Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nature as it Really Is

Book Review: Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World by Kathleen Jamie

"American conservation is ... still concerned for the most part with show pieces ...we have not yet learned to think in terms of small cogs and wheels." - Aldo Leopold

There is more to the natural world than picture-perfect scenic vistas, or majestic animals moving in choreographed precision. Not all wilderness is scenic, not all wildlife is majestic. The small cogs and wheels that keep the eco-system moving are often hard to see unless you know what you are looking for; and once you do, they are just as often not pretty to look at. Yet without them there would be no scenic vistas, or wild animals, or human beings to see and appreciate them.

In Sightlines, Kathleen Jamie shares with us both sides of the natural world, the beautiful and the not-so-pretty: "It's not all primroses and otters ... There are other species, not dolphins arching clear from the water, but the bacteria that can pull the rug from under us." At one moment we are watching killer whales swimming free, in another viewing thin sections of necrotic tissue. Is it so much of a jump to see these are but two sides of the same coin?

In her effort to make sense of what she sees and experiences, Jamie finds the same truth that Leopold found decades before: that the small cogs and wheels are every bit as important as any other part of the eco-system. A stagnant tidal backwater may not be as aesthetically pleasing as a soaring evergreen forest, but its function is every bit as important. The chain of life extends from predators to prey to scavengers; down to the bacteria that complete the process of decomposition each link depends on the others.

The sooner we see that they are all part and parcel of Nature "taking its course", the sooner we come to realize "... you just might be making the same journeys as these other creatures, all of us alive at the same time on the same planet."