For the Birds Radio Program: Trespassing on the Wild (Original)
We may think we own property, but we’re often trespassing on the territory of others.
(Recording of a Canada Goose)
Last weekend I visited a pair of Canada Geese nesting near the Port Wing sewage ponds. They stood their ground, watching every move I made with wise and wary eyes, ready to beat me to a pulp if I tried anything. If I had sneaked up on them in a camouflage suit, they’d have been out of there in a flash—I think perhaps less frightened than outraged that any human could believe it possible to enter the wild unnoticed. My bright red hat seems to reassure birds that I have nothing to hide.
These geese let me come within about 15 feet of them—I didn’t want to disturb them, but needed to reach a bend in the path which was between us. The male kept his body between me and his beloved, just in case, and they both honked. When I honked back, the female took that as a cue to settle back down on her nest. The male still didn’t trust me quite, but by the time I turned away on my bend in the path, he was hissing at a turtle and pretty much ignoring me. He knew I was human, and therefore not a part of his world, but he condescended to grant me a short visit.
Humans take from the natural world, but we give nothing in return. Sure, when we buy duck stamps or contribute to state non-game programs we support habitat maintenance and wildlife management, but in truth, managing the wild is an oxymoron. We arrogantly decide which species are worth our attention, usually because they make tasty or photogenic targets, and forget that each is part of a natural system—a complex web of interconnected parts, many so small we don’t even know they exist, yet each irreplaceable.
In the last century we destroyed the Carolina Parakeet because it ate more fruit than farmers cared to share, and the Passenger Pigeon because it was edible and easy to shoot. Now we smugly pretend that we are wiser and less greedy, yet we continue to allow the killing of threatened duck species for no better reason than that grown men can’t figure out any other way to enjoy an autumn marsh at dawn. We take Disney World vacations, flushing our own personal sewage into the Everglades where it fertilizes cattails which in turn choke out the native sawgrass upon which Everglades creatures depend. We dine on fast food all-beef patties which in life grazed on the raped and murdered tropical rainforest.
Humans are not natural creatures, nor should we be. Unlike a hawk or wolf, a human hunts on a full stomach. A hawk feels death in his talons, a wolf tastes it in his jaws—he doesn’t distance his conscience with arrows or bullets, nor does he carry his prey in a bag or tied to a car top so he won’t get too much blood on his hands. Hawks and wolves are true parts of nature, and earn the right to take prey by exposing themselves to all the inconveniences and dangers of nature, armed only with their wits and their bodies. In return for taking food in a natural way, a hawk or wolf gives itself back with its own natural death. Chickadees pick at the suet clinging to a dead wolf’s bones. Insects that eat the carcass are in turn eaten by warblers and woodpeckers, or by frogs that become food for herons and cranes. Few of us would ever consider so natural a fate–we even spray ourselves with chemicals so we won’t have to share our blood with mosquitoes which in turn feed kingbirds and nighthawks.
No, the role of modern humans in nature is one-sided taking. We forage on berries which would otherwise feed insects to sweeten the diet of swallows. We blindly stomp down warbler nests on the forest floor chasing down a photograph of a grouse drumming. To ethically walk through any wild place, we must remember that we are uninvited guests, and treat our hosts, whether they be wary geese on their nests or fragile frogs hiding in the weeds beneath our feet, with respect and gratitude.
(Recording of a Canada Goose)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”