The world has gone crazy and my head is so full of the loud stimulus that I can’t put all the pieces together to form any of the usual speculations and hypotheses. After spring-like winter, the natural world here in the Southern Appalachians bursts out like never before. Accelerated and profuse, it is nature on steroids.
The starlings that nest each year in the eaves of our little guest house are back this year with a vengeance, but where is the elegant black snake that usually keeps their population in check? Did the constant freezing and thawing disturb his hibernation such that he perished over the non-existent winter? The starlings now brazenly command the space. The space between each rafter stuffed to capacity with demanding hatchlings. Bird shit decorates the walls and windows, an art nouveau that escapes my capacity for appreciation. I would sell my soul for a short visit from a hungry reptile.
The starlings are joined in their fecund ecstasy by ticks, fleas, fire ants and poison ivy. Without a significant deep freeze this year to kill them back. The furry members of the family scratch and stare helplessly with glazed expressions. Frontline, Advantage and the other poisons only kill the bugs once they have bitten, and for every one dead, another ten await outdoors for the newly opened niche.
The footpaths through the woods that provide the avenues for nightly walks are now carpeted in three-leaved green, my arms and legs with the itchy, oozing telltale signature of my floral nemesis. The unnatural world now beacons me to abandon venues of trees and moss for the safer pavements of anthropocentric constructions. The unmaking feeds upon itself.
The black snake is not the only character missing from this unnatural landscape. I never thought I would miss them, but where are the dandelions? My grandfather used to curse their exotic nuisance as he carefully removed each offender from his well-tended lawn. I, on the other hand, have always adopted a laissez-faire attitude towards the mowed spaces surrounding my house. My lassitude welcomes all. Even the lowly dandelion provides a happy splash of color and fresh greens for soups, stews and salads. How unnatural must the world be when even the unnatural cannot flourish in it?
Meanwhile, political discourse is monopolized by talks of economic growth, the devising of new strategies that will allow the plutocrats to extract even more self-aggrandizement from a strangled earth. Promises of drops of prosperity for the rest of the living biosphere flow down the edifice like starling shit.
Is there any hope to be gleaned from the signals of the natural world? The Canada geese fly back and forth over our house to the ponds each day, perhaps our old friend Lulu, who we raised from an egg a few years ago, is among them. We hope. Deep in the poison ivy-laden woods, a brown thrasher flies up into the trees, calling my attention. Her strategy, I know, is to distract me from the small chick in a fragile nest in a tangle of brambles on the ground. I glance to see the well-camouflaged hatchling and then pass on, allowing the mother to conclude that her ruse was a success. Perhaps the poison ivy will protect the vulnerable baby bird on the forest floor. I hope.
I am reading Peter Matthiessen’s “Snow Leopard.” As my heart sings requiems for black snakes and dandelions, I am at least comforted by Matthiessen’s reminder of the basic Buddhist wisdom – Everything is Right Here Now. I hope.