Matthew’s Musings – September-October

One of the pleasures of serving on the MRVAC Board is encountering interesting, kind people. A very recent encounter included meeting with a recently bereaved woman and her son to receive a generous donation in the memory of her husband Tim Leahy who had long valued MRVAC. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out that our past Treasurer, Bob Williams, was related to them! 

Those married to dedicated birders might be familiar with the kind of behavior Jared Diamond relates about himself in The World Until Yesterday while he is floating in the sea off the Indonesian coast with several other unfortunates many miles from shore holding onto the wreckage of a capsized canoe. While aware that he has only an hour or two to be found prior to the abrupt tropical sunset and ensuing darkness ending any probability of surviving, he still finds himself noticing the beauty of the natural scene around him and paying attention to and striving to identify the birds flying around him. Even in dire situations we can still find some joy. 

In my last musing, I admitted my despair. Kind people have responded with encouragement to keep fighting and not succumb to despair. That is not a danger for me. I firmly believe it is healthy to be honest about the existential realities of living – we are creatures bounded by time, certain to die, weaving the threads of time and space that constitute being within a process we call evolution which takes no prisoners. At some level, we all know this. The current dire environmental situation brings it to the fore of consciousness where it becomes hard to ignore, and where the appropriate evaluation of our odds does merit despair. Yet we are all still attuned to natural beauty, enjoy our families and have good days. 

I went to Isle Royale National Park in June with my son, our first trip to the archipelago. In the trip report I’ve written for the Geological Society of Minnesota, I write that I have never taken more congruent breaths in my life! John Keats might indicate why: 

Song 

I had a dove and the sweet dove died;

And I have thought it died of grieving.

O, what could it grieve for? It’s feet were tied,

With a silken thread of my own hand’s weaving.

Sweet little red feet! Why would you die –

Why should you leave me, sweet bird! Why?

You lived alone on the forest-tree,

Why, pretty thing, could you not live with me?

I kissed you oft and gave you white peas;

Why not live sweetly, as in the green trees?

On Isle Royale the habitat was congruent with what our ancestors experienced during the long duration of hominid evolution. Only in modern times have our feet been tied by a silken thread; civilization’s delicacies have entailed the loss of the forest green. It matters. To the dove inside each one of us, and to the birds and other creatures still trying to survive in a denuded and rapidly altered world.

I will keep up the fight, even with incongruent breath. My current priorities are preserving the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. Please join me! 

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