I offer this lifeline to all of you who care about Nature, understand the magic it holds, but feel overwhelmed by those who want to rip it all out. There’s hope. But first, some background.
You know the feeling when witnessing the destruction of habitat. Anger, frustration, helplessness. You stare into the abyss and it begins to stare right back, pulling you in, consuming you, darkening your heart.
We’ve all heard the encouraging platitudes. “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” “Behold the turtle; he only makes progress when sticking his neck out.” “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” That last one has never made much sense to me.
In the work I do – as many of us do – to protect other living things who share the earth with us, it is difficult at times not to be absorbed by the darkness and give up.
I’ve tried six times to look away, to give up the fight with the Four Horsemen of Nature Suppression – Burning, Mastication, Herbicide, and Hubris. The pain was just too great. But each time, I was pulled back in, tempted to take another sip by a devilish bartender, descending back into the inferno from which I sought escape. It was killing me.
Not anymore. I’ve finally found a successful rehab program, my seventh, to help me develop the skills, the temperament, to ignore the siren’s call when need be, smiling while turning away and enjoying the beauty of life that surrounds me everyday. The help I needed was all around me. I just didn’t see it. Although my recent counselors, Wren, Schwinn, and Marcus Aurelius, are local, the program they offer is available no matter where you live.
The basic foundation of the program is one the Stoics of Ancient Greece shared with the world long ago – we are responsible for our own sense of worth, we choose how we feel, and only the present moment is the relevant time period in our daily lives. Gnothi seauton, nothing new under the sun, and unconditional kindness fits in there too, but more on all that, and the counselors who helped me understand, later.
The wisdom learned: one can continue to care, to carry on the good fight, but that task must breathe only within a confined space, only when necessary, then locked away to prevent one’s heart from being enveloped by the darkness the task breeds. With the newly available mental space, new tasks emerge to quiet the mind. Gandhi spun cotton. Muir hiked. I began restoring my 1961 Schwinn bicycle, spent quiet hours discovering the lives of Roman emperors, and remembered how to listen to birds.
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The little Wren landed on top of the wooden bird house. He’d been singing nonstop in the upper reaches of the oak tree since I’d arrived. It’s been maybe five minutes.
He continued his singing – short bursts, a buzz, then a rapid series of similar notes. Between each short speech, he’d slightly reposition himself on the tiny roof. My camera caught him winking a few times. Then he’d fly off to another high perch, sing some more.
While this was going on, Scrub Jays, Towhees, Doves, and Finches all visited the small platform I’d built to hold an assortment of bird seed – black sunflower, peanuts, millet. The birds peck out the cheap fillers and eat the expensive stuff. The Finches delicately manipulate the sunflower seed shells with their beaks and tongues, sequester the rich protein prize within, and flick the broken reminders off into space.
Everyone gets along, for the most part. However, when the Jays appear, the party scatters. Hummingbirds patrol the sky – Anna’s, Allen’s, and a few others. No one messes with the Hummingbirds.
Surrounding all of this is a quarter acre of sage scrub and chaparral habitat that replaced a lawn. It’s taken a couple of years for the shrubs to begin forming a canopy, providing safe spaces for birds, bunnies, and lizards to roam. Look closer and another universe is revealed – bees, beetles, and hundreds of red harvester ants searching for something to eat. I wander around them all during morning coffee.
The sounds of birds, the waving of stems and flowers in the wind, the fragrance of sage, all of it felt deeply within my inner core, flooding my senses, releasing a multitude of chemicals into my blood. Every corner of my body feels free, weightless, at home. This is where I belong.
Nothing else matters in the world.
Next: The Schwinn