A few weeks ago, an opinion piece by Westminster resident Robert Wack caught my eye. He wrote about disappearing crayfish in our waterways because of environmental pollution. I grew up catching crayfish so I knew exactly what he was talking about.
For some time now I’ve been considering my own thoughts about what we are doing to do the natural world. It all came to a head when I recently spotted a robin hanging upside down in one of our pine trees.
At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was this robin doing? Why was he hanging upside down? Why was he flapping his wings so much?
As I got closer, I realized his leg was caught in a seemingly innocuous piece of string. It wasn’t just any old string though. It was a piece of plastic string, the woven kind you see on large sacks of feed for animals, and the kind that doesn’t give way easily. Someone obviously discarded it, whether by accident or on purpose, and it got wrapped up in the branches of the tree.
Did the robin get caught accidentally in the string? Was he retrieving it for an addition to his nest? We will never know.
It took me about 15 minutes to extricate him from the string. Sadly, the bird’s struggle to free himself caused his leg to break. In addition, his wing was badly damaged from the string chafing the inside of it.
When I finally got him to the ground, he could only hop and could no longer fly. It broke my heart.
I placed him in a deep, secluded pocket of low-lying branches of a cedar tree. I knew he wasn’t going to make it but I wanted to give him the best chance possible to have a quiet, peaceful death. The next morning, he was gone.
This innocuous piece of string caused great suffering for this bird. How sad to think that this could have been easily avoided by disposing of it properly. Many animals are attracted to bits and pieces of trash like this that we routinely discard without thinking of the consequences.
Not long after this incident, I saw a photo on Facebook of a shore bird trying to feed its young chick a cigarette butt. The nurturing mother thought it was food. Now the butt was in the chick’s mouth. Did it try to eat it? Did it get sick? How many countless times has this happened, again through our carelessness?
Just like we seem to indiscriminately discard trash, so do we do the same thing with domestic animals. Our six-acre property is overrun with cats. At any given time, we have at least a half a dozen cats roaming our woods and fields. Some are feral, others are strays and still others have owners who let them roam freely.
Again, consequences come into play. I have no doubt that these cats are having a detrimental impact on the native wildlife. I no longer see chipmunks, flying squirrels, and rabbits. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the cats stalking birds. Young birds in particular are at risk, especially when the cats sit directly underneath bird boxes waiting for fledglings who can barely fly.
The cats are doing what cats do naturally: stalking, hunting, killing. It is the humans who allow them to roam at will that puts our wildlife at so much risk.
It is great that we have many successful spay and neuter programs that help to keep the cat populations down. What would be even better is to keep cats indoors where they are safe from predators, diseases, and mishaps with cars.
In turn, wildlife is safe from them.
I love cats. Most of my life I’ve had cats. However, I learned the hard way about what happens when you have an outdoor cat. Our very first one was hit and killed by a car not long after we moved here.
All of my cats stayed indoors after this happened. It was a personal choice but one that felt right to me.
I wanted a better and safer life for them, just like I want a better life for the wild creatures that inhabit our property. To me, this means balanced predator/prey relationships. Inflated predator numbers brought about by free roaming cats does not foster balance in any way. (my apologies to all the outdoor cat lovers out there but this is a very serious problem).
This is part of a broader perspective of thinking about how day to day decisions can contribute to a better earth. It’s an attitude, a lifestyle choice, and a conscious decision to make a difference no matter how small it may be.
Am I personally always successful in my daily efforts? No. Old habits die hard. Old attitudes die even harder.
Species extinction, plastic pollution and global destruction of habitat are just a few examples of the antiquated idea that man has complete dominion over the earth. Sadly, this paradigm has serious ramifications for every living thing on our planet.
We have only one earth. Someday we may inhabit the moon or maybe even Mars. Hopefully we will do it in a much more harmonious way. Our time on earth barely rates a blip on the screen yet our footprint is so enormous it threatens to upend life as we know it.
Despite the great concerns I have about the future of our planet, I remain hopeful. The generations to come will have their work cut out for them. I believe they will succeed where we have failed. They understand more than we do that nature in balance is not an option, it is an imperative if we are all to survive.
I thank you, Mr. Wack, for your inspirational column about crayfish. It was the kick in the pants that I needed to write this column. It may be the only column where I purposely do not have pictures. It’s the words, thoughts and actions that really matter.
One piece of string, one cigarette butt, one stray cat, one plastic bottle. Time is ticking.
As Mahatma Ghandi said, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Don’t wait for others. Make the changes. Time is running out.