Jefferson on the subject of slavery, said colonialism was disastrous, and that missionaries were as bad as Conquistadores. You can see how the paradigms are still at war today, right?

Ranger: “Yes, certainly in Florida, where habitat is destroyed without understanding the consequences, and politicians just talk about creating more jobs and more money. Environmentalists have their work cut out for them here!”

Me: “Merritt Island is pretty much a metaphor for Florida. The bottom half is devoted to Cape Canaveral. It’s guarded by imposing gates. The top half is left as a wildlife refuge, but that gets more and more endangered. Von Humboldt saw how that kind of thing would eventually lead to the collapse of the critters who are there, because  they are squeezed into smaller and smaller areas…. and eventually degrade human life as well.”

Hope Part II

An American Bittern, giving me a baleful look. Yet he gives me hope.
An American Bittern, giving me a baleful look. Yet he gives me hope.

New sessions with Ranger on hope these last few days. He has urged me to rethink hope. He sites the American bittern we found out on the Myakka bird walk, as well as my interactions with Darryl. The bird was a rare sight in that location, and he must have known it, so he hunched down behind the tall reeds and grasses. I only caught sight of him because of a small territorial dispute with an egret. That morning I came to a better place on the subject…. I agree that I must come back to a place of hope….. sort of.

Ranger: “Isn’t the fact that the hope fairy is gone just tell you that whatever you expected to be delivered to you from the outside is gone? But what about your feeling when you are with me, or with that bittern? Isn’t that hope of a sort? You experienced a feeling which is joyful, when you were exchanging glances with this bird. Walking with me this morning, experiencing a sunrise…. that seemed pretty hopeful. Weren’t you expressing hope through your camera?”

Me: “Yes, I suppose so. I think hope is pretty much in the category of prayer. Hell, I gave up praying a long time ago in the traditional sense. The only prayers I utter these days are for myself. I’m the only one I can control, so the only good prayer is one that helps me reflect on my own reactions and actions. I guess by that standard I pray a lot. Hope? Same thing. It’s internal and personal.”

Ranger: “I’ll join you in that sentiment. Together, and with Darryl, our hoping and praying are for our own lives…. and if that rubs off on the world around us, fine.”